During his recent India visit, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal seems to have sold his own and Nepal’s soul, in breach of the fundamental objective of foreign policy. The latest example, the statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which Nepal has acted like a state of India.
As a rule, every country, big and small, seeks to promote their national interest. They sometimes fail to achieve their objectives, but they never abandon their quest. Nepal’s efforts have often been geared to promoting the specific interests of individual leaders than the national interests.
A high-ranking official of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs candidly mentioned it to a group of Nepal journalists some time ago. He said Nepali leaders visit New Delhi and speak only of their personal interest, and seldom of Nepal’s national interests.
There is a plethora of circumstantial evidence to prove it. I have personally been privy to Nepali leaders often requesting their Indian counterparts for personal favors in their all-important one-to-one conversations. They ask for support to obtain and retain power and for scholarship and free medical treatment for their relatives and supporters. The matters of national interests are often left only for the official talks, so they are covered by the media and consumed by the public.
As it appears, Dahal’s visit to New Delhi last month exactly fits that pattern. He had no agenda, no special occasion, no progress to record or report on the existing accords, no serious problem to resolve, and no impasse to break. He still visited India and compromised national interests on several counts to win a personal favor from India. He had earned India’s disfavor after he regined as prime minister in 2009 and engaged in anti-India tirades.
I have covered several of them in my previous post (18 September) in these pages. Therefore, I wish to focus on only two main points this time: Dahal’s pledge to coordinate Nepal’s foreign policy with India’s and to grant a monopoly to India on petroleum supply to Nepal.
First, according to the Joint Statement issued in the middle of his India visit, Dahal has agreed to coordinate Nepal’s foreign policy outlook with India’s on matters of their common interests. Prima facie, this provision does not look problematic. Actually, it would not be problematic at all if it were agreed by two symmetric countries, where coordination remains voluntary. But Nepal and India are hugely asymmetric, which makes this provision subject to coercion from the latter.
The Peace and Friendship Treaty 1950 between Nepal and India is a case in point. Although the text of the treaty is equal in every respect, its signatories and outcomes are unequal, reflecting the asymmetry in power. Those who have not read the treaty tend to wrongly believe that the text is unequal. It is not. The signatories are unequal: prime minister from Nepal and ambassador from India. Though unpleasant, it is not biggest the worry for Nepal.
The biggest worry is the treaty’s unequal implementation and unequal outcome. As for the implementation, the treaty stipulates that no country would allow its territories to be used against the other. India has never respected it. India allowed and, even encouraged, virtually all political parties of Nepal to use Indian territories to undermine the regime of the day in Nepal since 1950.
In contrast, New Delhi forced Kathmandu to hand over Sucha Singh Bassi, who had killed the former Chief Minister Pratap Singh Kairon and fled to Nepal, in the 1960s. Indian police come deep into Nepali territories almost every week in a hot pursuit of criminals and dissenters and apprehend them. Nepal cannot do anything about such things. You can imagine what India would do if the Gorkhaland activists were to launch their anti-Indian activities from Nepal’s soil.
Another example, under the treaty, both countries are supposed to view aggression against one as aggression against the other as well and to consult each other when such things happen. India has fought several wars with its neighbors but seldom consulted Nepal about them. Incidentally, the 1950 treaty itself does not bring Nepal under Indian security umbrella. It is the letter signed in 1965 as part of the treaty that has effectively done it.
As for the unequal outcome, let me cite one example. The treaty stipulates equal treatment for each other’s nationals in their territories in matters of residency and economic opportunities. If 10 percent of the Nepali population decides to migrate to India, it would be 2.7 million people; if 10 percent of the Indians come to Nepal to settle, it would be 130 million.
Second, Dahal seems to have agreed to grant a monopoly to India as the sole supplier of petroleum products to Nepal. This became clear when India recently insisted on such a monopoly to lay down the Raxaul-Amlekhganj pipeline, something that had been already rejected by Nepal. This provision will nullify the Nepal-China agreement under which the latter could supply up to 30 percent of petroleum products required in Nepal.
Dahal seems to have been blinded by his personal interests so much that he did not even take into account the 5-month long unannounced economic blockade after Nepal promulgated in 2015 its new constitution that India did not like. The main instrument of pressure was the severe reduction of petroleum products on which Nepal relied on India entirely.
As a matter of fact, as soon as Dahal became prime minister this time, he has been pursuing only his personal interests with India. For one thing, he sent his deputies to New Delhi and Beijing without any preparation, just to tell Indian leaders that he had changed and become their friend. If he had national interest in his mind, he would have prepared for their visits properly.
For another, Dahal himself visited India virtually at a moment’s notice. It takes months for a meaningful visit of a foreign country by any head of government. Obviously, Dahal went to New Delhi without adequate preparations on the existing and new agendas just to demonstrate his loyalty and friendship. He perhaps wanted to prove that he was a better friend of India than his former deputy and now his nemesis Baburam Bhattarai or his other political rivals.
Yet another, the MOFA’s statement on the postponement of SAARC sounds like a statement coming from Patna or Lucknow, not from a sovereign country. As chair of SAARC and as an independent country, Nepal should have maintained its traditional neutrality.
Dahal had sold his soul once before — during the armed insurgency led by him — by vowing to Indian intelligence agencies that he would protect Indian interests in Nepal. He has done it again this time as prime minister.
We often wrongly blame India for doing its bounden duty, that is to protect and promote its national interest. But the blame solely lies with Prime Minister Dahal and other Nepali leaders who have sold their own and Nepal’s soul to curry Indian favor in order to promote their personal interests.