Pages

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chinese Premier's Nepal visit will have far-reaching impact in South Asia

Yuba Nath Lamsal

The announcement that came from the mouth of non other than Nepal's Prime
Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is arriving at
Kathmandu next month on a three-day official visit beginning December 20 has
stirred enthusiasm as well as ripples both in Nepal and abroad. The news has
created enthusiasm among the Nepali people and others who want to see
strong, friendly and cooperative relations between these two close
neighbours. This section of people, which forms a large majority in Nepal,
are now eager to welcome Prime Minister of the country which is not only a
cradle of civilization and a great international power but also a good
friend and well-wisher of Nepal and the Nepalese people.

Wen will be the highest ranking politician of China to visit Nepal in the
period of one decade. The last Chinese premier to visit Nepal was Zhu Rongji
in 2001. Earlier, Premier Li Peng, Zhou Enlai and president, Li Xiannian and
Jiang Zemin too had visited Nepal. Although there have been many exchanges
of visits from both sides at different levels on regular basis which have
provided opportunity for both the countries to share and exchange ideas,
explore areas of cooperation and nurture bilateral ties, no Chinese leader
of Wen's stature has visited since Premier Zhu's last visit. During this
period, two Nepali heads of state and three prime ministers have already
paid official visits to China. Chinese premier's visit had long been
expected.

During the visit, Wen is expected to meet with a host of leaders and
officials and discuss wide-ranging issues pertaining to bilateral relations
between Nepal and China as well as regional and international issues. During
Wen's visit, some important deals are likely to be agreed upon that include
issues ranging from cooperation, political, social, cultural security and
trade.

Wen's visit comes at a time when China has already emerged as world's second
largest economy and poised to outpace the United States of America in near
future and also has greater international clout and influence (The
International Monetary Fund has predicted that China would be world's
largest economy in 2016 leaving behind the United States). Thus, Chinese
premier's visit is being keenly and cautiously watched by the entire world.

More cautious are the United States and India as they perceive China as
their competitor. They are threatened by China's economic miracle
accompanied by the growing military might and international clout. However,
China does not consider any country as its competitor but always maintains
that its peaceful rise poses no threat to any country in the world. And
there is no reason for anyone to be susceptible about Wen's visit to Nepal
since the visit is purely goodwill one aimed at strengthening friendly and
neighbourly ties subsisting between these two traditional friends and
strengthen their level of cooperation.

Nepal is China's close friend which shares more than 1400 kilometer border,
slightly less than Nepal's border with India. Nepal and China have cordial,
cooperative and friendly relations from time immemorial. The bilateral ties
between these two countries are as old as our civilization. China's
contribution to Nepal has been so old that no other country can match.
Legend has it that Kathmandu was once a big lake with no human settlement. A
saint from central China called Manjushree came to Nepal and cut open the
mountain with his sword and drained the water from the lake, thus creating
the Kathmandu Valley. After letting the water drain out, Manjushree
established human settlement in Kathmandu. Similarly, noted Chinese monks
namely Fahien and Huen Tsang came to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha,
on pilgrimages and wrote in detail a travel account which popularized Nepal
in China.

Buddhism is an important thread that has bound the two countries together.
Bhrikuti, a Nepali prince who married with a Tibetan king, not only brought
Nepal and China closer but also established Buddhism as a mainstream
religion in Tibet and mainland China. Buddhism and Confucian philosophy have
shaped the Chinese society and its outlook. Buddhism is a great contribution
of Nepal to China. Similarly, Nepali artist Balbahu, who is popularly known
as Arniko, made a long voyage to Beijing in ancient time and made Pagoda
style of architecture popular in China. Invited from a Chinese emperor,
Arniko along with his fellow craftsmen built several temples, palaces and
buildings in unique pagoda style which earned high degree of respect of
Chinese people for Nepal and Nepalese people. Arniko's contribution to
enhance Nepal-China relations both in official as well as people's level was
huge and immense, which is still being remembered with high esteem. In the
later years, too, several monks, saints, sages and scholars like Buddhabhdra
and others had visited China and enriched Buddhism. These are some of the
instances which are indicative of the fact that Nepal and China have
contributed to one another right from the ancient time and strengthened ties
both at official and popular level.

Nepal and China have never had any kind of hitch and problems in their
relations throughout history. Nepal always gave priority to relations with
China. Prithivi Narayan Shah, the founder of unified and modern Nepal, has
suggested, in his noble directives of 'Dibya Upadesh' to maintain good
relations with the Emperor of China', which have been followed by all
governemnts as of now. However, when China was preoccupied with its own
internal problem and came under foreign occupation, there had been slackness
in Nepal-China relations. At the same time, Nepal came with headlong
collision with British imperialist power in South Asia which ended after
Sugauli Treaty. The Sugauli Treaty was imposed on Nepal by British imperial
power and some of the provisions of the treaty are unequal and humiliating
for Nepal. After the Sugauli Treaty, Nepal's foreign policy remained
British-centric which continued until in 1947. After British left India in
1947, Nepal's court switched over its loyalty from British colonial power to
the new regime in New Delhi, which, too, adopted the same old colonial
policy with Nepal. During the entire period from Sugauli Treaty to 1950
political change, little efforts were made at the official level to promote
Nepal-China ties, although the relations at the popular level were
excellent.

The 1950 marked a change in political and foreign policy front as Nepal came
out of the policy of isolation. Newer initiatives were made to revive and
reinvigorate relations with China. Beijing, too, saw a historic and
epoch-making changes as People's Republic of China was established in 1949
following the success of revolution launched under the banner of Communist
Party of China. The 1955 is a historic year in terms of Nepal-China
relations as formal diplomatic relationship was established between
democratic Nepal and People's Republic of China. Since then the bilateral
relations have continued to grow, despite certain elements being at work to
create misunderstanding and suspicion between Kathmandu and Beijing.

