Nepal - India Relations: Current Issues
Report of IPCS Seminar held on 4 November 2004
Aisha Sultanat, Research Officer, IPCS
Speaker: Amb. Karna Dhoj Adhikari
Chair: Amb. K V Rajan
Ambassador's Opening Remarks
Nepal-India relations are 'unique' for reasons ranging from geographical contiguity to close cultural ties, and extensive institutional and social relationships. Cultural, economic and geographical factors along with the common bond of a shared religion have had a great influence on bilateral relations. As two sovereign nations, both India and Nepal are naturally guided by their national interests. These interests are related to cultural, economic and security areas. Despite some turbulence in the past, India-Nepal relations have remained close, stable and mutually beneficial.
Cultural bond provides moral strength to the relationship, while respect for each others political identity as independent, sovereign countries provides the political base for meaningful interaction. Nepal recognizes and admires India's position as the largest democracy and an emerging economic and strategic power which is striving to find its rightful place in the comity of nations. It appreciates the support accorded to Nepal in the spirit of Panchsheel. There exist vast areas of complimentarity and mutuality of benefits between the two countries. Economic reforms in both countries have opened up new avenues of cooperation in trade and commerce, investment and joint collaboration projects. Nepal can benefit tremendously from such bilateral interaction. Greater creativity is required, however, to take full advantage of the complimentarity of economies between the two countries.
Security issues are the most vital questions that determine the tenor and content of the relationship between the two countries at present. It determines the trust, endurance and sustainability of the relationship. There have been strong commitments to each other in the past like assurances not to allow their territory to be used for undertaking unlawful activities against the other. Formation of governmental committees and frequent consultations aim at bettering the security scenario. Despite these efforts, perceptions about Nepal not being adequately appreciative of India's sensitivities has caused sufferings to Nepal in the form of criticism and lack of help at times. As a result, mutual trust and confidence are sometimes shaken and put to stress. Promoting regional cooperation is another way of indirectly improving bilateral relations. A few areas marked for the purpose include trade and transit, energy, water resources, investment and combating terrorism.
Currently India and Nepal share a relaxed political and bilateral environment marked by reduction in hostilities. Nepal hopes to benefit from the economically prosperous and strategically confident India. The leadership position that India wields in the region brings with it obligations of assisting its smaller neighbours like Nepal in tandem with other developmental and financial agencies. The issues confronting the two countries are those of cooperation and not of conflict. Hence they should be addressed in the spirit of cooperation and understanding.
The biggest problem troubling the Himalayan kingdom is the Maoist insurgency. There are diverse opinions depending upon ones vantage point about where the blame lies for the present crisis. In the Ambassador's opinion everyone is to be blamed. A number of measures are urgently needed to tackle the present situation. Security related establishments have to be strengthened to tackle the rising tide of Maoist attacks and to maintain the fabric of the State. But this should not be misconstrued as remilitarization of Nepal. The move is solely for the purpose of facing the Maoist threat forcefully and adequately. The Maoist problem is not a problem of Nepal alone. It has ramifications on India as well in the form of growing linkages with the Naxals in Bihar, the People's War in Andhra Pradesh and other armed leftist movements in India and even Bangladesh. There is need for a more factual and objective analysis of facts and informed opinion emanating from the intellectual circles. The approach should be one of problem solving rather than provocative remarks. Getting over the crisis should be the immediate concern. Developing a common understanding in consultation with other friendly countries is a matter of strategy.
The Treaty of Peace and Friendship, signed between the two countries in the year 1950, needs to be contemporized to suit current needs. As stated earlier, Nepal looks up to emerging India as an opportunity for growth in the form of easy access to technology, investment and market. Nepal hopes for greater tangible cooperation from India. That way it will look at the fact of being India-locked as an opportunity rather than a hindrance.
Q & A Session
Q: Elaborate the Constitutional provisions with regards to the powers enjoyed by the King and the political parties.
A: Monarchy according to the Constitution is a symbol of unity. It is a guarantor of the Constitution and under no circumstance inimical to other agencies like the political parties. The Constitution provides ample space for other agencies to function.
Q: The Naxalite corridor stretches from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh in India. Hence both countries in their own interest must fight the menace. How effective will it be to strengthen the Royal Nepal Army (RNA), which has a long history of peace-keeping?
A: The RNA enjoys the support of the people and is therefore the only force that can put an end to the Maoist menace in Nepal.
Q: What are the prospects of the establishment of a Constituent Assembly?
A: The demand for a new Constituent Assembly put forth by the Maoists is untenable as there already exists an acceptable democratic system in place. A good strategy would be to hold free and fair elections so that people subscribing to various political values can come to power and amend the existing Constitution accordingly, instead of completely doing away with it.
Q: To what extent have the Maoists infiltrated the Nepalese Police and the Army?
A: Possibilities of Maoist infiltration in the Police and the Army are extremely bleak though they cannot be ruled out all together. The problem is not of a serious nature as these agencies maintain a strict vigil against such developments.
Q: What kinds of change does Nepal wish in order to contemporize the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship?
A: So far no concrete measures have been spelt out in this regard, though at a normative level the need is felt in order to revise and refine the existing provisions to suit contemporary needs.
Q: Well meant efforts at harnessing water resources are often misconstrued to create a feeling of competition. Is there a way out or will it be better to maintain coldness, correctness and distance rather than seeking closeness and cooperation?
A: Changes in the Kosi and the Gandhak projects to suit Nepalese needs has set a good precedent. Possibilities for cooperation in this area are tremendous. It will be my personal endeavour to see atleast one major project pass the implementation stage during my time in India.
Q: Is the demand of the Maoists to abolish monarchy a bare minimum demand or is it a bargaining strategy employed by them?
A: It is an established fact that monarchy and communism cannot go together. Hence the Maoist demand to do away with monarchy does not come as a surprise. However, there are many contradictions in the behaviour of the Maoists. On one hand, they demand the abolition of monarchy and at other times they insist on directly negotiating with the King. Their ambiguous stand in this regard is a ploy, a tactic, to create confusion within the constitutional framework.
Q: What is the Chinese response to the Maoists?
A: Ironically, China does not recognize the Maoists at all. They feel the Maoist abuse the ideology espoused by General Mao.
The chair concluded by stating that the Maoist problem cannot be solved through a military solution. Other channels like track II and III must be strengthened. There is a need to develop a multi-pronged approach to resolve the crisis. Fostering inclusive democracy is the ideal way out for Nepalese polity.