A new dimension

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ has described his five-day official visit to India as ‘highly successful’. The first thing the visit did was to acquaint the Indian leaders and investors with what the Maoists stood for in Nepal in politics and in economics, and he appeared to have been able to remove much of the suspicion that existed in India about the future plans of the former communist rebels. He also expressed Nepali concerns and expectations from New Delhi, and had the opportunity of listening to the concerns and expectations of the other side at first hand. Prachanda’s first two visits - to China and India - have been familiarisation ones, but they have done much more. The India visit itself has been in the nature of a goodwill visit, coming as it did soon after the swearing-in of a new government. Judging by the 22-point joint statement issued in New Delhi to sum up the outcome of the visit, a new dimension has been added to Nepal-India relations, which are ancient, complex, multi-faceted, and certainly, not problem-free.

However, Prachanda succeeded in setting in motion the review of the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which many in Nepal consider unequal, and of other agreements. As Prachanda told journalists at TIA upon his return, an understanding has also been reached on the timeframe for the review, adjustment and update. This should be considered a significant gain of the visit. In the 1990s, both sides had agreed to review the 1950 treaty, and a foreign-secretary-level committee had also been set up, but the process could not move ahead, largely for fault of successive governments in Nepal. As the Indians have often claimed, the Nepali side did not appear to formulate its position clearly; neither did it seem to show much interest in pursuing the matter. Moreover, none of the major political parties in Nepal has made public its position on the 1950 Treaty - exactly what it wants changed in the treaty. This should not happen this time around.

The Prime Minister urged Indian businessmen to invest in Nepal, and the joint statement records Nepal’s willingness to create an investor-friendly environment to encourage both Indian public and private sector investments in Nepal. The establishment of a three-tier mechanism to galvanise the existing bilateral mechanisms into pushing forward discussions on exploiting water resources ‘in a comprehensive manner’ gives an indication of the importance attached to it by both sides. The two sides have also agreed to review the existing trade and transit arrangements in order to boost industrialisation in Nepal, expand trade complementarities, and remove barriers to trade. For Nepal, whose non-oil trade deficit has crossed Rs.100 billion with India in the year just past, this should provide grounds for hope. India has, by way of goodwill gestures, agreed to help end shortages of essential commodities, provide Rs.20 crore for immediate flood relief, and build the segments of the highway damaged in the Koshi floods. However, it will also be advisable to fulfil past commitments, besides taking up new projects. In the final analysis, the Prachanda visit has provided a basis for taking the bilateral relations to a higher level to suit the new realities.