The relations between Nepal and China were established and have been
nurtured on the basis of mutual equality and Five Principles of Peaceful
Co-existence. They understand one another's sensitivity. China has been
Nepal's true friend and friend in need. China has supported Nepal in
various fronts including its development. China's contribution to Nepal's
development is very significant which is motivated by helping the neighbour
to stand on its own foot. The Chinese assistance includes the areas like
infrastructure development, establishment of industries, human resource
development and health and sports. Chinese support in infrastructure
development of Nepal has been vital. The Arniko Highway, Kathmandu-Bhaktapur
Road, Prithivi Highway, Narayanghat-Mungling Road, Gorkha-Narayanghat Road,
Kathmandu's Ring Road, Pokhara-Baglung Highway are some of the vital
infrastructure that were built under Chinese assistance. These roads are
serving as lifeline of the country. The Rasua-Syafrubesi road is currently
under construction with Chinese support. These are only a few instances and
China has supported several other projects.



The relations between China and Nepal have developed more rapidly in recent
years. The exchanges of visits from both countries at different levels have
enhanced mutual understanding and trust between these two neighbours.
Besides official level, people to people contacts are also growing
significantly which have further enriched bilateral relations in all fronts.

Premier Wen's visit comes at a time when Nepal is passing through a
transitional period. Nepal is busy in writing a new constitution and
institutionalizing peace process. The situation in Nepal is still in a state
flux. In the government are the Maoists and the Madhesi parties. The current
government is viewed as more friendly towards India than China. Some are a
bit apprehensive about Wen's visit in the present context. However, China
may have its own perspective and view. China's main concern in Nepal is it
security. Beijing does not take Nepal as a threat but certain external
elements are active to instigate anti-China activities from Nepal's
territory with the sinister motive of creating instability in China. In this
design, some political forces and people are being used by external
elements. the China's worry at present is understadable because some key
security related ministries like Home Affairs and Defense are controlled by
the Madhesi parties, which are being dubbed as pro-Indian forces. But
Chinese Prime Minister wants to visit at this juncture so that Beijing would
engage even pro-Indian forces in Nepal and wants assurances from them about
China's security. Against this background, Premier Wen's visit, if it at all
takes place, would carry much significance which is expected to have
far-reaching impact not only on bilateral relations but also in the regional
balance of power.

Nepal's ruptured politics, fractured parties

Yuba Nath Lamsal

Nepal's politics is ruptured and the political parties fractured. Ruptured
in the sense that Nepal's politics has lost its cohesiveness and
rationality. Nobody can predict in which and what direction the country's
politics will head. This is mainly because of the unreliability and
unpredictability of the political parties and their leaders.


Nepal has had unique political experience. We have come a long way from
feudalism, oligarchic rule, monarchical absolute regime, guided democracy in
the name of multi-party system, one-party Panchayat rule, monarchical
democracy to the present federal republican democracy.

Our political journey has been long, arduous and tumultuous. But the
Nepalese people are docile, obedient and law abiding. As law abiding
citizens, they trusted and obeyed the rulers in the past with the hope that
those at the helms of affairs would bring them and the country good fortune.
But their beliefs were often proved wrong, and the people felt betrayed one
after another by the rulers. At times when the level of deceit by the rulers
crossed the limit, the Nepalese people revolted.

Nepal was created as a nation state following its unification by Prithivi
Narayan Shah. He led the process of unification of the country that was
nothing more than scores of tiny principalities. But the Shah king was not
alone in accomplishing this huge national task. There was active and
spontaneous participation of the people from every rank of the country and
society in the national campaign. People like Bise Nagarchi, a poor and
dalit, understood the value of a strong and unified state and offered
whatever he had at his disposal to the unification campaign. As a result, a
unified though fragile Nepal was created.

The unification was a historical necessity for which Prithivi Narayan Shah
took the initiative. However, the rulers that came to power after him often
got bogged down in petty power politics with the royal court propping one
group against the other to have control over political and military power of
that time. As the court conspiracy worsened, different groups emerged at
different intervals of history, only to vanish in the trash bins of history.

The nature of the state was military, and one who controlled the army
controlled the political power. In this dirty power politics, many honest,
dedicated and patriotic nobles and knights lost their lives. Be it Bhimsen
Thapa, Damodar Pandey, Mathbar Singh Thapa or Gagan Singh, they all lost
their lives because of the dirty palace feud and conspiracy.

The Nepalese people extended their support to the monarch during the
unification and consolidation of the newly established Nepal. Unfortunately,
the monarch or their henchmen often turned against the people and resorted
to exploiting them once they were able to consolidate their hold on power.
Their chosen modus operandi to grab and retain power was either with
military strength or by conspiracy.

Out of the conspiracy, Jung Bahadur Rana rose to power by eliminating all
his enemies and rivals and introduced an oligarchic system in which only the
Rana clan benefitted. This system continued for over a century and came to
an end only in 1951. The popular revolution that was at its height was
suddenly aborted by the conspiracy of the external forces and ended up in a
tripartite deal, which the Nepalese people still consider as a blot on Nepal's
political history.

This deal served the interest of the monarchy, the feudals and landlords but
not the majority of the people that had taken part in the revolution. The
tripartite accord transferred the state power from the Ranas to the Shah
dynasty. People who participated in the revolution with the hope of becoming
masters of their destiny were once again made subjects only to serve other
masters.

Although the 1951 political change was insignificant from the perspective of
popular rights, it did make contributions to raising the level of people's
political consciousness. From Nepal's foreign policy perspective, the 1951
marked a turning point as Nepal departed from the old policy of isolation
and began to diversify its international relations. From the standpoint of
clan rule, it was also a rupture. But it was a continuity of the old system
in terms of class perspective. Although it marked the end of the rule of the
Ranas and restored the Shah dynasty's power, the same feudal class had an
upper hand on the state power. Earlier, the Ranas represented and patronised
the feudal class.

After 1951, the Shah monarchy emerged as the messiah of the feudals and
elites. The monarchy enjoyed absolute power and ruled in the name of the
partyless Panchayat system for almost 30 years. The fundamental interest of
the monarchy was to protect the interest of the feudal class.

