Our proximity to India doesn’t mean we can’t develop close ties with China

  • Interview Nilambar Acharya

Apr 17, 2017-The recently held third Eminent Persons Group (EPG) meeting and President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s upcoming state visit to India could be indications that Nepal-India relations are heading in a positive direction.

The two sides had agreed to form the EPG in 2014 with the objective to review the bilateral relations, including the thorny 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty.

Shashwat Acharya and Supriya Gurung spoke to Nilambar Acharya, one of the four Nepalis represented in the EPG, about the current status of Nepal-India ties, the outstanding issues in bilateral relations and Nepal’s conduct of foreign affairs. 

How accurate is the perception that Nepal is more eager to review the 1950 treaty than India?

Both the Nepali and Indian governments have agreed to review our relationship, and it was on the basis of this agreement that the EPG was formed.

Thus, there is no question that India is hesitant in this regard. The EPG will discuss issues of contention and produce a report that will be presented to both governments.

We will use a two-year time period that has been allotted to us, and only at the end of this period will we be able to make any concrete statements. 

Specifically, what issues need to be revised in your opinion?

The 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty has to be revised in accordance with the current context. Other issues that will be addressed are the treaties concerning water resources and trade and transit.

But the main focus will be the peace and friendship treaty. It was drafted in a different time, when India has just been liberated from the British rule, and when Nepal was still under the Rana regime.

The global context, with the impending Cold War, was also different then. There have been huge changes in the two countries’ domestic conditions as well as in their relations with the rest of the world. So the peace treaty needs to be amended to reflect these changes. 

Obviously, there are certain issues that both countries hold different views on. These issues need to be discussed in order to reach a common consensus. It is for this reason that the EPG was formed.

Considering that the EPG’s recommendations won’t be binding, what are the chances that the two governments will actually heed them?

Just because the EPG’s recommendations are not legally binding does not mean that they do not carry any weight.

The two governments have said that they will give the recommendations due consideration.

And while they may not be legally binding, we must not forget that the governments are morally and politically bound, at the very least, to consider the recommendations.

Even if all our suggestions are not executed, we hope parts of them will be. 

The work of the EPG is not a meaningless exercise; it is a necessary one. Without this attempt, there would only be further disagreements and misunderstandings between the two countries. The fact that the two governments have endorsed this group has added further weight to its recommendations.   

Broadly, how would describe the current state of Nepal-India ties?

India and Nepal are close neighbours. The relationship between the two countries should have progressed harmoniously.

But this has not happened and certain difficulties have arisen. Our proximity as neighbours and our relationship should be maintained.

Of course, this does not mean that we cannot develop relations with other countries. Our relations with other nations will not impinge on our relations with India.

Nepal and India share a lot of societal and historical ties, which we hold in great importance. Obviously, there is room for improving the current state of Nepal-India relations. 

Recently, Nepal had to suffer through a blockade because India did not agree with some of our constitutional provisions. And it was not the first time India imposed a blockade.

Of course, there are two sides to every story, and perhaps India also wonders why Nepal is presenting difficulties.

This was why there was a need to clarify these misunderstandings through dialogue.

This is why the EPG was created. This is not the right time to divulge the details of the discussions within the EPG, as public opinions regarding these talks may not prove conducive to our end goal. 

India felt the necessity to impose a blockade on a smaller neighbour. Why do you think India chose to express its reservations about our constitution in such a manner?

India denies that it imposed the blockade. We all feel that a nation such as India should not have imposed a blockade on Nepal.

The way our government functions is our own business, and the way the Indian government functions is their business.

It is within our full jurisdiction to make decisions about how to run our country. It is not acceptable if another country forcefully imposes its views on us. 

What are your thoughts on President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s state visit to India beginning today?

This state visit should have occurred a long time ago but was put off for a number of reasons.

The visit is important, as it allows a way for governments to come closer and reach common ground. These state visits should be undertaken by both parties.

Recently, the Indian prime minister and president visited Nepal, and our prime minister also visited India. We need to see these visits as opportunities for improving bilateral ties. 

How have you viewed the role of China in Nepal?

I believe that China’s impact is growing, not only in Nepal, but globally. Take the One Belt One Road Initiative, for example. China aims to enhance its connectivity with the whole world.

The view that we are enhancing relations with China as a result of the deteriorating ties with India is spurious.

We will follow the path that is most advantageous for Nepal, and our relations with various nations will be established on this basis.

What’s your take on the way Nepal is conducting diplomacy?

Nepal has a lot of work to do to promote diplomacy. We need to strengthen the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In order for it to perform well, our domestic politics needs to be stable. Foreign powers have their own interests and agenda in Nepal, and we must be careful about them. Nepal has to work towards furthering its own interests.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is constituting a panel to comprehensively review Nepal’s current foreign policy. Your thoughts?

There is a need for such a review. All political parties need to come together and present a common front when it comes to foreign affairs.

The public sees certain governments as more ‘India’ oriented, and others as more ‘China’ oriented. They see the country’s foreign policy changing with the changes in governments. 

We need a stable foreign policy that will not change with every change in government. If not, foreign powers will have an interest in influencing our government or even forming a particular government. 

Published: 17-04-2017 08:09

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