A Tale Of Two Rails
Talks of railway lines to be constructed in our cash-strapped country have now been doing the rounds. The Nepali state, a nation of perpetual poverty, cannot build the cash-consuming railway tracks on its flat lands, let alone on its rugged mountain terrains. The nation therefore has to look outwards for having its own railway lines.
Two of our immediate neighbours have shown their deep interest in building the railway lines in Nepal. China expressed interests in laying down the railway tracks and helping the poor nation run its railway services in few years’ time. As China has said it will undertake feasibility study of railway networks from Shigatse, Kerung, Kathmandu, Pokhara and to Lumbini, the Indian side came up with its idea of building a new railway line, from its border town of Raxaul to Kathmandu.
Our two neighbours have been engaged in a competition to build the railways in Nepal, thanks to their desire to have greater presence in the poor country that requires foreign aid for most of its development efforts.
In recent times, the geopolitics is on play regarding Nepal’s relations with the two immediate neighbours. As Nepal is proving to be an important neighbour, the two bigger neighbours seem to have desired to increase their presence in Nepal through various means. Extending economic support for infrastructure is one sure way to heighten their presence in the poor country.
The idea of bringing railway lines has, however, come at a cost for Nepal. Following India’s five-month long border closure in 2015-16, the then Nepali government looked northward to ease the problems created by the Indian blockade. During the hard time the idea of bringing Chinese railway to Nepal was mulled. Both Nepal and China reached an understanding to carry out study for a railway line from China to Nepal, sending ripples of fear in the Indian establishment that regards Nepal as its traditional ally.
The mention of the Chinese railway coming to Nepal depressed the Indian establishment to the core. The Indian side that has now realized the mistake of imposing border blockade signed an agreement with Nepal for the construction of the railway line from Raxaul to Kathmandu. In the meantime, the Indian side has started improving the Jayanagar-Janakpur railway service after neglecting it for years.
Both China and India are expected to build railway lines in Nepal in a few years’ time. Because both of them are willing to prove that they are the good neighbour of Nepal who want to help Nepal develop economically. However, while laying down their railway tracks and helping our country undertake its own railway services, both of them want to have their greater presence in the strategically important Nepal.
The ongoing competition between the two bigger neighbours will nevertheless be advantageous to Nepal in easing its transport woes. Railway lines crisscrossing the rugged and plain lands of the country would certainly be a historical achievement. But, our nation must not forget that the two rails in the nation would come with several strings attached from the two neighbours. In constructing the railway lines, the two neighbours would certainly “want” more. Nepal should thus be aware that it would not fall into the hidden traps that come with the railway lines.