Undeclared Embargo: Against International Law : Uttam Maharjan

At a time when the whole country is celebrating the promulgation of the constitution drafted by people’s representatives through the Constituent Assembly, a feat that has fulfilled the dream of the Nepalese lying unfulfilled for the last 65 years, some disgruntled groups are staging protest programmes in the Terai-Madhes belt. The protests have taken an ugly turn, focusing on the blockade of border points and highways with the nefarious aim of blocking the supply of essential goods, including petroleum products, to their own country.

Undeclared embargo

Taking advantage of this murky situation, India has indulged in an undeclared embargo against Nepal. The Indian side, however, does not openly admit that it has imposed such an embargo against Nepal. But that goods and POL-product trucks or containers or other vehicles have been barred from entering Nepal is testimony to the embargo against Nepal. The Indian side claims that this unpleasant situation has arisen due to the protests by the Madhesis along the border.

The protests by the Madhesis have been going on in the Terai-Madhes belt for over one and a half months. Till the promulgation of the constitution, the supply of goods and POL products had been continuing without any hindrance. But the situation became grave as soon as the constitution was promulgated on September 20, 2015. Although various countries and international bodies have welcomed the promulgation of the constitution, India has expressed its displeasure at the way the constitution was promulgated. India wanted the promulgation of the constitution after the demands of the agitating Madhesis had been fulfilled. That is why, India has been barring the Nepal-bound vehicles from entering the country on the pretext that there are disturbances along the Nepal-India borders.

The agitating Madhesis are also hell-bent on stopping the supply of essential goods to Nepal from India, hoping that this will force the government and prominent political parties to kowtow to their demands. One of the Madhesi leaders has openly said that they, not India, are resorting to the blockade. Perhaps, they have the courage to express such anti-national remarks with clandestine backing from India. Further, the so-called seven amendments attributable to India as published in one of the prominent Indian newspapers more or less match those of the Madhesis. In fact, the Madhesis have employed a stratagem of pushing the government and major political parties to the wall by creating extreme hardships among the general people.

At a time when the great festivals of Dashain and Tihar are just around the corner, the undeclared embargo has played spoilsport. Now, a scarcity of essential goods and POL products has loomed large in different parts of the country, including the Kathmandu Valley. To cope with the situation arising from a shortage of POL products, the government has enforced an odd-even number plate system. A fuel quota has also been introduced to make the existing fuel supplies go round for a bit longer period of time.

These are, however, just stop-gap arrangements in the context of the shortage of POL products in the country. A permanent solution needs to be sought through political and diplomatic channels. The government and major political parties are also saying that they need to solve the crisis through political and diplomatic channels, but the initiative has yet to be taken.

The leaders of Nepal lack vision. They do not think that they should make long-term planning for development. They think that imports will fulfill the needs of the country. They are happy when malls are opened to cater to the requirements of the people for foreign goods. They do not emphasise the production of quality indigenous goods which can contribute a lot to import substitution. In a sense, due to the ineptitude of the leaders, the dependency syndrome has been so inveterate that the country will face a gaping trade deficit for years to come.

The leaders of Nepal are excessively inclined to India. They tend to seek suggestions from India whenever there is a problem in the country or whenever a new government has to be formed. One of the blatant examples is the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the seven-party alliance and Maoists in New Delhi in 2006. Over-inclination to India has emboldened India to exert hegemonic pressure on Nepal. This is exactly what is happening right now.

It has come out in the open that two entry points on the Nepal-China border have been closed since the April 25 earthquake. Over five months have rolled by since the earthquake. But the government has not taken the initiative in opening the border points. This indifference on the part of the government has also been capitalised on by India.

Now, the government should make efforts on a war footing to open the border points. China has already indicated that it is willing to make supplies of essential goods to Nepal. But the government does not seem to have paid attention to the Chinese offer.   

The present embargo has taught Nepal a good lesson. Depending on a single country for the fulfilment of the country’s requirements is harmful. It is not judicious to put all your eggs in one basket. It is important to enhance import substitution by giving the indigenous industries a shot in the arm. For this, import-mindedness needs to be de-emphasised or obliterated, and efforts should be made to produce quality goods in the country itself. After all, there is no dearth of resources in the country. What is needed is the proper utilisation of such resources. There is no harm in trying to attain autarky by utilising the indigenous resources available in the country.

Big-brother attitude

Finally, to break the impasse currently threatening the country, the government and major political parties should not waste any time in initiating political and diplomatic initiatives. If need be, the country should also internationalise the matter as the current Indian move is against international laws and  breaches the privileges of a land-locked country to enjoy transit rights without any hitches as laid down in the 1965 Convention on Transit Trade of Landlocked States. The move is also against the Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty, the WTO rules and the South Asian Free Trade Area. The move thus shows that India is showing a big-brother attitude coupled with hegemony to Nepal.    

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