By Col Prem Bahadur Thapa (Retd)
The Army Chief’s oblong pointer towards China was immediately censured by many, let alone Nepal. What he perhaps meant was that they were falling into a trap which must be avoided; nothing very wrong in that… many others said it even more openly (though he might have as well left that to others).
But, more seriously, Garhwal Post’s mind-engaging editorial of 15th June is indicative of moving ahead of the acrimonious relations of the past many years because continuous developments are overshadowing the space for negotiations. It has thus lead to surmise that perhaps, re-arrangements are now necessary, where certain outdated ties may have to be revised. How will we, and how far, or when at all (i.e. timing), will of course need careful weighing in terms of immediate and far ranging outcomes. Towards that, Nrip Singh Napalchyal’s write up of 18 June also throws light from the ground zero which substantiates our territorial claims and the need to implement it firmly; whilst also re-affirming our ages old ties with Nepal whose citizens, as he writes, will not allow extreme discord or relations to be harmed. These two views are central in many minds, reflecting the need to achieve both.
Since it is clear that moves made by Nepal are the result of a singularly anti-India mind-set of their present political regime, understandably at the behest of China, our approach calls for taking stock of the entire ambit from the very start and it’s time we upped our diplomatic ante. It, of course, will have to start with boundary settlements but, given the nationalistic sentiments now voiced more brazenly, solving it will not be easy. Going back a little to the report of the Tech Level Joint Boundary Working Group (TL JBWG) set up jointly by India and Nepal, ‘the 28th meeting of the joint surveyor- generals from Nepal and India had prepared 182 strip maps, i.e. 98% of Nepal-India boundary in 2007, excluding the controversial Susta (Nawalprasi) and Kalapani (Dharchula), i.e. 2% sketches, and signed them subsequently, paving the way for higher authorities to ratify them, which unfortunately has yet not been done by either. In hindsight, perhaps inking an MOU to leave the two areas as they are and maintaining “status quo” till a more opportune time, later, and moving ahead with the rest of the completed 98% of boundary settlement would have paved the way.
Let’s go a bit into their past to remind the readers as to how their regimes’ entire time and mind evolves and revolves around Kathmandu, and those who are in the West, far West or down South (Terai region, who didn’t even have citizenship rights till some time ago) and far North/North West along Tibet border, were most neglected. The people along these regions are still largely at their own mercy and rarely visited. The discontent ultimately gave rise to the Maoist uprising of the late ‘90s and early 2000 and that is where China’s far ranging plans were put into motion. It is time we accepted that they have played their Nepal card with great patience and cunning perseverance. The Maoist uprising, covertly and undoubtedly supported by the communist giant (and most despised, even hated by the large majority of common folk who suffered terribly at their brutal hands), took immediate advantage of the mass uprising against their monarchy and literally hijacked it to thrust themselves in power. Maybe, our wait and watch stance, in spite of that country’s desperate need for help in greater ways, helped the Maoists. From that day, a visible shift was seen in Nepal’s political relations with China vis-à-vis India. Lipulekh was a silent issue to them till yesterday…and shows how far China has made inroads.
Nepal’s map related reactions may look hasty, even unwise; they know they will be disadvantaged in the long run but, somehow, the Maoist masters have managed to hype their nationalist fervor to prevail, even while knowing that China is no substitute for India (as said by their own think tanks repeatedly in no uncertain terms). We will still survive regardless of the outcome… but at what cost? Unfortunately, most outside countries see it as a consequence of a smaller and much weaker state being repeatedly ignored/slighted, and driven to save its face even at great risk. Our emerging picture as a friendly frontline nation could do without such antagonism because “opportunist and unfriendly states are now bound to capitalise on it” – that is the message of bigger import. We are being slowly isolated (and almost surrounded by unfriendly neighbours), thus calling for immediate revision of strategy to beat China at its own game. To begin with, we have trusted friends, both, inside and outside Nepal and with the enormous advantage still at our command in all respects, vis-à-vis China, it may not be too difficult to tilt the balance in our favour. If we can win their people…rest will follow. (And, already, reports of PM Oli’s tilt towards China in the present dispute being questioned/resented have started making the rounds).
Benjamin Franklin stated famously, “But for a nail, a shoe was lost; But for a shoe, a horse was lost; and then a rider…then a message, then a battle…all because of a nail.” And the ‘message’ lies in the not too distant future when, ‘lured by huge financial aid/economic packages (which will come with multiplied repayment riders) it will render that wretchedly poor country to being sold (in many ways) … and, unwittingly, bring the ‘Dragon’ to our door by opening the floodgates of the Himalayas in the garb of OBOR.
Nepal must be re-cultivated as the “Buffer Zone” (for our own sake, if not theirs). Thus, the necessity to revise our relations must be guided by upgrading rather than downgrading ties in many more ways than those that exist. The target must be China, otherwise we might miss the forest for the trees.