Diplomatically Sensitive Period
A call by a Chinese scholar a few days back for Nepal to mediate a backdoor talks between China and India over their month-long Doklam dispute to effectuate a peaceful negotiation and an urge by a lawmaker representing the CPN-UML in the parliament asking the government to encourage both the neighbours to find harmonious solution have given rise to a question whether Nepal should make any say at this point of heated border dispute between the two powerful neighbours. Speaking in the parliament on July 24, Yuvaraj Gyawali of UML, asked the government to not keep mum over the issue and make Nepal’s stand clear.
Presenting a working paper at an interaction program on ‘Nepal China relations for peace and prosperity in trans-Himalayan region’ organised by Nepalese Embassy in China on August 1 in Beijing Professor Hu Shisheng, Director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceanian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, was reported to have asked Nepal for organising backdoor meetings in which officials from India and China can hold talks over the issue and work out ways to settle the dispute.
Given the fact that high officials from China and India have held talks one-to-one on the issue, for instance Ajit Doval, India’s national security adviser, and Yang Jiechi, state councilor of China, held discussion on the issue in their sideline meetings during the seventh meeting of BRICS high representative for security issues held on July 28 in Beijing, and that India has acted upon the request of Bhutan as the disputed area does not belong to India but Bhutan, there is no point for Nepal to make except for urging both neighbours to exercise restraint and seek peaceful resolution of the dispute. And such an appeal will be redundant in making point or taking stand but disputable in ways it is framed. Moreover, China and India has about 3,488-km long border, far much longer border than Nepal has either with China or India, and there is a long-running dispute in many parts. How long will we be making statements whenever they have disputes?
No doubt, any escalation of the tension between the two neighbours is a matter of serious concern for Nepal. As it is positioned between them, Nepal always wants them to resolve dispute peacefully and cooperate with each other for peace and prosperity of the region and beyond as they are the emerging powers. Nepal is also worried whether the country is turned to a buffer zone instead of a dynamic bridge between them at this time when the neighbours are reaping benefits of fast and high economic growth.
Nepal has historical ties with both the neighbours culturally, economically and politically. While Buddhism binds China and Nepal culturally, Hinduism is the main bond between Nepal and India. For Nepal, dispute between them is like quarrels among one’s own brothers or sisters- a painful situation.
Both the neighbours have assisted Nepal in its endevour for development. Nepal has always been firm in its words and action to be sensitive in the core interests of the both. In some occasions, Nepal also has some complaints with both of them, for instance, during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China in May 2015, China and India issued a joint statement in which Lipu Lek Pass, a strategic pass of Nepal’s territory, was included. Point No. 28 in the 41-point the joint statement between Modi and his Chinese counterpart Li Kegiang remained pinching to Nepal.
The point under the subtitle “New Avenues for Cooperation” mentions that “the two sides agreed to hold negotiation on augmenting the list of trade commodities, and expand border trade at Nathu La, Qiangla/Lipu-Lek Pass and Shipki La.” This sentence clearly means that Nepal has nothing to do or say about Lipu Lek Pass which is located in Darchula district of Nepal. Nepal has been raising the issue of Kalapani, including Lipu Lek, since the time the Indian side usurped it by setting up a military camp in 1962, when India and China were at war.
Nepal has presented historical maps and other documents which prove that the Kalapani area, including Lipu Lek Pass, is Nepal’s territory, and that the pass is at least the borderline between Nepal and China, not between India and China. But neither China nor India have addressed Nepal’s concern in it ever since.
Nepal has, many say, special relations as well as special problems with India. Nepal has been suffering from border encroachment by India, border dispute including in areas such as Kalapani and Susta. Many areas in Nepal suffer from inundation due to the unilateral construction of dams at border areas by India. India ignored Nepal’s plight when Nepal wanted to repatriate the Bhutanese national of Nepali origin who were brutally chased away from Bhutan and were brought to Nepal via India to their homeland, Bhutan. It is clear who helped Bhutan to uproot the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese from their home-country and why.
Nepal cannot make any voice when legitimate demands of Nepali speaking Indians in areas such as Darjeeling of West Bengal are brutally crushed while India can impose blockade to teach Nepal a lesson for ignoring the ‘big brother’ in course of promulgation of the constitution in September 2015. In fact, Nepal has many complaints with India while India is bent on keeping the Himalayan nation under its sphere of influence.
PM’s India visit
Amidst the border stand-off between the two nighbours (China says Indian troops trespassed into its territory on June 18 and have remained at its Donglang area or Doklam since then), Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is reported to be heading for a visit to India within a week. Politically the visit will be a goodwill one but frankly it is ritualistic. He may seek to expedite implementation of agreements, especially related to development projects, and also the support for the elections, provincial and federal parliament as well as the remaining local level in Province 2.
But the visit also entails some diplomatic risk because India may try to use the visit as Nepal’s siding with India at this critical time when neighbours are in dispute. The visit will be successful if no reference in any statement or communique is made in relation to the dispute because this is a very sensitive issue and Nepal cannot hold the pressure once it is dragged into it or once it is made to involve in it. For Nepal both the neighbours are equally important and Nepal is firm in its stand not to interfere in the internal affairs of the other countries.