Another rupture was seen in 1990 when the country saw a transformation from
an absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy with limited democratic
rights of the people. With the weakening of the monarchy, the foundation of
feudalism was shaken, but it was still alive.

With the political change of 1990, feudalism patronised by the monarchy
entered into an alliance with domestic and international capitalism mainly
against the emerging communist force in Nepal. This alliance, too, failed to
counter the emerging wave of communist forces that came to the fore in the
form of an armed insurgency. The real rupture in politics was felt only in
2006 when the old feudal monarchy was abolished, and Nepal was declared a
federal democratic republic.

On the political surface, there has definitely been a rupture, but from the
class perspective, feudalism is still alive and kicking despite the
abolition of its patron - the monarchy. Feudals and landlords have again
formed an alliance with domestic and international capitalists in order to
check and marginalise the radical and revolutionary force.

Now there is a friction between these two classes and forces, and they are
trying to outdo one another. The deadlock in the constitution-making process
is the result of this. Had any of the forces dominated the others, the
constitution would have been written and promulgated long ago.

The Maoists represent the radical force and champion the cause of the poor
and proletariat. They want radical change and institutionalise their agenda
of 'people's federal republican democracy'. The Nepali Congress represents
the capitalist class and 'liberal' democratic force and advocates capitalist
parliamentary democracy. The other parties are not significant in the
present class-based politics of Nepal except in the head counting
parliamentary politics.

The class interests of these two forces have often clashed in Parliament as
well as outside, which have delayed the peace and constitution-writing
process.

While there is a sharp clash of interest between the two main parties, the
parties are fractured badly from within and do not have unanimity on key
issues. Different groups and factions are at work in all the parties. There
are parties within a party, committees within a committee and organisations
within an organisation. Since the parties do not have a singular voice, how
can they be expected to come up with national consensus?


In the first place, there is no space for national consensus in class
politics. Different parties represent different classes and advocate the
interest of their own class. In such a scenario, national consensus has no
place, and it is foolish to expect it. The present scenario is the product
of this clash of class interest, which is not likely to change in the
immediate future. Either there has to be class transformation of the leaders
and parties or one force must overwhelm over the other. This possibility is
also rare in the present situation of Nepal, which is likely to prolong the
political crisis that our country has been facing. This seems to be our fait
accompli.

China's entry would benefit SAARC

Yuba Nath Lamsal

The 17th summit meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional
Cooperation (SAARC) recently concluded in Addu Atoll of the Maldives, which
appears to be a turning point in its history. Coming to the 17th Summit, the
SAARC has traversed a long and tumultuous journey and has finally proved its
worth. Some new initiatives now are afoot to turn the SAARC from a regional
gossiping club of South Asian leaders into a vibrant and resourceful
regional body.

Much was discussed among the leaders of the South Asia and observer
countries especially on the sidelines of the formal meetings. Talks were
held and ideas were exchanged on various issues including enlargement of the
SAARC. Currently, there are eight members and nine observers. The eight
members include Nepal, India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka,
Maldives and Afghanistan. The observer countries are China, Mauritius,
Japan, South Korea, Australia, United States of America, Iran, Myanmar and
European Union. Turkey is another country that may be interested to join the
SAARC as the observer and the SAARC members appear to be positive for
Turkey's entry into the SAARC as observer. With Turkey, the number of
observer countries in the eight-member SAARC would be ten. There are other
countries and groups that may be interested to join SAARC as observers.
Since European Union has the observer status, why should other regional
groups like ASEAN, African Union, Arab League and the Union of South
American Countries not be included as observers? If Iran, Myanmar and
Mauritius are qualified for the observers, several central Asian countries
that have close proximity as well as other relations with South Asia are
equally qualified for the same. Similarly, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia,
Vietnam, Russia may also be equally qualified for SAARC's observer status.
It seems as though observers are included in an arbitrary manner without
setting specific criteria. If this trend continues, SAARC, one day, may be
overwhelmed by observers, Situation may arise when member states would not
be able to take any decision whereas observers may dictate the members of
the SAARC.

The issue concerning the expansion of the SAARC has come up more
prominently. Originally SAARC was an association of seven countries.
Afghanistan was included only recently. Iran and Myanmar have long ago shown
willingness to join the SAARC as full-fledged members and have already
registered their written request. Similar case is with China, which is
currently an observer like Japan, South Korea and the United States. China
is the country which shares border with five members of the SAARC. China is,
thus, very much South Asian as well as East Asian country and it fully
deserves to be the member of the SAARC.

Recognizing this reality, there are some moves already afoot to include
China as a member of the SAARC instead of observer status. Majority of the
SAARC members are positive of China's entry into the SAARC. Pakistan has
already floated this idea, whereas Sri Lanka, Maldives, Afghanistan and
Bangladesh appear to be positive. China, too, is seeking active role in the
SAARC. At the moment, China has sought the role of dialogue partner if the
full-fledged membership is not immediately possible. The proposal to include
China as a dialogue partner has been called as 'eight-plus one' structure-
eight full-fledged members with one dialogue partner. If granted the status
of dialogue partner, China would be able to participate in all discussion
and dialogue and also put forth its views on issues of discussion. However,
it may not have voting power.

But China deserves more than the dialogue partner. But Beijing may be
contended with this status for the time being, which could ultimately be
transformed into a full-fledged member of the SAARC. China is development
partner of almost all South Asian countries. China has not only provided
generous assistance to several South Asian countries but also has been
involved in several construction and development projects. China is keen to
further expand the areas of cooperation in South Asia in the years to come.
This is China's selfless motive of contributing to the development in its
neighborhood. Beijing is well aware that prosperity and stability of China
may not be meaningful if its neighborhood is unstable, poor and backward.
The willingness and desire to contribute meaningful contribution to the
development of neighborhood and getting involved in the development works in
different countries in South Asia was clearly reflected in the speech
delivered by the head of the Chinese delegation to the 17th SAARC Summit.

