28 July -3 August 2017 #869

Himalayan rumblings

Nishchal N Pandey
Nepal should be worried that the ongoing Indo-China spat at Dokhlam marks a renewed phase of geo-strategic and geo-economic rivalry as China and India rise as 21st-century heavyweights. 

Uncertainties about the Trump administration’s foreign policy direction leave a large space for other giants, such as China, Russia and India, to occupy. How relations between these big powers shape up and how they behave with regional actors will be key questions. In such a geopolitical climate, Nepal will only benefit from strengthening trust-based relationships with neighbours and being a robust international actor. 


Read also:

Equidistance or asymmetry?, Editorial


During the 1962 Sino-Indian war, Nepal maintained strict neutrality and did not permit either side to use its soil or airspace. Our neighbours realised that Nepal, a buffer between the Himalaya and the Indo-Gangetic plains, could become a headache if it slid into chaos and instability. 

Nepal went on to sit on the UN Security Council (twice), became one of the largest contributors to UN peacekeeping missions worldwide, and has hosted world leaders, including Queen Elizabeth and Emperor Akihito. In the last six decades, two Indian mountain states on our border disappeared in political geography but Nepal managed to survive because we have never hesitated to practise and project an independent foreign policy of our own.

Bhutan has always been inward-looking. We ought not to forget that its airspace was used in the 1962 war. It has done remarkably well in terms of maintaining political stability, harnessing its hydro-resources and making environmental protection its top priority. However, it does not have diplomatic relations with the P5 countries of the UN Security Council and maintains only a handful of missions, in Delhi, Dhaka, Geneva, Bangkok, etc. There are only three foreign embassies in Thimphu. 

We in Nepal have realised during recent blockades that despite having a relatively large international footprint, it is not easy to get our viewpoint across to the international media, let alone to foreign governments. As geopolitics shifts towards the Himalayan states once more with consequent ramifications for regional security, a small country like Bhutan needs to seriously reconsider its policy of self-isolation. 

It is disheartening to see the two Asian giants sparring at a time of increased connectivity and easy travel. What is needed are railways, fibre-optic cables, roads and ports to run unhindered across South Asia, not new bunkers and eye-to-eye confrontation that will only harm our collective quest for economic development. We would like to reap the benefits of the rise of China and India, not suffer the fallout of their rivalry. As current Chair of SAARC, Nepal must convene a meeting of the Council of Ministers to at least create a platform to meet and discuss urgent issues. Unfortunately, our highly unstable politics is being led by an egoistic and myopic leadership. All they know is to request visits to Delhi and Beijing without even realising that their ability to fulfil the promises they make there is questionable. 

Nishchal N Pandey is Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies, Kathmandu, and has a PhD in Nepal-Bhutan Relations.

Read also:

Unintended Trans-Himalayan Consequences, Kanak Mani Dixit

Squeezed in the Himalaya, Sean Shoemaker

Forget SAARC, Pradumna B Rana

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