Into uncharted waters

  • Nepal is moving into a new governance system and there are many challenges ahead

Dec 26, 2017-

The people have expressed themselves clearly that they are for development, job opportunity, reconciliation and prosperity by voting for the Left Alliance composed of the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre) over the democrats led by the Nepali Congress. The government needs to fulfil the promises made to the people, and bring about accepted, appropriate and redefined practices and traditions in geo-political, geo-economic and national security. The Doklam dilemma brought to light the competition and cooperation between the rising powers that lie next to Nepal. While China is amassing much geopolitical influence, its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has boosted its international influence and stature. Meanwhile, India that has a strategic partnership with and support of the only global power, the US, may be losing its time-honoured sphere of influence.

There are many regional organisations, international and intergovernmental organisations, trade blocks, regional economic communities, regional integration and supranational unions in the world, but the politics, policies and actions of the new administration will have a direct bearing on the geo-politics and geo-economics of the region and Nepal.

Opportunity to be had

China’s BRI focuses on six corridors and the maritime Silk Road encompassing approximately 68 countries. The establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation (BCIM) is closely related to the project. Nepal being part of the initiative is yet to see strategic infrastructure and policies to prevent intervention and protect national economic upliftment. BCIM is a sub-regional economic corridor aimed at greater integration of trade, investment and establishment of industrial zones in multiple fields through access to Southeast Asia with a multi-modal corridor and an expressway between China and India.

The Asian Highway Network (AHN) and the Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) are cooperative projects to improve the highway system in Asia and Europe including South Asia. An Eastern South Asia quadrangle sub-regional initiative between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) will implement quadrilateral agreements in water resources management, energy connectivity and transport and infrastructure. The Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) that came into effect after the 18th Saarc Summit within BBIN will allow transportation within the signatory countries.

Even if things have not materialised well for the project to be completed by 2018, India has approved $1.8 billion for construction and upgradation of 558 km of roads by obtaining 50 percent funding from the Asian Development Bank. The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectorial Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) consisting of countries in South and Southeast Asia with 14 priority sectors covers all areas of cooperation.

All these strategic networks have both geo-political and geo-economic values, but the question is whether there will be another corridor linking China-India-Nepal. As China shows no signs of slowing or stopping its attempts to achieve an effective role in the region, three out of six strategic networks from Tibet to the southern border are likely to happen in the years to come. China and India’s development and security interests in the next decade will be closely interlinked with those of Nepal and other South Asian nations.

A fresh approach for growth

Three apex executive advisory bodies with executive authority—National Administration Committee (NAC), National Security Council (NSC) and National Planning Commission (NPC)—are required. They must work hand in hand to assist the head of government with regard to issues that can threaten or have the potential to threaten both internal and external development, good governance and security. The authority of execution should lie firmly within the Council of Ministers. The commission and the council and its associated structures should be expected to focus primarily on a multi-disciplinary approach to security issues, long- and short-term assessment of threats, challenges and opportunities. The council and commission should also serve as the prime minister’s principal arms for coordinating these policies among various government agencies.

The polarisation and divisions in society will unquestionably invite instability. Ethnic, religious and political polarisation will be of immeasurable magnitude that requires painstaking management. For the past decade, successive governments have opted for different approaches to prevent the country and the minds of the population from crumbling, but the distrust of mainly Madhesis and Janajatis towards the major political parties stand unyielding, which may lead to political instability. The bureaucracy has been politicalised to the hilt. If bribery and political connections lead to constitutional, executive and senior appointments, accountability and the rule of law will be compromised. The marginalisation of professional ability will have dreadful consequences for professional expansion that will bring more inefficiency, poverty and instability.

Identifying the stumbling blocks, shortcomings and drawbacks while recognising and acknowledging the new realism and authenticity, putting the nation and people first by forming new apex executive bodies like the NAC, and reviewing and redesigning the NSC, NPC and the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority are urgent tasks for the new administration that will help it to fulfil the promises made to the Nepali people.

Basnyat holds an MPhil degree and is a retired Army Major General

Published: 26-12-2017 08:22

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