China's South Asia policy is guided by its own security, stability and
development-which is called as the 'peripheral policy'. China feels that its
prosperity and stability are maintained only when its neighbors are stable
and prosperous. Beijing is of the view that when there is fire in the
neighborhood, it is likely to catch your own house. Guided by this notion,
China wants more stability, peace and prosperity in the neighborhood.

China is currently world's second largest economy and is poised to become
the largest one. The level of economic development of its people is also
going up fast. Beijing has aimed at completely eradicating poverty in a few
years. Similarly, China's investment in the world is also growing in leaps
and bound, which has bolstered China's clout and influence in the
international arena. China has invested much in other parts of the country
especially in Africa. South Asia is China's backyard and Beijing is
currently focusing its investment and cooperation in South Asia so that
South Asia can benefit from Chain's experience of economic miracle. SAARC
could be a good forum for enlarging economic cooperation between South Asia
and China. For this, China is seeking appropriate and dignified role within
SAARC forum.

However, Chain's move to be part of the SAARC is likely to be resisted by
India. Although China does not have any ill will against any county, India
always feels threatened by China's presence in the region. China has time
and again made its position clear that its economic growth and modernization
are not aimed at any other country but solely meant for its peaceful
development. Thus, there should be no apprehension and fear from China's
growth and its presence anywhere in the world.

Against this background, South Asia should take advantage from China's
desire to join SAARC. There has been widespread feelings in the region that
SAARC has not been able to move faster and accomplish its goal of meaningful
regional cooperation for which it was created 26 years ago. This is mainly
attributed to the lack of resources as most SAARC countries are poor.
Moreover, the role of India, which is the biggest and most powerful member
of the SAARC, may be uneasy from the effectiveness of the SAARC. India's
policy on SAARC is to keep the region alive but weak and fragile.
With China's entry as a full-fledged member, the SAARC would be world's
largest regional body with more resources and capability in tackling the
region's problems and contributing to the development of this area. China's
entry into SAARC would add one more dimension. So far, SAARC has been India
centric and New Delhi has used its influence, power and clout to reduce
SAARC activities to meetings and discussions. But China is a bigger and more
powerful in terms of size, population, economic and military might which may
serve as a perfect countervailing force in the SAARC so that one country's
hegemony would come to an end and SAARC would be more meaningful,
functioning and vibrant.

China's entry into the SAARC as a full-fledged member is necessary not for
China's interest but for the benefit of South Asian countries mainly smaller
and weaker ones like Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Afghanistan.
There are some other countries which have openly backed China's entry into
SAARC. Pakistan has wholeheartedly supported this move. The Maldives and Sri
Lanka are also positive. There has been widespread support in the popular
level in South Asia for brining China into SAARC forum as a member.
Bangladesh, too, may not oppose the proposal despite Prime Minister's Seikh
Hasina's pro-India tilt. Since Bhutan is India's tutelage, New Delhi may use
Thimpu card in keeping Beijing away although India would not come up openly
against China. The public opinion in Nepal is in China's favour because of
Beijing's good neighborly attitude and friendly cooperation. Prime Minister
Dr Baburam Bhattarai had publicly spoken the need for bringing China into
SAARC and has vowed to create Nepal as a meaningful bridge between China and
India. However, Prime Minister Bhattarai's silence over this matter in
Maldives during the 17th SAARC summit is conspicuous. Since he is the second
head of the government in South Asia to raise the issue of bringing China
into SAARC, he should have raised this issue in Maldives.

Ruptured Politics, Fractured Parties

Yuba Nath Lamsal

Nepal’s politics is ruptured and the political parties fractured. Ruptured in the sense that Nepal’s politics has lost its cohesiveness and rationality. Nobody can predict in which and what direction the country’s politics will head. This is mainly because of the unreliability and unpredictability of the political parties and their leaders.

Nepal has had unique political experience. We have come a long way from feudalism, oligarchic rule, monarchical absolute regime, guided democracy in the name of multi-party system, one-party Panchayat rule, monarchical democracy to the present federal republican democracy.

Our political journey has been long, arduous and tumultuous. But the Nepalese people are docile, obedient and law abiding. As law abiding citizens, they trusted and obeyed the rulers in the past with the hope that those at the helms of affairs would bring them and the country good fortune. But their beliefs were often proved wrong, and the people felt betrayed one after another by the rulers. At times when the level of deceit by the rulers crossed the limit, the Nepalese people revolted.

Nepal was created as a nation state following its unification by Prithivi Narayan Shah. He led the process of unification of the country that was nothing more than scores of tiny principalities. But the Shah king was not alone in accomplishing this huge national task. There was active and spontaneous participation of the people from every rank of the country and society in the national campaign. People like Bise Nagarchi, a poor and dalit, understood the value of a strong and unified state and offered whatever he had at his disposal to the unification campaign. As a result, a unified though fragile Nepal was created.

The unification was a historical necessity for which Prithivi Narayan Shah took the initiative. However, the rulers that came to power after him often got bogged down in petty power politics with the royal court propping one group against the other to have control over political and military power of that time. As the court conspiracy worsened, different groups emerged at different intervals of history, only to vanish in the trash bins of history.

The nature of the state was military, and one who controlled the army controlled the political power. In this dirty power politics, many honest, dedicated and patriotic nobles and knights lost their lives. Be it Bhimsen Thapa, Damodar Pandey, Mathbar Singh Thapa or Gagan Singh, they all lost their lives because of the dirty palace feud and conspiracy.

The Nepalese people extended their support to the monarch during the unification and consolidation of the newly established Nepal. Unfortunately, the monarch or their henchmen often turned against the people and resorted to exploiting them once they were able to consolidate their hold on power. Their chosen modus operandi to grab and retain power was either with military strength or by conspiracy.

Out of the conspiracy, Jung Bahadur Rana rose to power by eliminating all his enemies and rivals and introduced an oligarchic system in which only the Rana clan benefitted. This system continued for over a century and came to an end only in 1951. The popular revolution that was at its height was suddenly aborted by the conspiracy of the external forces and ended up in a tripartite deal, which the Nepalese people still consider as a blot on Nepal’s political history.

