BY RSN SINGH
Nepal shares a 1751 Km land boundary with India and 1414 Km with China (Tibet). Although landlocked and surrounded by these two Asian giants, Nepal’s geographic, economic and cultural orientation is exclusively intertwined with India. Given the liberal India-Nepal border regime and ethnic similarities between the two countries; political developments in Nepal and internal and external posturing of the country’s dispensation impinge overwhelmingly on India’s security. In a speech before Parliament in 1950, the Indian Prime Minister Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru had stated “From time immemorial the Himalayas have provided us with magnificent frontiers. We cannot allow that barrier to penetrate because it is also the principal barrier to India. Therefore, as much we appreciate the independence of Nepal, we cannot allow anything to go wrong in Nepal or permit that barrier to be crossed or weakened, because that would be a risk to our own security”.
In 1950, India’s security concerns vis-à-vis Nepal got accentuated after annexation of Tibet by China. India always regarded Tibet as a buffer zone against any Chinese designs. This served as the impulsion for India’s reassessment of its strategic calculations and signing of the ‘Treaty of Peace and Friendship’ with Nepal in 1950. The treaty enjoined upon the two countries to consult and devise effective counter measures, when confronted with external threat of any kind. To assuage Nepalese fears of Indian domination, the treaty also stipulated that Indian forces could be deployed in the country only at invitation of the Nepalese government. The treaty also included bilateral trade and transit arrangements. Also, Nepal was permitted transshipment of Nepalese goods through India. It is this very buffer status of Nepal that China and pro-China elements within the current Nepalese dispensation are seeking to destroy.
Significantly, when the Maoist government fell in 2008, Prachanda the then Prime Minister was on the verge of signing ‘Treaty of Peace and Friendship’ with China, in order to destroy the very edifice of Indo-Nepal relations. Now with Maoists being back in power under the premiership of Baburam Bhattarai, India needs to be very watchful on this score.
Till very recently, when the monarchy in Nepal was the glue for Nepalese nationhood, the institutional and diplomatic linkages between India and Nepal had endured because of strong historical, geographical, political and social moorings. It is very these moorings that the Maoists of Nepal are seeking to destroy. It is these very historical linkages and institutions established by the monarchy, evolved over more than two centuries that continue to give Nepal the semblance of a nation-state in the prevailing political anarchy and are resisting the complete takeover of Nepal by the Maoists.
Nepal has always been a mirror image of India. More than geographical, Nepal served as ideological barrier between India and China till very recently. This barrier is being demolished by Maoists and Chinese ideology and also Chinese technology. China has been carrying out track laying work from Lhasa to Xigaze.
Nepal has been keen for the extension of the Tibet Railway Network into the country right upto Kathmandu. Xigaze is located about 280 km south west to Lhasa. Reportedly, China has been carrying out a feasibility study to lay new tracks at a stretch of about 400 km from Xigaze to Nyalam. The distance from Nyalam to Kathmandu is only 120 km. The Tibet railway network, if extended up to Kathmandu would provide an alternative to complete dependence on India with regard to logistic corridor for critical supplies like petroleum products.
Nepal is one of the 46 landlocked countries in the world. Most of these, barring some European countries and a few Central Asian Republics, are in throes of political flux, fundamental in nature, having serious internal and external security ramifications. The total absence of sea in their entire surround has not only made these countries economically dependent on others, but has also given many of them an insular, inward bent of mind that shuns the very notion of modernization, greatly hampering the development process. It is this very economic vulnerability and insularity of Nepal that the Maoists and their benefactors China and some Church organizations belonging to Scandinavian countries and enjoying the full patronage of the state, are exploiting. Allegedly, these organizations funded the Maoist insurgency in Nepal.
Political flux and internal disorder renders developing countries conducive to proselytizing. In Nepal, during the monarchy, proselytizing was a criminal offence. The first major step by the Maoists in their bid to redefine Nepal, when they assumed power in 2008, was to officially disown the ‘Hindu-State’ status of Nepal, intriguingly even as there was no demand for it from any quarters. Since then proselytizing in Nepal, particularly in the higher reaches, has been rampant. The role of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) was seen as partisan and suspect in favour of Maoist agenda and was therefore unceremoniously sent back from Nepal without any further extension in Jan 2011.
Yuvraj Ghimre, a very authentic and respected political commentator wrote in The Indian Express (Date: 03 Sep 2011): “Bhattarai also maintained a close link with his school establishment and the United Nations Mission to Nepal (UNMIN) or allied churches that currently enjoy enough clout in Nepal’s politics. During the past few years, he has also been able to convince the EU, Scandinavian countries and the US that he is actually pro-human rights—-’’. The same Maoist-Church-China nexus is the impetus behind the Maoist insurgency in India.
The neighbouring maritime nations that control the lifeline of the landlocked countries enjoy critical leverages. But India has never exploited these leverages vis-à-vis Nepal. In fact India, given the inextricable societal, cultural and psychological linkages has, infallibly been benign. The oceans through history have not only served as a medium for trade of goods, but also of ideas and innovations. In the case of Nepal most ideas and innovations, including the concept of parliamentary democracy have been transmitted by India. Some of the landlocked countries have access to ports through more than one country, but for Nepal, the most economically pragmatic access is to the Indian ports. The ports on China’s eastern coasts, besides being more than 5,000 kilometers away, can be reached only by traversing through an extremely forbidding mountainous terrain, resulting in the manifold escalation in the transport costs. The Tibet Railway, if extended to Nepal, would only somewhat abate this problem, but can never be an attractive option to trading through Indian ports. Nevertheless, the fact cannot be denied that the growing expertise of China in mega-technology projects is annihilating many economic and technological beliefs.
