By Avhitav Karna (KATHMANDU, December 3) –
India’s response to the promulgation of constitution in Nepal has not only demonstrated errors in India’s neighborhood diplomacy but also created unwanted distance between Nepal and India, the allies since good old times.
Nepal –a sovereign state stands with distinct identity in south Asia. Nepal, though one of the poorest nations in the world, has been able to save its history from colonialism. The end of the Cold War and ensuing contest between India and China put Nepal on the path of development, though not at the desired pace.
It is generally believed that Nepal thinks what India wants it to think and China doesn’t care what Nepal thinks. It is also generally held that Nepal’s location between the two rising global powers is an asset economically as well as geo-strategically.
However, what would ideally have been an asset for Nepal has mostly been a liability. Continuous state of democratic transition for over two decades, since the Maoist insurgency started weakening the Nepali state, has led to an erosion of Nepal’s Nepalese foreign policy capacity.This weakness has made us the diplomatic battlefield we are today, paving ways for unwanted interventions which have spoil the climate for Nepal’s political evolution. Our own weaknesses have invited meddling of the neighbours in our domestic affairs.
India has historically seen Nepal through the prism of the “sphere of influence” doctrine. Nepal’s political leadership’s non-response to the Indian calls with regards to the new constitution, India felt, was the disregard of this long-held view. So, it merely “noted” the promulgation of the new constitution. India coming up with such statement is impolite, and against its own principle of neighborhood-first policy; hence a diplomatic failure. The economic blockade that followed is inhuman.
A country like Nepal, landlocked and without much economic capacity, should take alternative paths to stand up to such situation. Our diplomacy should pursue regional unity at the SAARC level. It should also revive the idea of sub-regional cooperation and mobilize support from the members to stand up against such blockades.
May be expansion of SAARC itself has some chance. China is willing to join higher than at the status of a dialogue partner. One can envisage, at this point in time, is that there may be a role for China in the distant future through some form of trans- Himalayan sub-regional cooperation, possibly in harnessing water resources of the Brahmaputra river basin and in developing tourism along the medieval silk route. Beyond this, China will have to go the bilateral way by developing closer economic cooperation with each SAARC country and, in doing so, match the Indian bilateral concessions to each of them in the area of trade.
In the wake of the doldrums that the SAARC process is at, it is good to rethink SAARC’s future with new dimensions. Can’t we visualize multiple axes in the region, one of them being the linkage of the landmass of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region stretching from Delhi-Islamabad-Kathmandu-Kashmir-Kabul to link up with Central Asia?
India has shown strong reservation towards the constitution of Nepal as its advice andcaution was ignored, even as we never knew what concrete advice was given to Nepal’s political leadership. However, it is imperative for us to resolve the crisis in the Madhes region without delay and lead the country to the path of development.
Economic sanction has been played as a game by India and has put on controlled restriction on supply of petroleum products to Nepal. For a petroleum starved Nepalese economy, such embargo has caused widespread damage. A section of Nepalese seem to believe that such embargo is a “gift” which will allow the country to diversify its economy. But most importantly, the sanction on Nepal sabotages historic diplomatic relations between the two countries, apparently at behest of some political players with vested interests on both sides of the border.
To prevent the situation to exacerbate, negotiations have to be held, both with Delhi, as well as with the agitating parties in Nepal internally. Both the countries shouldn’t undermine value of diplomatic solution and situation needs to be assessed for successful comprehensive bilateral win -win agreement at amicable environment. Diplomatic collaborations is something to ponder upon by eminent persons from both the sides. Adhering to integral notion of International, Nepal is entitled with guaranteed sovereignty and independent ability to defend itself. We are the countries bound by brotherhood, interconnected with ethos of cooperation, dialogue and trust. Let’s not pursue confrontational diplomacy. It is bad for both countries.