Nepal is strategically more or equally fundamental for China, India and one of the third neighbors the US in the Himalayas and South Asia. The 1414 km northern landscape stretches along the Himalayas bordering the Autonomous Region of Tibet and the other 1751 km bordering India from east, west and south is vital as well as becoming ‘trends of risk’ to both China and India. A 400 sq km disputed territory of Lipulekh, Limpuadhara and Kalapani was endorsed by Nepal’s legislature of being formal as part of Nepal. The strategically placed ‘Kalapani Region’ has been one, physically under the Indian forces before the 1962 Indo-China war and two, with Nepal’s dissent China and India signed trade agreements in 2015 with the progression that began in 1954. Nepal’s foreign policy in the late 1950s with a revolutionary course was sought with the general course of historical development and its geopolitical compulsions.
Nepal’s pride of always remaining sovereign and independent with the brave Gurkhas keeps Nepal different to other states of South Asia. There are three observations against which the foreign policy was perceived, developed and pursued. First, Nepal right through history has offered bona fide imperative fusion of two cultures with a mixed-race and has developed self-regulating character and assets of its own. The culture of the subcontinent has well impacted including Tibet of China all-embracing geographically and socially. A new culture with distinctive qualities evolved out of this convergence of races and cultures. Second, the expansion of British imperialism in the eighteenth century inclined for unison under King Prithivi Narayan Shah and his successor in contrast to the advocacy for division in India which was fully exploited. Third, being a landlocked country sandwiched between two giants of Asia and not very friendly to each other, Nepal is in an unappealing posture that led to being above all receptive to its independence and sovereignty which is defended by a nationalist population full of pride of their country and resolute to move ahead in all course, contesting anti-national trends whenever and wherever they take place.
Nepal likes other countries' motivations for transformation was after the independence of India and the revolution in China in the years immediately after the Second World War. The foreign policy evolved in consonance with the worldwide appeal for peace, national self-respect and thirdly a desire and yearning for economic development. The foreign policy is guided by the principles of the United Nations Charter, nonalignment, Panchsheel (five principles of coexistence), internal law and values of world peace.
Nepal and India are destined by geography, civilization and traditional linkages. The 1950 treaty of Peace and Friendship between Nepal and India and the 1947 Tripartite Treaty between Nepal, India and the United Kingdom connects the two nations with a special relationship, perpetual peace and friendship, mutually recognized and respected sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of each other, people to people relationship, open border to move freely, live and work in either country and the Nepalese Gurkhas fighting for the dignity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of India.
The annexation of Tibet in 1949 was recognized as part of China that confirmed the boundaries of today between Nepal and China in both 1956 “Agreement of maintaining Friendly relations between the People’s republic of China and the Kingdom of Nepal” and in 1960 signing of the “Sino-Nepalese Treaty of Peace and Friendship” after a 1959 Tibet uprising. The brief border dispute was resolved by officially signing a border agreement in 1961. Though China was fully in control of Tibet after the “Seventeen Point Agreement” in 1951, the Tibetan rebellion erupted in Lhasa on 10 March 1959. Armed conflict between the Tibetan guerillas and the People’s Liberation Army started in Kham and Amdo region in 1956 and spread to other areas of Tibet and lasted through 1962. It can also be argued that the last part of the Khampas armed opposition was after a three months operation of disarming the Khampas ended in Sept 1974 after the killing of Wangdi in TinkerLipu bringing the operation to the victorious conclusion for the Nepalese Army.
The twelve-point agreements between the seven-party alliance and the Maoists held in New Delhi were to bring the Maoists to the mainstream democratic framework through a peace process that encompassed three major transformations to a secular, federal and a republic. Nepal’s new political and administrative system has perverse the traditional linkages in the Nepal-Indo relationship.
Democratization in Nepal from 1990 is going ahead to the promotion of Nepal’s own interests in comparison to the long-established method of Indian influence in shaping Nepal’s policies.
The promulgation of a republican, federal and secular constitution on 20 Sept 2015, the seventh constitution in 67 years accepted by an obvious preponderance with 507 of the 598 (90%) constituent assembly members voting in favor, came without full support as unrepresented of a noteworthy section of the population from India. 60 members from the Madhesis and Janjatis community stayed away from the voting. Then Foreign Secretary, now Foreign Minister S Jaishankar arrived in Kathmandu as special representative of PM Modi to ensure India’s concerns are amicably addressed was a failure. The diplomatic trip was the initiating occurrence of the weakening and souring of the Nepal-India relationship.
The promulgation of the new constitution came up with a celebration in Kathmandu and the hills, while there was a protest by the Terai-Madhes political parties that formed an alliance called the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) with five major demands and a loss of more than 40 lives with life at a standstill in 20 of the 22 Terai districts. Though the 2015 constitution was not owned, the Madhesi Political Parties participated in all the three elections.
