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Steep challenges await Acharya as he readies for Delhi mission

  • New envoy will have full plate once he lands in Indian capital next month
- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu

Jan 22, 2019-

Nepal’s new Ambassador to India, Nilamber Acharya, faces steep challenges as he takes up his diplomatic assignment next month as the first envoy to New Delhi since the 2015 blockade.

For Acharya, a former law minister, this will be his second assignment as a diplomat after a gap of around two decades. He had served as Nepal’s ambassador to Sri Lanka between October 1996 and April 2000.

Acharya’s appointment comes at a crucial time for Nepal-India relations, which in the last two decades have seen a series of ups and downs, with the ties hitting a historic low in the aftermath of the promulgation of the constitution in Nepal in September 2015, following which New Delhi had imposed an undeclared blockade that lasted five months.

Foreign affairs experts say that while there will be some routine issues—inundation problems on the Nepali side due to infrastructure development across the border, follow-up on around three dozen bilateral mechanisms at various levels, maintaining high-level exchanges between the two countries—Acharya now will also have to deal with some new agenda concerning the two countries.

Also read: Delhi accepts envoy nominee Acharya

“The first and foremost job for Acharya will be creating an environment for submitting the Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) report,” says Narayan Kaji Shrestha, former deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs. “EPG report implementation should be a priority issue, as it deals with wide-ranging issues from revisiting old treaties to security to border and boundary.”

Acharya was one of the members of the EPG formed by the two countries to look into broader bilateral issues, including border and economy. The group readied its final report in June last year, but it is yet to be submitted to the prime ministers of the two countries, largely due to the “hectic schedule” of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Nepali officials in New Delhi and Kathmandu, however, are sceptical about any progress in the EPG report before general elections in India in May. 

“Here is the dilemma,” a Nepali official in the Delhi mission told the Post on condition of anonymity. 

“If the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party wins the May elections, Acharya will have to work hard to convince the Indian government to accept the report because the incumbent Modi government already has expressed reservations about it.”

According to the official, the task of getting the report implemented will be even tougher for Acharya if the Congress party wins India elections. “It may not own up the report, saying the EPG was created by the BJP government.”

Kamal Thapa, also a former deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs, however says Acharya should focus on removing the irritants which have emerged in the past five-seven years.

“The new ambassador should focus on economic development and ensuring the assistance, aid and loan pledged by India for Nepal’s reconstruction,” says Thapa. “As far as the EPG report is concerned, even if India refuses to accept it, we have to pursue the issue consistently.”

Yet another important issue Acharya will have to oversee in a proactive manner is completion of India-funded projects. India is a major contributor to Nepal’s development efforts, but progress in India-funded projects has been historically sluggish.

“India has committed many projects in Nepal, but they are rarely completed on time. This has been a major source of anti-India sentiment in Nepal. So Acharya should focus on implementing the ongoing projects undertaken by India,” says Thapa.

During Modi’s visit to Nepal in May last year, both sides had agreed to remove bottlenecks in India-funded projects in a “time-bound manner”. 

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Modi had agreed to resolve issues related to inundation, bulk cargo movement, trade and transit, four additional air routes for Nepal, integrated check posts, and delays in India-funded projects by September 19 last year.

“But there has been dismal progress in implementing the agreement reached between the prime ministers of the two countries,” says Shrestha.

Nepal’s trade deficit with India has been increasing and this is one area which needs immediate attention of the head of the Nepali mission in Delhi. 

“Acharya needs to reach out to the Indian private sector and business community to seek more investments in Nepal in the manufacturing sector. He should also make efforts to amend the trade treaty with India so that Nepali products can have a level playing field in India,” says Thapa.

Also read: Enovy nominee Acharya faces tough challenges in Delhi

Officials who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity said there was a need to recalibrate the ties between the two countries, especially in the context of the 2015 blockade which prompted Nepal to tilt towards China.

Once in New Delhi, Acharya will have to deal with Indian concerns surrounding China’s increasing activities and influence in Nepal. 

Nepal signed up to China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative in May 2017 and is working to finalise some projects to be funded under the initiative. During a parliamentary hearing last month, Acharya had told lawmakers that he would work to get rid of ever-existing suspicions among the peoples of the two neighbouring countries that have age-old economic, social and cultural ties. 

Asked about his priorities as he takes on the new role, the ambassador-designate said he would focus on improving the historical Nepal-India ties.

“We cannot take our relations forward with the old mindset and mentality,” Acharya told the Post. “We need to start afresh and take our relations to a new high.”

Published: 22-01-2019 07:32

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