By GP Acharya (KATHMANDU, 16 December 2019) – The ‘belief’ factor has been one of the major reasons of linking Nepal-India relations stronger since time immemorial. More importantly, Nepal-India relations have been characterized by the integration of people, culture, religion, history and beliefs. Following the traditional, cultural, historical, socio-economic and geo-politics; this relation has to be made more pragmatic. For this, a mature understanding and trust on closed neighborly relation has to be promoted by keeping in view of the changing political dynamics in the regional and global political spectrums.
To preserve the beauty of this beliefs, and to extend and strengthen the gesture of trust and friendship; both the nations have to permanently address the burning issues such as political and diplomatic, demographic and psychological, and economic and environmental challenges including the boundary dispute over Kalapani, Susta, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura. Both India and Nepal have to amplify their lens of perspectives and shrink the old squeezed stereotypic image to one over another.
Since, India is rising as an economic powerhouse, and Nepal is emerging as a potential soft power hub, both the nations are complementary to each other to contribute on regional peace, stability, and economic and security architecture in the region. India, known as democratic powerhouse in the world, is aspiring to be a global power. While, Nepal, a firm believer in democracy, peace, friendship and cooperation; has a greater geo-strategic credence in the region. After all, both Nepal and India believe (and have to believe) in truth, trust and respect as the pillars of their relations. India must have realized that Nepal’s peace, stability and sovereignty matter most in its economic and political march in the world. Also, India is not unaware that it is nearly impossible to be global power and secure UN Security Council permanent membership without bringing immediate neighbors into confidence.
In order to make Nepal-India relations more lively, meaningful and cooperative; the existing issues such as boundary/border and various unequal treaties need to be addressed and resolved through high level political and diplomatic mechanisms by concretizing permanent solution. Meanwhile, the Nepali people have been raising the concern- why the EPG report is not accepted yet? While EPG was formed by the Prime Ministerial level initiative from both the countries. Question is often raised- if the EPG report had not be accepted, why it was formed? Just for hedging and consoling?? Why it is reluctant to initiate permanent mechanisms for border demarcation and fencing? The historical anecdotes suggest that the closed border system had been initiated and managed accordingly after the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816. While the historical records, in any of the treaties, do not reveal that the border be made open. The government has to take strategic move and has to have concrete bilateral negotiations on it. Both the governments have to resolve the border issues between the two countries through the help of past bilateral documents, original “historical maps” and principle of equality on the basis of Principle of Panchasheel. Kautilya’s Arthasasthra has also mentioned that Nepal had very good trade relations with British India, and Mughal and Magadh Empire before 2500 years ago and was regulated as was Nepal’s border with them.
Despondently, following the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950, India ever tried to put Nepal under its own security, economic and trade framework. Since then, Nepal could not pursue its independent and neutral policy due to India’s scrutiny on Nepal’s every policy attempts. That was the consequence of Nepal’s over-belief on India. The over-belief in India-Nepal relations in the past has consequently imposed domination over Nepal and forced to create fear-psychoses which ultimately led Nepal to lose many things in negotiations.
On the other hand, the ‘crisis of belief’ has been the crucial cause of delinking Nepal-India relations. Sometimes, the over ambition of the ruling elites has also contributed in unbalancing this relation. While, Nepal adopted the principle of neutrality’ on Lipulekh case and on its own sufferings in 1962 and the coercive blocked imposed by India in 1989 and 2015, in the name of peace, friendship and historical ties. Subsequently, the aspiration of the people (from both the nations), the realization of the leaders and the contemporary needs of the time have had balanced it again.
