Nepal-India ties What kind of treatment is Nepal getting?

Aditya Man Shrestha:

Nepal becoming a Bhutan in relation to India is a passionate issue in Nepal. India, under a 1949 treaty, controls defence and foreign policy of Bhutan. In that sense, Bhutan is not a fully independent country, though a member of global community of nations. The Nepalis going the Bhutanese way in contravention of its full independent status in its relations with India as per the 1950 treaty is a much feared but conceivable phenomenon. Irrespective of many unsatisfactory provisions, the 1950 Indo-Nepal treaty recognises and respects “complete sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence” of Nepal. In contrast, the India-Bhutan treaty carries no such terms except that India “undertakes to exercise no interference in the internal administration of Bhutan.”

Many of us won’t be willing to debate the issue of Nepal assuming the status of Bhutan, leave alone digest it. But dispassionately speaking, Nepal has become Bhutan in relation to India. This I had foreseen and foretold two years ago in a local newspaper. The way Nepal’s destiny was fast swinging back and forth over the last couple of years in the wake of political and violent crises could predispose no better logical conclusion than to arrive at it. However, I had no inkling that it would happen in so short a time of, say, two to three years. But it is happening nonetheless before us.

There are three reasons for saying so — political, defence and foreign policy. Politically, there is increasing pressure from India reminiscent of the 1950s when it was the decision maker on important Nepali affairs. King Mahendra had a hard time to do away with those practices. But the recent news of stalling the dismissal of the Deuba government by India’s intervention, whether true or false, reminded us of the old times of direct external interference. However there is no hiding the fact that India wants to see a constitutional monarchy with multi-party democracy in Nepal.

But India has articulated a tough posture towards Nepal to take “tangible steps towards strengthening multiparty democracy and striking down any retrograde step to further destabilise the parties”. The message is directed toward the Nepali king who is about to visit India on a nebulous mission. It amounts to India taking deeper interest in the internal affairs of Nepal than in the case of Bhutan notwithstanding the better treaty status Nepal enjoys than Bhutan in relations to India. India could show greater concern over the absence of democracy in Bhutan than in its disfiguration in Nepal. But it has not. In that sense, Nepal is receiving a worse deal than Bhutan from India as far as her interest in their internal affairs is concerned.

On matters of defence, it is worse. Nepal is getting more and more dependent upon India for the supply of military hardware and, in return, India is seen more and more aggressive in dictating the terms. The three-billion rupees worth of Indian military assistance to Nepal is not going to be forgotten and forgiven. In this connection, India, first, allegedly said Nepal should not send its troops abroad on the peacekeeping missions because it needs them to fight its own internal insurgents. Second, India has asked Nepal to mobilise the Nepali army in more effective ways to control the Maoist violence in Nepal. It sounds like India asking Bhutan to flush out the Indian insurgents who had taken shelter in the territory of Bhutan.

Accordingly Bhutan acted upon it and drove the armed insurgents out from its territory back to India. Nepal follows suit by mounting its military pressure on the Maoists. What difference is left between Nepal and Bhutan when they act in the same way on what India tells them to do on defence matters? The close co-operation Nepal and India are developing on security matters lately is bound to intensify in the days to come, even surpassing the defence relations Bhutan has established with India since 1949.

The nature of the defence relationship between Nepal and India looks in tune with the provisions of the draft treaty India had supposedly proposed to Nepal in 1990 during the people’s movement against the Panchayat system. It provides for “cooperation with each other in the military field.” Such cooperation includes “assistance by India by providing arms, ammunition, other materials and additional equipment and in coordinating training for the raising of additional formations and units for the Nepal army.” Another provision said, “The cooperation in military field shall also include training of Nepal’s armed forces.” In the prevailing development, we are having without a treaty with India what was proposed in 1990 under a treaty.

On foreign policy, the Nepal government has toed the line of India on the issue of international mediation for resolution of Nepal’s conflict. The rejection of the UN mediation role in Nepal is the only constant and consistent stand Nepal has taken despite frequent changes of the prime ministers and the foreign ministers. They have made no secret of the fact that India does not want any international agency or any strong country to play the role of a mediator in Nepal where India has the highest fallout stakes for its own security. In this respect, Nepal has adhered to the advice of India without a treaty obligation, which is provided in India-Bhutan treaty of 1949 that obliges Bhutan “to be guided by the advice of the government of India in regard to its external relations.”

Shrestha is coordinator, Volunteer Mediators Group for Peace