This deal served the interest of the monarchy, the feudals and landlords but not the majority of the people that had taken part in the revolution. The tripartite accord transferred the state power from the Ranas to the Shah dynasty. People who participated in the revolution with the hope of becoming masters of their destiny were once again made subjects only to serve other masters.

Although the 1951 political change was insignificant from the perspective of popular rights, it did make contributions to raising the level of people’s political consciousness. From Nepal’s foreign policy perspective, the 1951 marked a turning point as Nepal departed from the old policy of isolation and began to diversify its international relations. From the standpoint of clan rule, it was also a rupture. But it was a continuity of the old system in terms of class perspective. Although it marked the end of the rule of the Ranas and restored the Shah dynasty’s power, the same feudal class had an upper hand on the state power. Earlier, the Ranas represented and patronised the feudal class.

After 1951, the Shah monarchy emerged as the messiah of the feudals and elites. The monarchy enjoyed absolute power and ruled in the name of the partyless Panchayat system for almost 30 years. The fundamental interest of the monarchy was to protect the interest of the feudal class.

Another rupture was seen in 1990 when the country saw a transformation from an absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy with limited democratic rights of the people. With the weakening of the monarchy, the foundation of feudalism was shaken, but it was still alive.

With the political change of 1990, feudalism patronised by the monarchy entered into an alliance with domestic and international capitalism mainly against the emerging communist force in Nepal. This alliance, too, failed to counter the emerging wave of communist forces that came to the fore in the form of an armed insurgency. The real rupture in politics was felt only in 2006 when the old feudal monarchy was abolished, and Nepal was declared a federal democratic republic.

On the political surface, there has definitely been a rupture, but from the class perspective, feudalism is still alive and kicking despite the abolition of its patron - the monarchy. Feudals and landlords have again formed an alliance with domestic and international capitalists in order to check and marginalise the radical and revolutionary force.

Now there is a friction between these two classes and forces, and they are trying to outdo one another. The deadlock in the constitution-making process is the result of this. Had any of the forces dominated the others, the constitution would have been written and promulgated long ago.

The Maoists represent the radical force and champion the cause of the poor and proletariat. They want radical change and institutionalise their agenda of ‘people’s federal republican democracy’. The Nepali Congress represents the capitalist class and ‘liberal’ democratic force and advocates capitalist parliamentary democracy. The other parties are not significant in the present class-based politics of Nepal except in the head counting parliamentary politics.

The class interests of these two forces have often clashed in Parliament as well as outside, which have delayed the peace and constitution-writing process.

While there is a sharp clash of interest between the two main parties, the parties are fractured badly from within and do not have unanimity on key issues. Different groups and factions are at work in all the parties. There are parties within a party, committees within a committee and organisations within an organisation. Since the parties do not have a singular voice, how can they be expected to come up with national consensus?

In the first place, there is no space for national consensus in class politics. Different parties represent different classes and advocate the interest of their own class. In such a scenario, national consensus has no place, and it is foolish to expect it. The present scenario is the product of this clash of class interest, which is not likely to change in the immediate future. Either there has to be class transformation of the leaders and parties or one force must overwhelm over the other. This possibility is also rare in the present situation of Nepal, which is likely to prolong the political crisis that our country has been facing. This seems to be our fait accompli.

Baburam, BIPPA and Bilateral Ties with India

Yuba Nath Lamsal

No sooner Nepal and India signed Bilateral Investment Protection and
Promotion Agreement or BIPPA, than scathing salvo started being fired at
Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai and his government both in parliament
and outside. A hardliner faction within his own Maoist party has come out
openly criticizing the Prime Minister for what it called compromising
national interest and sovereignty to New Delhi, while opposition parties
used public forum to criticize the BIPPA agreement. Hardliner Maoist cadres
demonstrated in front of the main gate of the Tribhuvan International
Airport and greeted the Prime Minister with flag flags when he returned from
India sojourn.

There are two sets of opinion on the BIPPA. A section of people are critical
of the agreement and dub it as a national capitulation and surrender of our
national interest to India. There are other types of people who have blindly
supported the deal saying the deal was a step towards bringing foreign
investment which is necessary for the country's industrialization and
economic prosperity. Both types of opinion have flaws and limitation. Those
who praise the deal are of the view that the BIPPA would be instrumental and
catalyst for attracting Indian investment which would transform Nepal into
an industrialized economy. In fact, this view, too, lack objective analysis.

If we look at the deal and other situation and circumstances, we should
neither be jubilant nor desperate. The BIPPA does not contain any provision
that is objectionable. The deal contains the provisions of compensation to
be paid by the state if the production and business of the Indian companies
are hampered and obstructed. This has also clearly specified the conditions.
The government does not have to pay compensation in every circumstance. If
production or business of the Indian enterprises is obstructed because of
the declaration of emergency, natural calamity, war and civil strife, the
government is liable to pay compensation. Earlier there was an apprehension
that Nepal would have to pay compensation for any kind of obstruction
including the one caused by labour strike. In other word, the BIPPA deny the
workers with the right to revolt and strike to press for their demand. But
this provision does not exist, which is a matter of solace for us, to a
certain extent. However, there are still some ambiguities in some
provisions. This is related to natural disaster. There are countries in the
world that have signed similar kind of agreement. The basic spirit of BIPPA
signed by any two countries contains the provision of compensation, which is
to be paid by the host government only when business is obstructed due to
state's policies, decisions and actions. Natural calamity is beyond human
and government's control. The provision that seeks compensation for
obstruction of industry due to natural calamity, thus, cannot be justified
and is also not be in the interest of Nepal.

