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Kamala Sarup: India-Nepal Relations and Maoists

India-Nepal Relations and Maoists


By Kamala Sarup

Nepalese people can not forget how in 1988, when the two treaties were up for renewal, Nepal's refusal to accommodate India's wishes on the transit treaty caused India to call for a single trade and transit treaty. Thereafter, Nepal took a hard-line position that led to a serious crisis in India-Nepal relations. After two extensions, the two treaties expired on March 23, 1989, resulting in a virtual Indian economic blockade of Nepal that lasted until late April 1990. Although economic issues were a major factor in the two countries' confrontation. Geography demands that Nepal should maintain a high level of understanding with India at all times.

Our definition of security depends heavily upon our relationship with India, which nearly surrounds our territory. We have an open and unregulated border with Sikkim, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal. Our security position has been adversely affected by our lower level of political and economic development. But the political and military dimensions have predominated the situation. The India-Nepal political and military conflicts are the most important ones. Concerned over increasing crime-related incidents along the border, Nepal and India have agreed to mobilise special security personnel in the sensitive areas to control criminal activities. This was decided during talks between security officials from the two countries who met in Janakpur.

Even, India and Nepal have been having close relationship since before 1857, and we cannot forget how in 1950 India and Nepal initiated their intertwined relationship with the Treaty of Peace and Friendship and accompanying letters that defined security relations between the two countries. The 1950 treaty and letters stated that "neither government shall tolerate any threat to the security of the other by a foreign aggressor" and obligated both sides "to inform each other of any serious friction or misunderstanding with any neighboring state likely to cause any breach in the friendly relations subsisting between the two governments.

It is known that the special security relationship between India and Nepal was re-established during the 1990 New Delhi visit of Nepal's Ex-PM Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and during the 1991 visit to India by Nepalese prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala. Even during the Indian PM's visit to Nepal in June 1997 the two sides reiterated their determination to work closely to fight violence and the Home Secretary level talks were also held and all matters relating to security were discussed in detail. After the Joint Working Group on Border Management and Home Secretary level talks, effective border management measures were taken to counter the misuse of the open border. Indian-Nepali relations appeared to be undergoing still more reassessment when Nepal's Ex-PM Man Mohan Adhikary visited New Delhi in April 1995 and insisted on a major review of the 1950 peace and friendship treaty.

As per the Nepal-India Trade Treaty-1996, India charges 16 per cent excise duty on goods exported to Nepal and later refunds through government channels. The protocol-3 of renewed treaty says India can impose excise duty on Nepal bound goods manufactured in India. Even During External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh's visit to Nepal in September 1999, both foreign ministers directed their foreign secretaries to "resume at the earliest their consideration of all issues of bilateral interests including those pertaining to the 1950 treaty." Jaswant Singh had also extended an invitation from the Indian prime minister to the Nepalese prime minister.

In the 1950s, Nepal welcomed close relations with India, but tensions came to a head in the mid-1970s. In 1975 King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev proposed that Nepal be recognized internationally as a zone of peace; he received support from China and Pakistan. In 1984 Nepal repeated the proposal, but there was no reaction from India. Nepal continually promoted the proposal in international forums, with Chinese support; by 1990 it had won the support of 112 countries.

When the Treaty of Trade and Transit of 1950 was renewed for the first time in 1960, It was restated in that Treaty that these benefits will be given by India to Nepal and India will not seek similar benefits from Nepal. Treaty was signed in 1950 and it was renewed in 1960. For the first time, in 1996 it was decided that the Treaty will be extended automatically.

That is why Gujral Doctrine is in place between India and Nepal since long. Gujral Doctrine has not done anything new, but the negotiations was taking place on the principles as Gujral Doctrine.

Even relations between India and Nepal are close yet fraught with difficulties stemming from geography, economics, the problems inherent in big power-small power relations, and common ethnic and linguistic identities that overlap the two countries' borders.

The biggest Nepalese community outside Nepal lives in India. Nepal had signed agreements with China such as the Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1960, road construction project from Kathmandu to Kodari (1961) and resolving the boundary issue between the two countries (1961) coinciding with strained Sino- India relations. The road had immense strategic and political importance because it was a major breach of Nepal Himalayas from the North from where there was connectivity to India.

However most of Nepal's security concerns emanate from inside the country such as the political instability, poor governance, dismal economic performance, Maoist insurgency etc. To understand the element of mutuality in the security concerns of both the countries the Treaty of Peace and Friendship has been analysed. The Treaty was particularly selected because it contains most of the variables in the relationship whether related to security concerns or socio- economic interests. Violation of the treaty suggests breach in the mutuality of interests.

The scaling down of tension in the Pashupatinagar area in far eastern Nepal between Nepalese and Indians is to be welcomed as a temporary but much needed respite to heal wounds and to come to an amicable solution to the problem. The tension arose there because some Indian officials unilaterally set up a border pillar in an area that was undisputedly Nepalese territory.

On the other side, regarding the transport agreement, the Nepali side had raised the issue that they would have a problem including cargo vehicles in the transport agreement because there are transport interests here who feel threatened by unlimited opening to cargo vehicles coming in from India. There are thousands of Nepali and Indians visiting each other's countries, this would make their travel easy. At a time when you are trying to promote tourism by organizing road shows in India, the transport agreement should reflect that.

On the other side border encroachment, the unequal treaty of 1950, unilateral decision to construct dams along the international border submerging thousands of Nepali villages, recurrent obstructions posed by Indian officials with regard to export of Nepali products to India, her intransigence towards the enormous human tragedy of Bhutanese refugees by taking recourse to the so-called doctrine of bilateralism, are some of the most glaring irritants that stand in the way of restoring normalcy between the two countries.

It is true, the two neighbors would be losing enormous opportunities for meaningful cooperation if they continue to harbour permanent mistrust against each other.

Maoists Problems and Open Boarder

Recently, the Indian Ambassador to Nepal Shyam Saran said that India should understands that the Maoist insurgency in Nepal can "spill over" the border. Both countries have expressed determination to fight the scourge of violence and decided not to allow our respective territories to be used for activities against the interest of each other. Nepal has been fighting violence as well as other types of social violence for over 10 years, but it is not an easy problem to solve. I believe India has full information about problems faced by Nepal due to Maoists violence in which thousands of lives have been lost over the nine years.

We should determined that Nepalese and Indian soil will not be allowed to be used for any activity detrimental to India and Nepal at any cost.

In the escalating violence, the Maoists have killed many innocent civilians and teachers and most of the innocent Nepali villagers are often caught in the crossfire. It is known that widespread corruption, frequent changes of power, and governmental inefficiency have caused the current situation.

But I am hoping for dialogue and good faith among Maoists and the government. These developments could ease tensions and marginalise violence in the region. The new government's priority should be to review laws affecting the life of the people, launch special packages for the victims of police and army operations, start new programs for young people and create conditions conductive to the return of the displaced villagers.

Nepal is a very proud country. The constitutional Monarchy and Democracy were non negotiable.

*************

(Kamala Sarup is editor of http://peacejournalism.com/)

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