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Saturday, October 20, 2018
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Pak, China cards in Oli diplomacy
Prime Minister Khadaga Prasad Sharma Oli, who came to power in Kathmandu on a patently ‘anti-India’platform, has surprised observers by choosing India for his maiden foreign visit. It was in line with the long-standing tradition of a Nepalese premier visiting Delhi on his first port of call. Yet, to say that the three-day visit (April 6-9) paved the way to end ‘misunderstandings’ and restore mutual trust between the two countries will be a hasty conclusion.
There is no guarantee that the proposed Indian projects inked during his visit will actually bring down the mutual distrust level. Nepal has endorsed the Chinese grand plan of ‘One Belt One Road' which India sees as an attempt to encircle it and also undermine its sovereignty. There can be no doubt that any rail, road or waterways connectivity project undertaken by India in Nepal may eventually be dovetailed into the Chinese OBOR.
Many in Nepal wonder if India will offer loan or execute the project on its own. Assuming that there is no debt burden on Nepal for the connectivity projects, India still cannot count on creating goodwill unless the execution is speedy. Distrust of India is also fuelled by many promises made in the past but implemented, if at all, with considerable delays.
Oli is not the only Nepalese politician who distrusts India. Nepalese politicians of other hues too have been suspicious of India—some for a long time and some after the 2015 ‘blockade’ of the border by Madhesis, when the Nepalese constitution under consideration had failed to allay their fears.Madhesis, the people living in the Terai plains have close relations with people across the border in India.
The blockade saga had brought out all the misgivings that Nepali politicians have against India. The irony is that after a while, even the Madhesis had turned against India by the time the ‘blockade’ was lifted. As of now there is nothing to show that the bitterness of 2015 has totally disappeared. It could not have because till the other day, leaders like Oli and his Communist party were whipping up emotions against India for its alleged interference in their domestic affairs.
Not content with playing the China card, Oli embarked on another mission which could have only raised further hackles in India. He began to take up the Pakistani plea of reviving SAARC which has been dormant for about two years after Delhi refused to attend the summit in Islamabad in protest against its blatant support to terrorism.
A few weeks ago, the Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was in Kathmandu, ostensibly to congratulate Oli on taking over the reins of his land locked country. There is nothing in Nepal-Pakistan relationship that requires such a gesture. It is quite likely that Abbasi’s Kathmandu visit came after nudging by the Nepalese prime minister who obviously thought that Pakistan will be an additional card to play with after China. It could also send a message that Pakistan has another ‘ally’ in India’s neighbourhood.
SAARC has failed to live up to its potential because of the India-Pakistan tensions. In a manner of speaking Pakistan itself has undermined the utility of the South Asian grouping by refusing to join the road connectivity programmes. India does not see the need to revive it urgently because there are other regional multilateral groups in which India is active. One such is Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation which has more potential than SAARC
During Oli-Modi talks, Pakistan may have figured briefly if the Nepalis leader wanted to press India to end the SAARC summit boycott. From what is in public domain, he did not. India has a serious issue regarding Nepal-Pakistan relation which was perhaps not taken up. For several years, Pakistan has been using Nepal to export terror and smuggle fake Indian currency as well to India.
It may be recalled that weapons to the hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane from Kathmandu to Kandahar via Pakistan in December 1999 were supplied by a Pakistani diplomat who used his privilege to escort the Pakistani terrorists right up to the tarmac. It is no secret that a lot of terrorists enter India through the porous Indo-Nepal border after flying into Kathmandu from either Lahore or Karachi.This practice has not stopped.
India cannot ignore that Pakistan has been hyperactive in South Asian neighbourhood, fanning anti-India feelings and plotting terror attacks. The Pakistani army chief was recently in the Maldives. A Pakistani official, Amir Zubair Siddiqui, who had a long stint as a diplomat in Colombo, stands accused of engaging people to indulge in espionage and terror activities in India. He got reconnaissance of various defence installations like Mumbai naval base andChennai Air Force station.
The National Investigation Agency, NIA, of India has put Siddiqui,known also as “boss”, on its wanted list. It has filed a chargesheet against him saying that he along with two others had circulated high quality Fake Indian Currency Notes. The Objective: Destabilise India’s economy.
Amir Siddiqui’s mischief came to light in 2012 when the‘Q’ Branch CID police of Tamilnadu arrested a person, identified as Thameem Ansari belonging to Thanjavur; he had spilled the beans that Pak diplomat was busy in the espionage game between 2008 and 2012.
This digression is only to drive home the limits to any advocacy by Nepal of Pakistani card.Also, to highlight the fact that in today’s world, India is not in a position to take Nepal for granted. Times have changed with Nepal now fully conscious that it need not put all its eggs in the Indian basket.
Before Prime Minister Oli landed in India, one of the subjects which were believed to be of concern to his government was the need to revise the 1950 India-Nepal Treaty. The current Nepalese leadership is said to be against the recruitment of Gurkhas in the Indian Army. Did Oli take up these issues or have they been left before they blow up into a festering wound and cause another strain in the bilateral relations?
Oli visit saw the two countries ink pacts on a rail link and waterways development in the Himalayan country. Are these deals an Indian attempt to prevent Nepal from further latching on to China. Of course, Nepal will be sadly mistaken if it interprets so and goes on to believe that it can go on twisting India’s neck and extract whatever price it wants. It will not serve Nepal to put extra strain on the centuries old ties—cultural, religious, ethnic, and historical. There are six million Nepalese living and working in India. And all of them enjoy virtually the status of Indian citizenship. Nepal has to understand that the two countries need to live as friends, not playing this or that card against each other.
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