So far as the praise of the deal is concerned, this is also another extreme.
Nepal is not likely to benefit much from it. India is our close neighbour
and big economy whose products have unrestricted access to Nepali market.
Nepal currently does not have any kind of natural resources and raw material
for which Indian businesses may invest. Raw materials have to be brought
from outside for manufacturing or assembling industries in Nepal. This makes
Nepali products relatively costly. Compared to the products manufactured in
Nepal are costlier than those manufactured in India. Since Indian products
have free access to Nepal, Nepali products usually cannot compete with
Indian goods. When there is unrestricted access to Nepali market for the
Indian products, the Indian investment in Nepal may not be forthcoming.
Moreover, Nepal lacks infrastructure and other services required for
industrial growth, which may discourage external investment. More than that
Nepali market is so small that big manufacturers are less likely to come to
Nepal for investment. The only sector that is attractive for foreign
investment in Nepal is hydro-power. Even for hydro-power, Chinese are more
interested and more skilled, who should be lured. The track record of Indian
businesses in hydro-power is not good. It has been more than a decade since
the accord for Pancheswar Hydro-power project was signed. But no work has so
far been initiated to develop this project. The tendency of Indian companies
and Indian government is to keep Nepal's hydro-power project in their hand
and keep on holding so that other countries may not come up with investment
in Nepal. Indian companies have, so far, not developed any single
hydro-power project even if they got license. Given this track record,
Indian investors are less likely to develop any hydro-power project in
Nepal.

So far as the contents of the BIPPA are concerned, there is, on the surface,
nothing objectionable in the agreement. It is primarily a deal to protect
Indian investment in Nepal. A country that is desperately seeking foreign
investment including the one from India, signing BIPPA with India should not
create big furor. BIPPA is government's guarantee to protect Indian
investment in Nepal. Our government has concluded an international agreement
to protect foreign investment. As a member of the World Bank, Nepal has
already entered into the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA)
which covers protection of all international investment in Nepal including
Indian investment. MIGA has already made BIPPA irrelevant. Thus, the BIPPA
has nothing new but an attempt of Nepal's present government to assure India
that it would seriously look into Indian interests including investment.

This write up intends neither to criticize nor condemn the BIPPA signed with
India because it does not contain any new provision in it. Prime Minister
Baburam Bhattarai has claimed that BIPPA is a milestone in Nepal-India
relations especially in connection with Indian investment in Nepal. However,
the agreement is not what it has been said. BIPPA is not likely to bring any
significant Indian investment.

Since BIPPA is nothing new the criticism is just for the sake of criticism.
But there is definitely procedural mistakes in signing the agreement. India
had long ago proposed this agreement and Nepal had kept on deferring it.
This issue had been raised even during the official visit of ex-prime
minister Madhav Kumar Nepal but Mr Nepal had deliberately put it on hold.
Prime Minister Bhattarai was aware that India would push for this agreement
during his New Delhi sojourn. He could have consulted with other parties
and got their consent on the agreement so that his critics both within his
own party and also outside would not have ground to assail him. However, on
the contrary, the Prime Minister, prior to his departure for New Delhi
sojourn, stated both in public and private that he would not sign any deal
with India having long-term impact but would take only those measures that
build confidence with the Indian establishment as well as the people. Other
parties, too, could have given their consent easily had Bhattarai sought
their cooperation genuinely which would have made his position stronger.
Prime Minister Bhattarai kept all political parties and people in dark on
this issues. Herein lies the fundamental flaw. Firstly, people felt that
Bhattarai lied the people and entered into the agreement against his own
promise. Failure to take parties into confidence and signing the agreement
against his own promises are the main issues of debate and controversy.

One thing we must take into account is the fact that Nepal and India have
asymmetrical relations in all fronts. Nepalese people are always extra
sensitive towards any kind of deal with India. History has proved that Nepal
has always been cheated in dealing with India be it during the period of
British colonial rule or after India's independence. The imposition of
Sugauli Treaty which reduced Nepal into the semi-colonial status is the
beginning of Nepal's asymmetrical relationship with India. There is a
widespread feeling among the people of Nepal that India always applies
coercive diplomacy in order to squeeze Nepal in every deal. When India got
Independence, New Delhi adopted the same old colonial policy in its
neighbourhood especially in dealing with its smaller and weaker neighbours
like Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka. This was reinforced in the 1950 treaty with
Nepal as New Delhi hastened to sign an agreement with the outgoing
oligarchic regime, which Nepalese people have dubbed as an unequal treaty
and are demanding its abrogation. Agreement on Koshi and Gandaki dams, 1965
security treaty, and Mahakali treaty are the testament of India's hegemonic
and coercive policy towards Nepal. We have been cheated in all these
agreements. Whenever Nepal enters into any kind of agreement with India,
Nepalese people become susceptible. The present case with BIPPA can be
viewed against this background. The hush-hush manner with which BIPPA was
signed has created a sense of suspicion among the people. Had the Prime
Minister Bhattarai concluded this agreement in a more transparent manner
taking the political parties into confidence, it would have cleared
suspicion and created more congenial environment to work together. The
Nepali government and leaders must learn lesson from all past agreements and
make thorough homework before entering into any kind of deal with India.
Otherwise there are always chances of being cheated by the wolf at our next
door.

Making SAARC A Viable Regional Body

Yuba Nath Lamsal

Yet another summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) started Wednesday (November 10) in Addu Atoll of the Maldives, where executive heads of the eight members states of South Asia are shaking hands, repeating the same old rhetoric and are likely to part away with promises to meet again the next year in Kathmandu.

Lackluster performance

The 17th SAARC summit began with the theme "Building Bridge" in which eight member countries and nine observers are taking part with much hype and hoopla. However, the summit is unlikely to arouse any genuine hope and enthusiasm among the people in the region because of its lackluster track record of 25 years since its inception.

SAARC was created in 1985 with the objective of fostering cooperation among the member states so that South Asia would develop as one community willing and capable of tackling the burning and burgeoning problems faced by more than one-fifth of the world’s humanity. Much has, of course, been said over the last 25 years since SAARC was created.

