Saroj K. Aryal
There is a famous quote that goes thus “Share a joy when we are celebrating and, bear the sorrow when it’s a funeral”, which in the context of Nepal, indicates the attitude of the government towards our neighbors. As quoted, the feature of countries in the neighborhood is that we can rely on them whether they are supportive or apathetic or even antagonistic because they are the ultimate hope during times of crises due to their proximity. It is therefore a challenge to maintain good relations with our neighbors.
Nepal lies between two emerging powers of the world namely India and China. Strategic location of Nepal can play a vital role on cooperation between these states as well as can generate threat to both nations. At the same time, Nepal can engage both of its neighbors on behalf of Nepal’s development. But, although having a very old history of existence Nepal has not been able to execute its foreign and neighborhood policy or we can just say Nepal didn’t find any appropriate policy which deals with international relations. Currently, Nepal is more engaged with its internal reformation after a very long duration of transition, but still if we failed to balance our neighbors they can’t wait for us to settle our domestic problems first, they can leave us and move on.
“Panchseel”: watch and wait policy?
During cold war, world was divided in two parts where Soviet Union carried the communist ideology and USA and its allies carried the capitalist ideology. Those states that straight away agreed or denied one of these philosophies were considered as an ally of either the USA or Soviet Union but those states that wanted to remain neutral established a movement named NAM-Non Align Movement. India, Nepal and most of the Asian states were in this movement, so to verify their neutrality they modify the objectives of NAM and established that modified ideology as their foreign policy. Including India, Nepal and some other states started to practice Panchaseel as their foreign policy. Time changed, cold war was over and most importantly those states that used to have Panchaseel as their foreign policy updated them as time and strategy demanded but Nepal remained dependent on Panchaseel which was now considered quite old to counter our emerging neighbors.
Constitution of Nepal 2072 again determined that, “Respecting the principle of NAM, Panchasheel, UN international convention, value of world peace”, as foreign policy. Although it sounds ideal, but, those words and values used in Nepalese constitution is more or less borrowed from other international organizations. Similarly, at last our constitution is to practice an independent foreign policy with borrowed values, those values which teach us to be passive. So that establishing independent foreign policy is needed, and along with foreign policy establishing neighborhood policy is crucial.
Landlocked countries like Nepal face the problem of not having access to trade route. Flexing muscles toward global trade is only way to gain economic prosperity. In addition to that, Nepal is on high beneficial point because of its neighbors. China and India at the same time are on global competition and here we are still struggling with our own internal hassles. Size of their land, population and pressure to maintain their trade expansion makes it impossible to refrain India and China from doing business with each other. Geographical condition between these nations is not favorable where they have to pass through high hills and it is like an impossible route to use during winter. Talking about sea route, the cost of shipping will be more than the cost of production to use this route.
Similarly, geography, versatility in topography, population, and current economic progression and production level of Nepal could be a joke as compared to our veteran neighbors. Therefore, trilateral cooperation between India, China and Nepal is the only way for Nepal to keep its position intact and develop itself. Here, if Nepal will be able to engage India and China at the same time instead of showing their so-called beneficial card to each other then all three states will be benefited equally.
Establishment of a Neighborhood policy
Like Nepal, Mongolia is also equally important in world politics, strategically. It lies between two great powers, China from one side and Russia from other. Being a buffer state Mongolia tactically balances her immediate neighbors. Currently, the flow and the index of Mongolian development are incomparable with Nepals’.
India is the biggest democracy in the world and China at the same time is the biggest communist state. In addition to that they both are in a race for better economic growth, nuclear and arms race to beat each other. Critical relation between these nations makes the trilateral relations more complex and the geo strategic location of Nepal led her to take initiation in this procedure.
Respecting the National Interest
National interest cannot be compared with other forms of interest where ego, history, culture or civil-military relation play a vital role rather than economy and diplomacy. Regarding Nepal, both of its neighbors want us to respect their national interest whether to respect ‘One China Policy’ or to respect India’s ‘Big Brotherhood’. Nepal as a good friend can take both of their interest with no harm at the same time. Strategic and Diplomatic efforts need to be stronger and tactical to handle these issues at once. The day we start to proclaim ourselves as China centric or India Centric, our neighbors might choose to move on without taking us on board.
Position India and China Equally
Instability has become almost a metaphor to Nepalese politics. When regime is changing, concerns about Nepal by international players including our neighbors rise rapidly. Unpredictable policy endorsement initiated by Nepalese government always gives a feeling of insecurity among all those active or concerned nations towards Nepal. China and India equally put their fullest effort to establish a favorable government in Nepal because of insecurities regarding policies agreed with one government not being endorsed by future governments.
Despite that, if Nepal prepares a blue print of policies to work with neighbors or with international partners, then it could sustain a system which guarantees stability and allays concerns of being considered a turncoat. In that case even after a change of guard in the government, the policies would by and large remain the same eliminating the confusion in the perception of external partners.
Review previous treaties and give fresh start to relations
Nepal- India friendship treaty 1950 sounds convivial but has some clauses that bind Nepal to an extent which makes it handicapped with regard to establishing new trade relations with other nations except India. Treaty of 1950 is still perceived by Nepalese public and politicians as a tactic employed by the big brother to retain control over Nepal. Therefore, the very first step towards mutual cooperation would be to review this treaty which at least would help to fade the bitterness toward India that is growing in Nepalese political discourse. Nepalese constitution 2072 lays stress on a provision regarding previously signed treaties that is, “Review those treaties, and give room to mutual cooperation and equality”.
~Aryal has completed his Master’s in International Relations and Diplomacy from University of Warsaw, Poland.