Till the Maoists first came to power in 2008, after the end of decade long insurgency, which cost 14,000 lives, China’s strategic interface with Nepal was overwhelmingly concerned with the issue of the political activities, or in the lexicon of Chinese authorities ‘anti-China activities’ of Tibetan refugees in Nepal.
However, ever since the Constituent Assembly of Nepal came into being in 2008, the Chinese have been an active proxy player in the politics of the country. The fact that there have been four prime ministers in last three years even before a Constitution has been in what appears to be an infinite ‘labour period’ reflects the dysfunctional status of Nepal. More importantly, it also indicates the growing political influence being exercised by China. At least three out of four prime ministers, i.e. Prachanda, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai are supposedly close to the Chinese establishment.
It may also be mentioned that very recently the Chinese in a bid to make inroads into the Terai region proposed the development of Lumbini (birth place of Buddha), located in close proximity of Indo-Nepal border, at a cost of $ 3 billion. Reportedly, a deal to the effect was signed in June 2011 between Asia Pacific Exchange Cooperation Foundation (APEC), an NGO front of China and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Prachanda is one of the vice Chairperson of APEC. It was widely touted that the project would have transformed the region with its wide and impressive infrastructure comprising an international airport, five star hotels etc. It was projected that five million tourists can visit Lumbini within five years. It was only after some deft diplomatic moves by India that the Chinese move was staved. It is also pertinent to mention that China is running ten China Study Centers (CSC) in Nepal, five of which are located on Indo-Nepal border. There is one CSC at Lumbini as well.
The China-Maoist link in Nepal is established beyond doubt. In the current geopolitical scenario obtaining in our Indian subcontinent, the example of Nepal should not be lost out on the Indian people and the policy makers, particularly the latter. In Nepal, the Maoists have been moving in a very sophisticated and calibrated manner. It may be recalled that when the Maoists had captured about 30 to 40 percent (40 out of 75 districts) of the rural areas in Nepal, they stepped up their militant activities in the capital Kathmandu. In India too the Maoists in concert with many other unsuspecting organizations, as also Church funded NGOs, after spreading their influence in 235 out of 605 districts are making sophisticated assaults on the very edifice of the constitutional framework in the garb of pro-people agitations which are apparently non-violent but has unabashed implied violence.
The agitation against monarchy in 2005 was started by the so-called ‘civil society’ of Nepal. This ‘civil society’ struck the deep chord of the people because the politicians had discredited themselves. There were more than 10 prime ministers between 1990 and 2002. The civil society initially did not permit the political leaders to share dais. The Maoists used this opportunity to gain legitimacy and joined the movement and endeavoured to win public support by adhering to non-violence but never did they genuinely demobilize their armed cadres. Not even after they came to power following the Constituent Assembly elections. In India too some of the Maoist apologists spearheading the current anti-corruption movement in concert with others have appealed to the Maoists to repudiate violence.
At some stage of the anti-monarchy movement in Nepal, the civil society and the Maoists realized that the movement was floundering due to the exclusion of mainstream political forces in Nepal. Once the monarchy was demolished, the Maoists spelt the death of the so-called civil society. Consequently, the onus for initiating new democracy in Nepal fell on the mainstream political forces, who are finding it increasingly difficult to contend with the economic, armed and diplomatic power of the Maoists. The only institution that the Maoists now need to subvert or destroy in their capture of absolute power based on one-party rule is the ‘Nepal Army’. The new prime minister Baburam Bhattarai has declared his intention to integrate 7,000 Maoists combatants and recruit 10,000 Madhesis in the Nepal Army, which is a devious move to demoralize, subvert and finally destroy the Nepal Army. The decision to recruit Madhesis is a part of political deal between the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (UCPN-Maoist), which has propelled Bhattarai to the post of Prime Minister.
The Indian policymakers while analyzing the dynamics of the internal political and security situation, can only at the peril of democracy in India, ignore the proceedings of the last meeting of Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA), wherein the Maoist ideologues debated that the future of the Maoist movement in Asia hinged much on Nepal, where it has arrived at the decisive phase.
Sandwiched between the two great Asian powers, India and China, and subverted by certain western religious organizations, which is relatively a recent phenomenon, more so post 9/11– landlocked Nepal is in a highly vulnerable situation — primarily because of the machinations of the Maoists. India is being relentlessly buffeted by the same forces to create same kind of vulnerabilities, and in that they have scored some major successes in the recent period. In fact India has never been reduced so vulnerable from within from inimical forces’ internal and external.
To preserve Indian democracy and its liberal framework, it is incumbent upon India to unshackle and salvage Nepal from its internal enemies and vested external interests.
A drastic reassessment of threat impinging on India owing to the internal dynamics in Nepal, heavily influenced by external forces, is in order.
(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a guest blogger for Canary Trap)