During this period, 16 summit meetings have been held and many resolutions adopted on various issues ranging from poverty alleviation and containment of terrorism to climate change. These initiatives are definitely praiseworthy as common and collective approaches are necessary to tackle the common problems of the region. In practical terms, however, no significant achievement has, so far, been made to change the lives of the people in the region.

Twenty-five years is a long time for an individual, but not so long for an organisation. But the pace at which SAARC is moving does not prove its validity and relevance. SAARC was created at a time when the Cold War was at its peak. South Asia was one of the hot spots of conflict and superpower rivalry. Two big powers of South Asia - India and Pakistan - had entered into two different military camps, although they were members of the non-aligned movement.

Smaller countries of South Asia were sceptical about their safety should the superpower rivalry take a worse turn in South Asia. While the security situation was vulnerable, the level of economic development was also very low, only second to the Sub-Saharan region of Africa. Because the South Asian countries were unable to harness their potential, the region had the largest concentration of poor people in the world. The South Asian countries were, thus, in search of a common identity and common approach for their security as well as development, which was the prime motive behind the creation of SAARC.

Against this background, South Asian countries sought a common approach and common strategy for the development of the region. South Asian countries share many commonalities and common problems, and they realise that the common problems also need a common solution. Realising and recognising this reality, the South Asian leaders mooted the concept of a regional association not only to present a common identity of the South Asian region but also to foster areas of cooperation for the common good of the South Asian people.

SAARC has, thus, traversed a difficult journey of a quarter century. But its performance and pace are not promising. Compared to other regional blocks like ASEAN and the European Union, SAARC has not been able to advance in a manner it was expected to. So far, the activities of SAARC have been confined to meetings and decision making. Several resolutions have been adopted, but their implementation is glaringly poor and abysmal. In such circumstances, the 17th Summit of SAARC is being held with more focus on the implementation of the previous decisions in order to make this regional body more result-oriented.

Why has SAARC not been able to move faster? Why are SAARC activities not action-oriented to produce better results? The answers are obvious. Despite having many commonalities and potential, mistrust among the member countries has marred any meaningful cooperation among the South Asian countries. India and Pakistan are the bigger members of the regional body. These two countries have many issues and disputes around which SAARC is revolving.

While India and Pakistan are locked in dispute, smaller countries of the region, too, harbor a certain level of mistrust of their bigger neighbours. The conflict between India and Pakistan has kept SAARC hostage to a large degree while suspicion between the bigger and smaller neighbours has given rise to a deficit of trust.

The SAARC Charter has the provision of a unanimous decision-making process and has prohibited any kind of bilateral and contentious issues from being raised in the SAARC forum. Also the SAARC Charter has exclusively confined its objectives and activities to economic, social and cultural cooperation. As a result, the objectives of SAARC have not been realised. If SAARC is to be made an effective regional body to resolve regional issues and nurture meaningful cooperation in various fields, some of the provisions in the Charter need to be amended.

The provision relating to unanimous decision making and prohibition of bilateral and contentious issues from being raised in SAARC need to be reviewed. If SAARC is to be made a genuine regional community and promote cooperation, mutual trust is the first prescription for which a conducive atmosphere ought to be created. Mutual trust can only be created when disputes and contentious issues are resolved amicably first bilaterally, and if bilateral efforts fail to make any headway, a regional approach must be taken, for which SAARC can be a good forum. We must understand that a solution cannot be found by brushing the problems aside. If a genuine solution is to be sought, free and open discussions must be held with an open and a positive mind.

There are some issues which have a regional dimension, but they are being dubbed as bilateral matters. One such issue is related with the Bhutanese refugee problem. More than 100,000 Bhutanese nationals have been living in Nepal for the last two decades as refugees. The presence of such a large number of refugees has put tremendous pressure on the social and economic sector of a small and resource-strapped country like Nepal. Bilateral efforts have not yielded any positive results on the resolution and repatriation of Bhutanese refugee.

Since Nepal and Bhutan do not share a common border, Bhutanese refugees had entered Nepal via Indian territory. Therefore, the refugee country involves three countries. Thus, this issue now needs to be addressed and resolved through a regional approach.

Similarly, SAARC requires some structural change. SAARC has a multi-layer structure. The most powerful one is the summit that consists of heads of state and government. The second tier is the ministerial level and the third one is the Standing Committee comprising foreign secretaries, which, in fact, holds practical decision-making power.

Unfortunately, the Secretary-General has a mere bureaucratic role with no executive and decision-making power. This is also attributed to the lackluster performance and snail pace of SAARC. If SAARC is to be made really strong, the role of the Secretary-General has to be enlarged with executive and decision-making power while strengthening the SAARC Secretariat.

It is now time to implement the SAARC decisions made in the past, which is also the focus of the 17th Summit. In the absence of effective implementation of the resolutions and decisions of the past, SAARC is becoming more like a gossiping forum of South Asian leaders.

Some critics have even started talking about the relevance of SAARC in the present context because of its non-performance. SAARC is the association of eight member countries with nine observers, which in itself is a big irony. The concept of bringing some powerful and rich countries to SAARC as observers was guided by the motive of making the regional body more resourceful. But the resource should be generated from within. In SAARC, India is resourceful which can make substantive contributions for regional development.

China’s membership

Similarly, China currently has an observer status. China is also a South Asian country because it shares a border with five of the eight SAARC member countries. Moreover, China is today the second largest economy in the world. If SAARC is to be made a complete and resourceful regional organisation, China has to be approached for full-fledged membership. Once China is included, SAARC would be the biggest regional organisation in the world with greater international clout.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Foreign Policy And National Interest

Yuba Nath Lamsal

In the absence of a clear-cut definition, the national interest often gets blurred. Different forces and people interpret national interest differently to suit their own personal and partisan agenda. Only a definition of national interest will determine the broader objective and strategy of our foreign policy. Prior to foreign policy formulation, it is necessary to articulate a broader national goal to be achieved in the international front. The national goal and interest alone will guide the country’s foreign policy.