Three separate statements were issued within a few days from the Indian foreign ministry “noting” and not welcoming the new constitution. The statement further added, “We are concerned that the situation in several parts of the country bordering India continues to be violent”. We urge that issues on which there are differences should be resolved through dialogue in an atmosphere free from violence and intimidation, and institutionalized in a manner that would enable broad-based ownership and acceptance”.
Though Indian Congress-led government-backed and articulated the ten-point agreement the new constitution was not far-reaching and inclusive and is apprehensive of the potential violence which could spill over into its own territory. The communities living in the Terai, the Madhesis and the Tharu that makes up nearly 40% ethnic minorities expressed concern of being politically marginalized. The Madhesi based political parties joining the government sees amendment of the constitution, indicating that the constitution has not fully settled.
Beijing's response was conspicuously warmhearted leading the ruling Nepal Communist Party and the China Communist party-party relationship to newer heights. Nepal-China has signed the Trans Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network also referred to as Trans Himalayan Network, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative augmenting its involvement in Nepal mainly through economic engagement and changing Nepal “from a landlocked to a land-linked country” much to India’s discomfort. This is geostrategic crafting the Himalayas and Nepal as a bridge to India’s 1.4 billion potential markets.
An unofficial economic blockade was imposed in the wake of the promulgation of the constitution when the people had not recovered from the April 2015 mega-earthquake further adding to the resentment to the Nepal-India relationship. Incumbent PM Oli took three measures formed an alliance with the Nepal Communist Party Maoists to contest the federal, provincial and local bodies election, two, anti-Indian nationalist oratory slogan and three approached China to lessen dependency with India. In the speech at the 70th session of the UN General assembly on 28 Sept 2015, a week after the promulgation of Nepal’s constitution, President Xi Jinping proclaimed ‘the big, strong and rich should not bully the small, weak and poor, the principle of sovereignty not only means that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries are inviolable and their internal affairs are not subjected to interference’.
The argument of leadership in the Nepali Congress prevails and is more inclined to form a democratic alliance with the like-minded parties. The three Madhesi political parties and the Baburam Bhattarai led Samajbadi party have merged to form the Janata Samajbadi Party with democratic socialism and ethnic federalism. The new party claims to the one that accommodates Madhesis and Pahadis in one platform asserting it to the party of all the Nepali populous. The Rashtriya Prajatantra Party has united from three parties. The differences within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is temporarily halted and stand with the likelihood of surfacing again. The emergent of the leadership behavior in the NCP will have considerable political consequences even leading to polls.
The eagerness of the youths at this time of COVID-19 and the participants risking their own health expresses to the political parties to modify the way it is performing primarily effective governance, anti-corruption drive and more is the alteration of political parties regulations for younger leaders to take charge. There is also a conspiracy of tagging participants as being pro- Americans, pro-Chinese, pro-Europeans and pro-Indian; all pretext to cover and acceptance of weaknesses and refusal to accept to change.
The resentment in the Nepal-India relationship turned ever at the lowest when all the political parties at the parliament came in united to declare a change in the constitution to consign the Kalapani region appearing in the new map. The statement from the Ministry of External affairs once again “noted” the amendment. “We noted that the House of Representatives of Nepal has passed a constitution amendment bill for changing the map of Nepal to include parts of Indian territory. We have already made our position clear on this matter. This artificial enlargement of claims is not based on historical facts or evidence and is not tenable. It is also violative of our current understanding to hold talks on outstanding boundary issues.”
The “Kalapani Region” has been termed from ‘disputed’ to ‘occupied’ from both sides. Pre-diplomacy did not work for political reasons. It is essential to understand that the civilization of the two countries will be harmful with persistent misunderstandings paving way for the third party to fill the void. Heavy-handed politics will ruin in comparison to preserving the special relationship. Together Nepal-India necessitates rebuilding, repairing through dialogue as most have been communicating. South Asia is shifting but should shift to our interests for stability and economic enhancement preserving traditions that bind the two people.
The two tri-points of Nepal-China-India in the north far west are near Tinker Pass on the Kalapani region and Olanchungola in the northeast border district of Taplejung is militarily imperative. Both these tri-points are vitally important to both China and India for trade, tourism, water, and defense.
The Non-Alignment movement is being debated as Communist versus the Capitalist Cold-War era between the US and the Soviet Union is finished. At the same time, the US as the only global power is contesting the second-largest economy another communist nation the People’s Republic of China raising question if Cold-War 2.0 has commenced.
Geo-strategic importance and trends of geopolitics are shifting in and around the Himalayas with China strategically entering South Asia, the US reinforcing into the Indo-Pacific with firm hands and strategies and Nepal and other South Asian nations finding options to move about obtaining their long-awaited interests. This is getting India in a delicate standpoint with its “First Neighborhood Policy” in discomfort.
Six strategic considerations are imperative to take note in coming to a new conclusion if Nepal’s current foreign policy is still viable? Shifting of the geography with infrastructure development, geopolitical compulsions, power competition, Nepal-India special relationship, resources like water and traditional/cultural linkages between Nepal and India.