Trump jitters

  • Nepal’s ties with neighbours India and China could be affected by shifts in US policy
- Prakash A Raj

Feb 14, 2017-

Two articles published recently throw some light on how the election of Donald Trump as US president could impact Sino-Nepal and Indo-Nepal relations. They were written by respected journalists in Nepal with more than four decades of experience. Both have worked as editors of English dailies published from Kathmandu. 

MR Josse, contributing editor to People’ Review weekly, considers a 

scenario where America and India forge a closer strategic relationship which creates a sense of encirclement in Beijing, especially in its ‘soft underbelly Tibet’. He cites the possibility of a pre-emptive Chinese military intervention in Nepal. Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of Annapurna Post, a vernacular daily published from Kathmandu, who has also worked for Indian publications such as India Today weekly, has written in Indian daily The Indian Express that the constitution of Nepal promulgated in September 2015 is inadequate and incomplete. 

Prime Minister and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ is on record as saying that the main ‘achievements’ include secularism, federalism and republicanism. China is reported to have had reservations about them in the past. There was a conference of Chinese think tanks in Kathmandu in January 1974. Ghimire has quoted some of the concerns expressed by the participants about the activities of NGOs in Nepal and the rise of Christian missionary activities that have engineered political instability in the country. 

Li Tao, executive director of the Institute of South Asian Studies, reportedly said that NGOs were trying to create disturbances along the Sino-Nepal and Indo-Nepal border areas. The European Union is reportedly trying to increase its influence through these NGOs. In an article published in The Kathmandu Post entitled ‘From yam to bridge’, Li Tao states that China borders five of the eight countries in South Asia, “the 1,415-km long Nepal-China border is a major bridge between China and South Asia”. King Prithvi Narayan Shah had called Nepal a yam between India and China, and the word ‘yam’ is used often to designate the position of Nepal. 

One prime minister of Nepal is on record as saying, “Nepal isn’t landlocked but India-locked.” The construction of railways and motorable roads from mainland China to the Tibetan Plateau and the Nepal border has ‘alleviated’ the landlocked nature of Nepal as was demonstrated during the five-month-long undeclared blockade following the promulgation of the first constitution of Nepal by a Constituent Assembly elected by the Nepali people. 

Columnist Sukhdev Shah, a Madhesi and retired international civil servant, has considered a hypothetical scenario. He believes that there could be a challenge to government rule in Madhes if the situation there remains unsettled inciting regionwide unrest. He believes that “China will look to exploit the opportunity to get deeply involved in Nepal’s domestic affairs”. This could lead to Nepal being more and more dependent on China triggering “India’s intervention to at least protect Madhes territory from occupation by the Chinese”.

China has been advocating the OBOR (One Belt One Road) initiative that will benefit all three countries, China, Nepal and India. However, India is not receptive to the idea presumably because there’s a thinking in India that Nepal is and should be part of India’s security umbrella. On the other hand, the policy followed by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in India that brokered the 12-point accord bringing a federal, secular and a republican Nepal a decade earlier by micromanaging Nepal’s polity could be responsible for the current state of affairs. 

This was aggravated by India not welcoming the first ever constitution of Nepal promulgated by an elected Constituent Assembly. The months-long blockade by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Narendra Modi could also be responsible. It was wrong to have assumed that a government in India headed by a Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), would be friendlier than the UPA government led by Manmohan Singh of the Indian National Congress. When Modi visited Nepal after the formation of the NDA-led government, the Nepali people welcomed him. However, his popularity was sharply reduced when the unofficial blockade was imposed. 

KP Oli was successful in getting support from China to open alternate routes via China to get around the ‘unofficial’ Indian blockade. Oli was replaced by Pushpa Kamal Dahal who was supposed to take a more pro-Indian stand. The crucial question is whether the agitating Madhesi parties will accept the outcome of a vote in the Legislature-Parliament to amend the constitution. Will the government be able to hold three elections within a year to the federal, provincial and local legislatures? Failure to do so will mean opening a Pandora’s box as the government after that period will be unconstitutional. 


- Raj is a former staff member of the UN Secretariat 

Published: 14-02-2017 09:12

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