Quid Pro Quo In Nepal–India Ties
Prof. Biswo Pradhan
Nepal and India are adherents to the principles of the characters of the United Nations, South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), members of BIMSTEC and devoted to the universal declaration of human rights. Both are dedicated to the values of democratic ideas and practices and propagators of the five noble principles of peaceful co-existence for the promotion of international peace and progress and founder-members of the Non-aligned Movement (NAM).
Nepal’s relations with India are very ancient. The linkages in various spheres of the lives of the peoples of the two countries are bound to make them inter- dependent, close and intimate. The geo-proximity, politico-economic and socio-cultural affinities are so impregnable as to make the relations multi-faceted and multi-dimensional, rarely found in the bilateral relations of other countries, along the 1,400-km-long border, which permeate their day-to-day dealings.
British rule in India during its colonial prowess in this part of the world was in the process of integrating states into its fold and was in the quest of annexing Nepal under its hegemony. Before the Sugauli Treaty of 1816, Nepal’s territory extended from the Tista River in the east to the vicinity of the Sutlez River in the west of Nepal, which included Kumaon and Garwal that touch the tri-junction of Nepal, India and China at the origin of the Kali River in Limpiadhura on the upper reaches.
Though Nepal was able to maintain its territorial integrity and sovereignty from colonial prowess, it lost some chunks of its territory. The Rana regime virtually became a client state under the shadow of Pax Britannica, and was completely isolated from the rest of the world.
India achieved independence in 1947. The winds of change that swept away the British Raj had a great impact in disbanding the Rana aristocracy in Nepal. It brought about cataclysmic changes in Nepali society. The freedom-loving Indian leaders showed great support and sympathy for Nepal’s amelioration from the ruthless Rana regime.
After the independence of India and the advent of democracy in Nepal, Nepal-India relations could change with the changing context. In the aftermath of India’s independence and liberation of Nepal from Rana autocracy, the erstwhile political leaders, instead of evolving a new treaty, resorted to the continuation of the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which incorporated most of the provisions of the old treaty of friendship concluded in1923 between British India and Nepal. That was sheer iniquity. It led to uneasiness in the normal relationship between Nepal and India. The delay in replacing the discredited 1950 treaty created unnecessary ruptures between the two countries.
It is no use harping on the outdated arrangements that are no more productive. Both sides should not miss the opportunity in developing a prolific frame of bilateral relationship through the process of proper dialogue and reconciliation in a clear-cut manner. The irritating bilateral issues should be thoroughly processed and examined to give amicable shape to Nepal-India relations. The following are some issues which must be tackled on a priority basis.
Nepal is a landlocked and least developed country, and India is its transit country for international trade and commerce. In the interest of Nepal’s economic development, India as a transit nation should provide free and unrestricted transit facilities without cumbersome customs regulations and formalities as per international conventions and practices like other landlocked and transit countries of the world. Free and unrestricted transit facilities are a sine qua non for the economic development and prosperity of landlocked Nepal.
Nepal is rich in water resources. It has great hydropower potential. Proper utilisation of the water resources can bring tremendous benefit to Nepal and the whole region of South Asia. Nepal is the upper and India the lower riparian powers. Nepal alone cannot tap all the rivers. India being the adjacent largest neighbour in South Asia, close cooperation and collaboration are of primordial importance to the development of these water resources. Some of the water resources projects undertaken by India are lying idle, and some are far behind completion schedule , including the Pancheswar multi-purpose project.
The attitude of grabbing a bigger pie at the cost of the other will not work. The benefits that accrue from it should be shared on the basis of equitable distribution of power and profits. Nepal’s first and foremost strategy should be to initiate a proper and viable planning to turn this white gold into a reality. Nepal should explore the possibility of India’s close collaboration in the development of collective water development with the participation of international aid agencies.
One basic issue that India always brings into sharp focus is its strong sense of security perception, under which it is strongly determined to pursue its strategic interest over Nepal. The Indian thrust to keep Nepal under its umbrella has raised a lot of controversy in the mindset of the Nepali people. Nepal is strongly against the viability of such a scheme and totally opposes it.
India should rest assured that Nepal will never play a game of politics against its interest. One should not have the slightest doubt about the behaviour of Nepali foreign policy, which stands strictly in conformity with the maintenance of balanced relations with her neighbours. Nepal will not allow the policy of pulls and pressures of any type from any quarters.
There is no question of any overt or convert behaviour of Nepali foreign policy pursuits, which would hurt India’s security interests. As a non-aligned and peaceful nation, it would be out of question for Nepal to engage in politicking against any nation. Nepal’s main objective is to remain a peaceful nation -- a corridor of peace between its two great neighbours. That was the main objective of the Zone of Peace (ZOP)proposal initiated by late King Birendra within the broad parameters of the declared foreign policy.
In fact, it was the intention of Nepal to legitimise Nepal as a peaceful corridor, which would have been complimentary to India’s security rather than anything else. India’s reservation and non-committal to support it is difficult to understand. The Government of India’s reservation on the ZOP was especially with regard to Para 5 – of the 7-point proposal – which reads: “Nepal will not permit any activities on its soil hostile to other states supporting it, and in reciprocity, states supporting it will not permit any activities hostile to Nepal,” the implication of which was essentially bilateral.
The whole length of the Nepal-India boundary, demarcated during the British Raj in India, was subject to regular periodic observation and inspection, and any encroachment on it by either side was immediately corrected. This checking of the border areas remained irregular after India’s independence and post-Rana rule of Nepal. Such negligence led to the problems of encroachment in places like Kalapani and Susta.
The boundary problem is a serious, sensitive and delicate issue, which should be dealt with primacy, and any discrepancy should be resolved through scientific demarcation on the basis of internationally accepted norms and practices. It would be difficult to conceive lasting friendly relations between countries whose territorial boundary is not properly maintained. If the territorial boundary issue remains unsettled, it will create problems and crises. If one thinks of laying the foundation of a permanent edifice of friendly bilateral relations, it is paramount that the first and foremost attention must go to the solution of these problems as soon as possible.
Obstruction in the movement of goods and services at the border points, trade and commerce trespassing through unauthorised routes, smuggling of drugs, human trafficking, anti-national and immoral activities, terrorism, encroachment, crimes and unnecessary obstacles in the free movements of the people across the border are the problems, which should be tackled by the two governments immediately by the deployment of security forces to clean up the mess in order to ensure safe and smooth border management.
Manishankar Aiyar, former minister of India, during his recent Nepal visit, deplored the trade embargo imposed on Nepal by India as an unfriendly act. He stated that the big brotherly attitude and behaviour would be harmful to the growth of friendly relations between Nepal and India. Aiyar’s comment obviously refers to the official behaviour reminiscent of the ICS (Indian Civil Service) hangover developed during the British Raj in India.
Nepal is an independent sovereign country and should be treated as an equal partner. Proper and correct diplomatic modus operandi would be productive in broadening the horizon of Nepal-India relations. Manishankar’s remarks should, therefore, be regarded positive in that respect. At the people-to-people level, the relationship apparently is marked by intimacy and closeness, which need to be developed at the official level, too.
Eminent persons of both countries, who are now at work to examine the problems, know the crux of the problems. Their joint observations and report on the formulation of a new framework on bilateral relations would be a great step forward. It is expected that they would be successful in evolving a new friendship treaty by minimising the points of differences and maximising the points of agreement, taking into consideration the difficulties and limits of cooperation of one another as Nepal-India relation grows out of necessity and not by choices.
(Professor Pradhan is a former foreign secretory, ambassador to the USA and visiting professor at Ambassador College in California, USA)