By GP Acharya (KATHMANDU, 26 August 2019) – Right after Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visited to Nepal, Pakistani Foreign minister Shah M. Qureshi made a telephone call to Nepali counterpart Pradeep K. Gyawali. Following the Indo-Pak competitive engagement and influence in Kathmandu, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is scheduled to visit Nepal. Earlier, Foreign Minister Gyawali was invited by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington. Conceivably, Secretary Pompeo would visit Kathmandu after Minister Wang Yi return back. All these politico-diplomatic developments in Kathmandu reflect Nepal’s geo-strategic significance in the regional and international political sphere. Meanwhile, how Nepal maintains relations with Beijing, New Delhi, Islamabad or Washington is a conspiracy concern of one over another, today.
With the changing dynamics of world politics and developments in domestic, regional and international spheres, Nepal’s policy of non-alignment has to be more constructive, today. Since India, China and the US are equally involved in Nepal’s economic development and eager to maintain good relations with Nepal hoping to be actively engaged in Kathmandu, perhaps to balance their respective interests with one over another. So, realizing the sensitivities and significance of geo-strategic role Nepal has to make a prudent move with diplomatic acumen and balance the expectations projected under SAARC, BIMSTEC, BRI and Indo-Pacific Strategy and beyond.
Amid the decision of annexing Kashmir with mainland India after provocation of Article 370, presumably, Indo-Pak tension will mount worst ever in their history. Whether Kashmir is their internal or bilateral or trilateral issue, the prospect of peace in the sub-continent is a regional (and multilateral) concern whereas the three nuclear states- China, India and Pakistan- are claiming their territorial right. Meanwhile, the rising tension between India and Pakistan and the crisis emerged in their relations will hamper regional peace and stability.
Nepal had adopted non-alignment policy with the neighboring countries during the era of Prithivi Narayan Shah that became fruitful in keeping the national sovereignty and integrity intact. Accordingly, Nepal has to take no sides on the current issue of Kashmir, however, it can express its concern as an incumbent chair of SAARC and urge for peace if confrontation escalate ahead. Alike, as an active member of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM), Nepal has to play a constructive role that it can influence the nature of regional (and international) relations in diverse ways. And, Nepal has to equally leverage from all the powers by maintaining its relations through inclusive political interaction, partnership and cooperation or balancing and strategic-hedging since Nepal is in a system affecting position right now.
Nepal has been taking an independent stand in the UN since its admission. Nepal adopted ‘committed neutrality’ during the Sino-Indian war in 1962 despite of American willingness to help Nepal (and India) in their defense against China. Nevertheless, Nepal adopted ‘silent neutrality’ over the first nuclear tests carried out by both USSR and China, during Doklam issue, in Indo-Pak conflicts (except during the premiership of KI Singh), on Malaysia-Indonesia confrontation (where Gorkha troops were deployed under the British Army). Likewise, Nepal adopted ‘strategic neutrality’ during Vietnam War and did balance the relations with the US, China and the USSR (all were Nepal’s good friends) but mentioned about the outside interference, however, did not tag the US as an aggressor.
Conversely, the Gorkha troops were involved during the Kashmir crisis in 1947-48. Nepal advocated for a peaceful settlement of German, Cyprus and Cuban issues in the past, and condemned against the aggression on Suez Canal in 1956 despite of having close relations with UK. While, Nepal adopted ‘hushed neutrality’ on Lipulekh case and on its own sufferings in 1962 and the coercive blocked imposed by India in 1989 and 2015, may be, in the name of peace, friendship and historical ties. Even Nepal’s neutrality is not preventing from participating in the UN forces, or (in)decision on BIMSTEC military drill in (or out), or advocating on Venezuelan crisis, or participating in the joint military exercise with China or the US. Equally, Nepal’s involvement in British Army is contrary to its non-aligned policy as Gorkha troops had been used in favor of British colonialism in the past and they have been used as a security guarantee of British at present. All these involvements may be perceived as Nepal’s derailed neutrality. Subsequently, where is Nepal’s principled neutrality?
Nepal’s policy of non-alignment has to be operated in various directions: towards emerging powers (China and India), towards superpowers (the US and the West), towards underdeveloped and developing nations, and in the UN and Global Forums. With the balance and counter balance strategy, Nepal has to strengthen its relations in all directions and get larger access to global world by making globalization, open world economy, multiculturalism and soft powers as its diplomatic tools. For Nepal, diplomacy is the only tool that can make adroit use of its diplomatic capital to advance its national interest. Meanwhile, historic resonance, geo-integrity, geo-cultural reality, cultural affinity, geographical proximity, geo-economics, pragmatic understanding and the contemporary needs have to be comprehended.
“Small countries have little power to alter the region, let alone the world. A small country must seek a maximum number of friends, while maintaining the freedom to be itself as a sovereign and independent nation… We must make ourselves relevant so that other countries have an interest in our continued survival and prosperity as a sovereign and independent nation”, remarked Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore. This saying could be equally applicable to the foreign policy of Nepal. How well Singapore is keeping close ties with both the US and China and paving a careful line between these competing powers is the reflection of its active diplomacy and principled neutrality. Singapore is uniformly maintaining close diplomatic and economic ties with its Southeast Asian neighbors as well. While Singapore can host a historic meeting between China and Taiwan or meeting between US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Why can’t Nepal initiate a summit on Nepal-India-China (NIC) or Nepal-India-Pakistan in Kathmandu?
As an incumbent chair of SAARC, Nepal can create an ability to play a constructive role of “neutral” negotiator between India and China (can host NIC Summit with a schema of ‘Nepal’s Cooperation on Global Outreach of India and China’), between India and Pakistan (with an aim of resuming stalled SAARC with a schema of ‘Nepal’s Initiative on Regional Peace and Economic Integration’), and host sensitive summits/dialogues on transnational issues such as terrorism and crime control, climate change, Himalayan and glacier protection, peace and human rights among others. Nothing is impossible in diplomacy. “In foreign policy there are no permanent friends or enemies, there are only permanent interests”. India and Pakistan do not have any options other than exercising the political and diplomatic avenues to resolve the burning conflict and water down the culpability to one over another. Peace to prosperity is the only option.
India, China and Pakistan, all as momentous regional (and nuclear) powers, should not aim in making only their nation stronger. They, however, have to think beyond the box and march ahead for global leadership by making this sub-continent safer, stronger and inclusive.
Realizing the sensitivities and significance of geo-strategic role, Nepal has to adopt principled neutrality in any of the conflicting issues that could help maximize its own power and minimize the influence vis-à-vis other powers. Nepal has to play a role that both India and China or India and Pakistan could help each other, avail the plethora of opportunities and prosper together. If either one of India, or China, or Pakistan prosper Nepal will benefit. If all the three prosper, Nepal’s prosperity will be doubled. Therefore, Nepal has to balance its relations with all the regional (and global) powers, maintain good friendship between them and extend the scope of its maneuverability with a strong stand of Non-aligned Foreign Policy and Constructive Neutrality.
Acharya is a researcher and analyst who holds an M.Sc. in Computer Science, M.Sc. in Statistics, studied MPhil in Management and completed M.A. in International Relations and Diplomacy.