Most countries in the world have a broad yet specific definition of national interest and their foreign policy goal. However, Nepal does not seem to have one. As a result, our foreign policy is conducted on an ad hoc basis. This is one of the reasons why our foreign policy priority has vacillated at times with the change of government. Frequent swings and shift in foreign policy and its priorities ruin the country’s credibility in the international community.


Clear goals

The foreign policy goal should basically be of a short-term and long-term nature, which should be clear and not ambiguous. Based on the long-term goal, short-term strategies are adjusted and approaches are devised to meet the broader goals and national interest. A school of thought in foreign policy and international diplomacy advocates that a country should not have a rigid and fixed foreign policy. Foreign policy is an issue that must be adjusted with the changing international scenario.

National interest alone is a permanent thing that sets the overall goal and agenda of foreign policy. As in politics and the security sphere, foreign policy, too, has its strategic and tactical values and steps. With the turn of events in the international arena, a country adopts its strategy and tactics to meet its national interest and achieve the foreign policy goal.

The means adopted for achieving the specific objectives need not and should not be single or static but varied and dynamic. Foreign policy options should be left open so that the interlocutors of foreign policy as well as the government can adopt different strategies out of the many options available to ensure that its national interests are best protected.

But this is not to say that the foreign ministry or even the government should be left with the arbitrary power to decide on foreign policy beyond the national mandate. Foreign policy is not a monopoly of a particular party or government. It should be developed on the basis of national consensus so that the fundamental principles of the conduct of foreign policy does not vacillate and change with the change of government.

For this, the parliament can formulate a broader framework in consultation with different stakeholders like the civil society, professional bodies, the business community and diplomats. The government then can act within the jurisdiction and framework provided by Parliament.

Geography, the level of economic development, nature and volume of trade, political setting and tradition, cultural and social values, military strength, physical and population size and location constitute conditions for foreign policy strategy. In the case of Nepal, we have limited options.

In terms of size, population, economic and military strength and trade scenario, Nepal is in a weak position. In addition, its landlocked nature has further limited our options. We have no choice other than to deal with our two immediate neighbours - India and China. The mountain terrain has made business, economic and other contacts with China difficult, compelling Nepal to rely heavily on India for trade and transit. This geopolitical situation has made Nepal’s foreign policy India-centric.

Nepal’s current boundary was determined by the Sugauli Treaty concluded between Nepal and British India in 1816. Following the treat, Nepal’s international contact was limited to British India. Although foreign policy as such had not yet been devised and developed, the survival strategy was the sole objective of Nepal, which determined its policy and relationship with other countries.

Nepal had already lost sizable territory in the Anglo-Nepal War of 1814-16. Nepal knew well that British imperialism was very powerful and any attempt to antagonise the British would cost Nepal dearly. Thus, Nepal adopted the policy of appeasing the British rulers in India, which was viewed by the rulers in Nepal as the best way to safeguard Nepal’s independent political identity. This policy continued until 1951.

The political change in 1951 brought about a new era in Nepal’s foreign policy as well. As Nepal opened up to the outside world, Nepal slowly tried to diversify its relations with other countries. In 1955, diplomatic relationship with China was established. And Nepal began expanding its relations with countries around the world. Despite Nepal’s efforts to diversify its relations in the world, its basic foreign policy was constrained due to the geographical conditions.

But Nepal failed to explore its strategic and other options which could have given rise to a more independent foreign policy. Nepal continued to harp on the concept of a ‘yam between two huge boulders’ without making any efforts to redefine and remold its strategy.

By the time Nepal entered the United Nations, much change had taken place in the international arena and power politics. The international situation had also changed. British imperialism had already left South Asia. India got independence from British rule in 1947 whereas at the same time a new nation - Pakistan - was created out of what used to British India.

Similarly, the United Kingdom, which was a global superpower and had its presence on all continents prior to World War II, was reduced to a mere European power. Although the Allied power led by the United Kingdom won the war over the Axis power in World War II, the United Kingdom was heavily weakened as it lost colonies one after another. After World War II, the United States emerged as the superpower of the capitalist camp whereas the Soviet Union led the socialist world challenging the monopoly of the United States in world politics. A new balance of power emerged in the international power politics, which is known as the Cold War era. The world got divided into two distinct blocs.

But newly independent countries - the Third World - like Nepal refused to align themselves with any of the two camps. The newly independent and liberated countries needed the goodwill and support of all the countries in the world, irrespective of ideology and political system, for the consolidation of independence, freedom and democracy. The non-aligned movement is the outcome of this thinking in international diplomacy.

The democratic political era that began with the overthrow of the Rana regime in 1951, which also ushered in a new thinking and diversification in Nepal’s foreign policy, temporarily came to an end in 1960 following King’s Mahendra’s authoritarian step to dismantle democracy. Although the Panchayat era was a dark period from the democratic political standpoint, it was epoch-making from the perspective of Nepal’s foreign policy and international relations.

The credit for adopting a non-aligned foreign policy basically goes to King Mahendra and the Panchayat regime. Also it was a period that saw expanded diplomatic relations with a host of nations in the world, which was given continuity by his successor King Birendra. King’s Birendra’s period, too, is notable as it marked an era of pro-active foreign policy that enhanced Nepal’s image in the international community.

This was a period when Nepal was twice elected to the United Nations Security Council from the quota of non-permanent seats. This was a remarkable feat of Nepal’s foreign policy, which the country has not been able to achieve in more than two decades after the 1990 political change. The Zone of Peace proposal which was recognised widely in the international community and supported by 116 countries was no less an achievement of Nepal. Unfortunately, this was scuttled soon after the 1990 political change for reasons not known. The ZoP proposal was a good initiative to boost Nepal’s international image, which should have been continued by the later regimes.


Coping with newer challenges

This swing in foreign policy is the result of lack of definition of national interest. National interest does not change with the change of regimes. However, Nepal’s national interest was interpreted as a strategy to protect the regimes. This caused oscillation and vacillation in our foreign policy. Now it is high time we defined our national interest in clear terms and accordingly adopted a foreign policy strategy to cope with newer challenges in the present complex globalised world.