Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Kathmandu is now Closer Post Modi's Visit

In the official establishment of Nepal, and among its masses, there has been a lingering sense of dissatisfaction over improper diplomatic reciprocity from India. This was understandable, as no Indian Prime Minister thought it essential to visit Kathmandu for seventeen long years. Hence, Modi's invitation to SAARC leaders for his swearing-in ceremony was seen as an indication of a strong neighbourhood policy, and that was welcomed by Nepal.

Further, Nepalese Premiere Sushil Koirala's visit to New Delhi in May helped establish fine working terms with the new government, which became evident when India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj made a visit to Kathmandu and won the hearts of the Nepalese people.

India has always played a crucial role during the political transitions in Nepal. This goes back to the time in Monarchy, where India thoroughly enjoyed a non-competing role.

Thus, Modi’s long and nuanced extempore speech in Nepali Parliament wherein he touched upon certain long-pending issues, was very well received in the country. He also spoke a few sentences in Nepalese, which was a humbling gesture. Apparently, even radicals like Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai hailed his efforts and came to agreement.

Modi not only offered Nepal soft credit to the tune of Rs (Nep) 10,000 crore for various development projects, he even simplified the terms of diplomacy in his precise remarks that “India is an elder brother, not a big brother”. In the past, anti-India sentiments over the interventionist approach of the Indian mission in Kathmandu persisted, and there was no parity in political negotiations.

So, under this backdrop – Modi's simple yet sensitive approach to the issues at hand made his time in Kathmandu highly productive, not only on a political level but also in terms of improving trade relations between the two countries. He also spoke for rationalising the telecom arrangements and enhancing cooperation on security related matters.

Although the open border has been a unique feature of Indo-Nepalese relations, it has also been a major cause of concern for India apropos to its potential misuse by unscrupulous elements posing security threats to either side.

It was agreed that neither India nor Nepal would allow their respective territories to be used against each other. Both sides agreed to finalize the texts of Extradition Treaty and MLAT on an early date.

Crucial projects such as the Pancheshwar Development Authority (PDA) received the nod for approval. The Karnali hydro-power project– besides other power projects like Arun III, Upper Marsyangdi and Tamakoshi III - has also seen significant development. The development of projects of this magnanimous size will be a major catalyst for the development of Nepal’s enormous hydro-power potential.

The Nepalese side highlighted the trade deficit it is facing viz. its trade with India, and suggested measures to address this deficit through increased Indian FDI, relaxation of non-tariff restrictions including SPS standards for agro products, increased support in product development, relaxation of Rules of Origin requirement for duty free access to Nepalese products, and mutual recognition of standards, conformity assessment and accreditation.

The Nepalese side also requested the removal of Quantitative Restrictions (QRs) on the four core Nepalese export products namely vegetable fat, copper products, acrylic yarn and zinc oxide. The Indian side assured it would consider these requests – however it reminded them that the trade deficit could best be bridged by the development of hydro-power in Nepal and the export of surplus power to India.

The talks also included deliberations over three additional air entry points at Janakpur, Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj, and cross border routes to facilitate direct flights between regional airports (Pokhara-Bhirahawa-Lucknow), in order to save time, cut costs and improve air connectivity.

The two Prime Ministers directed relevant authorities to expedite all work related to the development of cross border transmission lines as was agreed by the Joint Commission. At the request of the Nepalese side, the Government of India agreed to consider undertaking the rehabilitation of Koshi Pump Canal, Koshi Western Canal System, and West Gandak Canal System with a Lift System to irrigate additional land in Nepal.

Modi’s visit to Nepal has brought about decisive and visible changes. It has reset the game with China now batting from a weaker pitch.

In the last two decades, China has been spending billions of dollars to categorically diminish India’s traditional stronghold in Nepal – but with new synergies in Indo-Nepal relations, China's propagandist interventions into the Himalayan nation will be in vain.

In the 1970s King Birendra proposed that Nepal be a ‘zone of peace’ between India and China and in the 1980s, Nepal began importing Chinese weaponry, which to India was clearly against the spirit of India-Nepal 1950 treaty.

With no Monarchy and the Maoists in mainstream, those arms export struggle between Indian and China is almost over in Nepal – however India’s concern stays about the seized Chinese advanced arms from the Maoists, which all are not under state control.

Nepal is a country landlocked between two Asian giants (India and China), along with a disputed Tibet – this complex geographical and political reality has been a key influence on ties among these three countries.

Modi’s is scheduled to visit Nepal again for the SAARC Summit in October, with which the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) may see a new lease of life. For now, Nepal no longer sees India as ‘Swayambhu’ – this is an achievement.
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in INCLUSION)

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