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China's Trojan horse in Nepal

China's Trojan horse in Nepal

Author: G Parthasarathy
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 14, 2009
URL: http://dailypioneer.com/176007/China's-Trojan-horse-in-Nepal.html

The prospect of a Chinese presence in the Himalayan foothills, adjacent to our borders with Nepal and Bhutan, has been the ultimate nightmare for those responsible for India's security. Treaties India concluded with Bhutan and Nepal five decades ago are obviously iniquitous, though Nepal derived immense benefits from the massive economic assistance and trade access it received from New Delhi. Not to mention the unique facilities millions of its citizens enjoyed, of living, working and getting access to educational facilities in India. Despite this, successive rulers in Nepal, whether monarchical or elected, rarely missed an opportunity for carping at and criticising India, though the arrogance of some highly placed Indians naturally invited Nepali displeasure. Bhutan's rulers, on the other hand, built bridges with India, and renegotiated the anachronistic treaty relationship. Bhutan has emerged as the most prosperous country in South Asia by being realistic in appreciating the mutual benefits of utilisation of Himalayan water resources, while Nepal like Pakistan, languishes economically, as an international basket case.

Nepal's elite has often turned to India to sort out its domestic crises, which arise all too frequently. The ten-year-long Maoist insurrection ultimately ended when India, duly backed by the United States, Japan, the European Union and the United Nations brokered and facilitated agreements aimed at drawing the Maoists into the democratic mainstream, while ridding the country of a despotic monarch and monarchy.

Subsequent elections led to the Maoists winning 238 out of the 601 seats to the Constituent Assembly, with the Nepali Congress winning 114 seats and the CPN (UML) winning 109 seats. An important force which emerged in these elections was the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, representing people on Nepal's borders with India, which won 53 seats. The entire democratic exercise was based on the assumption that the Maoists would democratically respect pluralism and dissent. However, recent events raise serious doubts about their commitment to multi-party democracy.

The most important issue that the Maoists faced was how to rehabilitate their armed cadres into national life. The erstwhile royalist Nepali Army that has pledged to respect the elected leaders, is understandably disturbed about Maoist attempts to not merely integrate the bulk of their cadres into the armed forces, but also their evident desire to take control of the higher echelons of the Army command structure. While the present Army chief Gen Rukmangad Katawal behaved irresponsibly by recently attempting to recruit 3000 new soldiers, Nepal's Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda has, through numerous actions, raised legitimate fears that his ultimate aim is to make Nepal's armed forces an instrument of Maoist power.

Moreover, the Maoist Young Communist League is blatantly used for coercion and violence, while Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai has made Maoist intentions clear by proposing that only those who are 'anti-feudalist' and 'anti-imperialist' be eligible for election. The aim of the Maoists to make Nepal a communist style 'Peoples' Democracy' rather than a multi-party parliamentary democracy is also evident from their views about establishing 'Peoples' Courts' and 'Reconciliation Centres', rather than establishing an independent judiciary.

The present crisis arose from Prachanda's precipitous attempts to sack Gen Katawal, despite his coalition partners walking out of the Cabinet meeting where he announced the decision. New Delhi has been noting with growing concern Prachanda's propensity to cosy up to China. Reliable information that Prachanda was negotiating a 'Friendship Treaty' with security provisions with China whose provisions would give Chinese nationals free access to Nepal's borders with India, alarmed India's security establishment. The 'Friendship Treaty', which was to be concluded during an official visit by Prachanda to China, was seen as a move to dilute ties with India. Prachanda had, after all, described Nepal's 1950 Treaty with India as an unequal Treaty and demanded that it should be renegotiated - a demand New Delhi had expressed its readiness to discuss.

Following serious concern voiced by India about the proposed 'Friendship Treaty', Prachanda deferred his visit to China. Given its policy of containment vis-à-vis India, Beijing has not hesitated to fish in troubled waters in Nepal. Together with its all-weather friend Pakistan, it pumped in arms to Nepal in 2005 to prop up an unpopular monarchy. It is also known to have extended full support to the moves of an embattled Prachanda to sack the Army chief and set up a Maoist-controlled Army for the country.

New Delhi has acted clumsily in dealing with these issues. The Indian Embassy in Kathmandu is reported to have directly intervened in an avoidable high profile manner in these developments. A more appropriate approach would have been to get attention focussed on the concerns of virtually all political parties in Nepal at the Maoist propensity to blur the distinction between party and state. Gen Katawal's term ends later this year and ways could have been found to let him continue till the end of his tenure. The Maoists evidently want a new military hierarchy in place wherein their leaders are absorbed into the higher echelons of the Army and conditions created for a former Maoist, Mr Nand Kishore Pun, to be inducted as a Lieutenant General, so that he would, in due course, become the Army chief. New Delhi would be well advised to refrain from directly meddling in current developments, while encouraging Nepal's political parties to find ways to ensure that institutions like the Army and judiciary remain non-politicised.

Once India's political leadership settles down after the general election here, highest priority will have to be given to dealing with the pernicious role of an increasingly assertive China in India's South Asian neighbourhood. With Pakistan and Afghanistan facing challenges from extremists, concerns looming whether a victorious President Mahinda Rajapaksa will indeed be magnanimous in addressing the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh recovering from the aftermath of a rebellion by its paramilitary forces and Nepal confronting a political crisis, the incoming Government in New Delhi will have to set up effective mechanisms to deal with the emerging developments.

In the case of Nepal, it will have to make it clear that while it will respond positively to Nepal's wishes to review the 1950 Treaty, it will also not hesitate to react strongly if Nepalese actions, particularly its relations with China, are seen to undermine Indian national security. Moreover river water projects do not merely benefit India. They are crucial for Nepal's own socio-economic transformation.

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