Still, there are misbelief and misperception in Nepal-India relations. For instance, reportedly, most of the Indian foreign policy makers and diplomats (former and current) have stereotypic image on Nepal that “Nepalis are anti-Indian”, which is wrong. And, the truth is that India’s unilateral decision on various bilateral and trade issues have compelled Nepali nationals to be so, if any. Nepali nationals certainly go anti XYZ if they feel threat in their territorial integrity and national security. Recently, India has created political propaganda by cartographic manipulation of their political map which included Nepali territory. This is nothing other than to inject sense of fear and project a signal of threat to Nepal by fearing from Nepal’s rising closeness with China. While some Nepali policy makers have fear-psychoses of powerful and big sized India. May be, they have been thundered by the psyche of “India factor”. Meanwhile, India has considered “Nepal as an important, sensitive and crucial country” for them. This is why, realizing the geo-strategic credence of Nepal, India has stationed the second largest embassy in Kathmandu after Washington DC. And, India often recruits veteran career diplomats as its envoy to Nepal such that they could retain Nepal under their “sphere of influence”.
The misbelief and misperceptions are creating huge havoc in Nepal-India relations even today. However, the roots of misbelief and sources of misperceptions have to be identified and changed under the ground reality through the equal footing relation. Further, the environment of trust and confidence need to be created and cultured.
To narrow down the ‘crisis of belief’ in Nepal-India relations, various unequal treaties including the Treaty of 1950 have to be reviewed and replaced by a pragmatic one based on the principle of interdependence, equality and mutual benefit. With the regulation of border and review of unequal treaties, various demographic issues including immigration and migration of Indian nationals to Nepal could be regulated. Likewise, Nepal has been frequently facing several environmental issues due to unilateral decision by India. For instance, the construction of high dams and canals in Nepal’s border has caused inundation, floods and environmental degradation.
However, Nepal has already given its message to the world that it strongly opposes any domination, encroachment, colonialism, neo-colonialism, imperialism or chauvinism from any of the powers. Nepal has developed independent and sovereign personality since its inception. It has carried its strong legacy of independence, national unity, sovereignty, defense and dignity despite of witnessing crucial political junctures in various stages of history. And, it will carry on this legacy with a more patriotic spirits.
Yet, realizing the sentiments of Nepali nationals, Nepal has to frame out a concrete, permanent and practical “National Security Doctrine” including the defense driven security mechanism. To address all these challenges, Nepal need to develop a comprehensive intelligence capability and project a dignified defense diplomacy. More importantly, a sound and cohesive intelligence culture (among all the political parties, and there has been all party patriotic unity on this matter) is needed to ensure national security as well as territorial integrity. For this, the ruling party, the opposition and all the responsible parties have to project a smart and strategic move in a more nationalistic and patriotic spirit. After all, defense-driven leadership, political intelligence and economic patriotism are required at the core of the efforts to advance the national interest and resolve the burning issues and that is what Nepali nationals want from this government.
The government, without any delay and dilemma, has to take high level diplomatic initiatives to have a bilateral negotiations with India. PM Oli’s diplomatic acumen is once again required. As soon as PM Oli will recover from illness, he is expected to use his paragon of diplomacy as like he did during 2015 blockade… Meanwhile, the government has to call the Indian Ambassador at MoFA and grill him and ask for necessary arrangement for high level political and diplomatic meetings.
Nonetheless, this issue, being a very sensitive one, needs to be resolved through tact rather than counteract. Counter aggression may not work here. Tact, trust, tone and emotional intelligence would bring positive result in bilateral negotiations. A dashing diplomacy, without any over-belief, has to be projected with strong stance on national interest, sovereignty, territorial integrity and national security. Subsequently, a conscious relationship roadmap need to be traced by both India and Nepal that can help take bilateral relations to newer heights and wider perspectives. After all, India is expected to explore its greater spirit and bigger generosity regarding these issues with Nepal and bring its relations in a warmer height and march ahead for global leadership where Nepal is always there to cooperate its historical friend.
GP Acharya is a researcher and analyst who holds an M.Sc. in Computer Science, M.Sc. in Statistics, completed M.A. in International Relations and Diplomacy, and studied MPhil in Management.