- Failure to reach agreement on PTA, PDA should also serve as a reminder about the reality of Nepal-India ties
Aug 3, 2014-Over the past month, the Nepali political class has tried to forge agreement (among themselves and with India) over two agreements on the development and sale of hydropower—the Power Trade Agreement (PTA) and Power Development Agreement (PDA). However, it now appears that no agreement is possible, and that these documents will not be signed during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Nepal. This is somewhat of a disappointment. After all, the PTA and PDA were meant to be the crowning achievements of Modi’s visit. Yet, in the larger scheme of things, it is for the best that flawed agreements were not hastily pushed forward. The Nepali parties have put forward a proposal that the statement released at the end of Modi’s visit include a clause that states that these two agreements will be signed in the next six weeks. This will signal that both countries are committed to these agreements, while simultaneously allowing more time for negotiation.
The danger, however, is that the parties could promptly forget about the PTA and PDA as soon after Modi leaves. This would be a mistake. Rather, the parties should learn from the mistakes of the past and use the extra time to not only reach an agreement that would be in Nepal’s best interest, but which also enjoys the broadest consensus possible. Alongside negotiations among themselves and with India, the parties should reach out to water experts from diverse backgrounds. This will help ensure that the agreement does not include any clauses that damage Nepal’s interest. At the same time, the ruling parties should reach out to opposition parties, civil society and the media, and explain to these groups what is in the agreements. The drafts of the agreements should be made public so that anyone interested can scrutinise them. This will help prevent accusations from various sections of the public that the government is being secretive about the agreements. Nepal’s recent history demonstrates that any hint of secrecy over agreements with India often leads to public perception that the government is compromising Nepal’s interests.
The failure to reach an agreement on the PTA and PDA should also serve as a salutary reminder about the reality of Nepal-India relations. Modi’s visit is meant to jumpstart a new phase in relations between the two countries. There is much excitement in Nepal, and some believe that all the years of mistrust and suspicion will immediately be overcome. But as the failure of the power agreements demonstrate, old problems cannot easily be swept under the carpet. It will require sustained effort in order to overcome past problems. Modi’s visit is only the beginning of a supposed new phase. If anything, it marks more of a symbolic new start. It is the task of Nepali and Indian politicians and officials to transform this into a reality.
Published: 04-08-2014 09:23