Is Nepal’s Foreign Policy Changing?
Dr. Balmukunda Regmi
Following the recent government change in Nepal, especially regarding the Indo-Nepal 25-Point Joint Statement during Prachanda’s India visit of September 2016, some scholars and politicians have expressed different perceptions over Nepal’s recent foreign policy.
As a nation, Nepal developed its long-term foreign policy under the leadership of King Prithvi Narayan Shah. Nepal was aware of the geo-politics of her being sandwiched between two giant neighbours. Our map has expanded and shrunk since, but we have never had a third neighbor. We have known rivers, not seas. As with other countries, sovereignty, national integrity, domestic peace and economic progress have remained our focus.
Since the signing of the Sugauli Treaty with British India in 1815 AD, we have remained under the security umbrella of the southern neighbor. The 7th and 8th articles of the Treaty had limited our free hand through the establishment of a British representative in Kathmandu, permission for Britain to recruit Gurkhas in their military service. Nepal also lost the right to deploy any American or European employee in its service (earlier several French commanders had been deployed to train our army). The 6th article had indicated Nepal as a British protectorate, “If any difference shall arise between Nepal and Sikkim, it shall be referred to the arbitration of the East India Company.”
The Nepal-Britain Treaty of 1923 is considered to be one of the most important treaties in the history of Nepal. The treaty was the first to define the international status of Nepal as an independent and a sovereign country. But it also put Nepal under the British security umbrella, “the British Government agrees that the Nepal Government shall be free to import from or through British India into Nepal whatever arms, ammunition, machinery, warlike material or stores may be required or desired for the strength and welfare of Nepal, and that this arrangement shall hold good for all times as long as the British Government is satisfied that the intentions of the Nepal Government are friendly and that there is no immediate danger to India from such importations.”
Superseding Nepal–Britain Treaty of 1923, The 1950 India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship established a close strategic relationship between Nepal and India. It also put Nepal under Indian security umbrella, “The Government of Nepal shall be free to import, from or through the territory of India, arms, ammunition or warlike material and equipment necessary for the security of Nepal. The procedure for giving effect to this arrangement shall be worked out by the two Governments acting in consultation.”
Sure, the issue of Indian domination has been a commonplace in Nepali politics. Many leftist parties have opposed the 1950 Treaty, especially in the streets. In 2008, Premier Dahal after his India visit informed Nepali people of the Indian readiness to review the treaty. Similar information was shared by Premier Bhattarai in 2011. When visiting Nepal in 2014, Indian Premier Modi showed his readiness to change the provisions in the treaty if need be, and asked what we wanted to do. So far, we have not been able to produce a draft that remodels a strategic partnership conducive to security, modernization and prosperity of both the people.
Rather than talking in the media, Nepal should decide what we want in place of the 1950 Treaty, which provisions need to be retained, which modified and which removed. We should talk to India only if we agree at home.
Some political parties and scholars have objected to the 11th point which states, two Prime Ministers believe that Nepal and India hold similar views on major international issues, including the comprehensive reforms of the UN and other international organizations, affecting the developing countries and work in close coordination with each other in the United Nations and other international fora.
Maybe the concerns are genuine. But they forget that it is a common diplomatic practice to issue such statements. Nepal has expressed that it had similar views with other countries as well. Websites of Nepali embassies in respective countries state this in case of Bangladesh (Nepal and Bangladesh share similar views on various issues of common interests and work closely in various regional and international forums, including the UN, NAM, SAARC and BIMSTEC. Exchange of visits at various levels has consolidated close bond of relations between the two neighbours) and Sri Lanka (sovereign modern states, Nepal and Sri Lanka enjoy warm and friendly relations based on mutual respect, cooperation and understandings. They work together at the United Nations special agencies as well as Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic and Social Development in the Asia and Pacific. They hold similar views on most of the international issues, be it in the UN or any other multilateral forums). Our foreign Ministry website states, Nepal and Turkey continue to hold similar views on many issues of common interest, especially on the concerns of the Developing and Least Developed countries. Similarly, during Chen Yi’s Nepal visit from 30 March to 3 April 1965, it was underlined that Nepal and China had similar views on issues like the Vietnam question and Afro-Asian solidarity. This identity in outlook was reiterated when Kirti Nidhi Bista visited China four months later.
Other countries also have similar practice. In 2012, Chinese Ambassador to Nepal, Yang Houlan stated that China and India hold similar views on Nepal’s affairs. In 2006, Indian Defence Minister Mukherjee said that India and China were good friends and shared similar views on many issues, adding that the cooperation between the two countries and their active involvement in world affairs was conducive to the peace, stability and development of the world.
Is Nepal Moving Away from China? No. Dahal has repeatedly said, “The characteristics of our relations with India and China are different. Relations with one side will not affect the other.” He has also expressed Nepali commitment to the understanding reached with China in the past. As far as Chinese are concerned, remember what Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had said, “Nepal and India must have friendly relations without any antagonism against China”. When asked about Dahal’s recent India visit, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang replied during a regular press conference on 19 September 2016, “Both Nepal and India are China’s friendly neighbors. We are glad to see our neighbors developing friendly relations; as such development is conducive to regional peace, stability and development. As for Nepalese Prime Minister’s remarks in India on high-level exchanges between China and Nepal, as two friendly countries, we have been in close touch with each other on bilateral high-level visits.”
Looked from neutral nationalistic point, recent Nepali Foreign Policy is on right track.