Neighbourhood Policy

Madhavji Shrestha

Given Nepal’s geostrategic constraints and situational circumstances, the country should have drawn attention from the political leadership on the concerns of foreign policy. However, things are happening the other way around. For at least a quarter of a century, the country has been inextricably plunged into the political gaming. Under such national circumstances, the formulation of appropriate foreign policy and its way forward have been perceptibly marginalised. Only scant and reactive attention is paid to this vitally important national policy, which should have, otherwise, enhanced the image of Nepal as a responsible contributor to the stability and peace in the region and beyond.
As a result, the template of the foreign policy of Nepal could not take deep roots as it should have taken. The trump and tone did not match the emerging kaleidoscope of the regional and global affairs. The country certainly needs the advices and services of persons and experts with hard-earned experience together with compatible vision that can match to meet challenges arising out of the interactions and events spouting out in the region and globe.
One visible reason is that the political leadership and the diplomatic stewardship have changed so fast and so frequent in Nepal that no other country of our region and nearby region have experienced in the past quarter of a century. So then, how could Nepal adopt a foreign policy traction that can match the waves of challenges emerging in the region and beyond?
Nepali foreign policy establishment and its structure have hardly paid their undivided attention to the neighbourhood first policy as embraced by India since three years ago, and the neighbourhood policy and diplomacy adopted by China more than four years ago. We don’t know how much had the two immediate neighbours’ policies impacted Nepal’s relations with them. As yet, no study has been done on this nationally important concern. According to prominent experts on foreign policy, there is a great need to frame country-specific policy to nourish good relations with countries concerned.
Considering carefully, Nepal must formulate country-specific policies, most importantly with India and China as Nepal is immediate neighbour of both. The need to do so is unavoidable. We should not avoid nurturing relations with both with an eye to their policies vis-à-vis Nepal.
India is a very big country with which Nepal is bound together by geography, culture, ethnicity etc. Additionally, Nepal shares a close affinity in terms of political system as adopted by both countries. Both have embraced pluralistic polity founded on the parliamentary system characterised by emphasis on democracy and party system. Political systems bring both Nepal and India nearer each other.
While formulating and executing our policy, Nepal should plead for adopting democratic and transparent way of maintaining mutually acceptable relations with India. Of course, we should attach a considerable degree of significance to India’s security sensitivity. Geography has placed both countries in a boat to cooperate with each other for sailing together.
China is a very big northern neighbour. The political system China has adopted is a socialist system with Chinese characteristics under the leadership of its communist party. The system has enabled China to achieve a tremendous socio-economic growth and development in an unparalleled way during the past three and half decades. This unmatched development has empowered the Chinese government to extend its economic and trade outreach in almost all the continents of the world. Nepal’s economic and trade relations are growing each passing year. Trade and transit agreements and most recent understanding on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) assume visible significance for economic and physical connectivity for Nepal as these agreements have opened up new opportunities for the country to extend its overall relations with various countries through the new opening.
True, it may take a longer time to materialise what have been agreed for. While framing its policy toward China, Nepal needs to mull over the tremendous global outreach of China, not limited to our region and Asia. Its scientific and technological prowess has become extensive. Along with this, its military power is growing at a rate proportional to its economic growth. Its global status has grown, and sensitivity on its national security concern is perceptible.
According to the United States National Intelligence Council Report, ”Mapping the Global Future,” the international community by 2020 will have to confront the military, political and economic dimensions of the rise of China and India. This observation unmistakably points out the emerging importance of our great neighbours.  
Time has already become ripe that we frame our neighbourhood policies with great priority and appropriate attention given to the characteristics and factors as discussed above briefly. Country specific importance and policy priority matter very significantly. Hence, forward-looking policy formulation needs to come up for well-meaning and enduring relationships with them.
However, India and China are still widely divided in the approach to their relationship. Even the most recent situations are sensitively concerned with the tri-junction border trouble in Doklam has invited the global attention towards their long-standing border dispute. The new border dispute has brought worrying situation in Nepal with fear simmering about the likely conflict between two neighbours. Experts with keen observation on the developing conflict express that dialogue and diplomacy at the high political level might be helpful in preventing likely conflict.
At a time when the relevance of the policy of non-alignment is often questioned, the unhappy situation likely to lead to a conflict between the two Asian giants would concern the people about peace and stability in our region. It is more so for the people of Nepal which lies in a sandwiched geographic position. If the conflict actually occurs, Nepal will have to face immense pressure from both.
To remain in safe side, Nepal needs to persistently pursue the policy of non-alignment almost amounting to neutrality as had been explicitly maintained during the escalated border conflict between the two in the fall of 1962. In fact, it is highly desirable that a mandatory provision of an Article must be envisaged in our constitution giving Nepal a permanent status of political neutrality for peace and stability to maintain in a legal and constitutional way. This can truly represent the wishes of the people.
We must note that the present concept of neutrality implies a foreign policy which stands neither for one nor for the other but for peace and stability.
To date, our region is fraught with disturbance and violence with deterioration in the Indo-Chinese relations. The people have been witnessing the situation growing from bad to worse. Political and diplomatic foresight combined with appropriate actions is highly warranted for the oldest nation-state Nepal which has been carrying the shining torch of independence and sovereignty since its inception two and half centuries ago.
Strict pursuance of neutral policy would be of immense value for Nepal to maintain well-balanced relations with both the neighbours.

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