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Nepal trusts India much less than China

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Like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, Nepal is also, in recent years, tilted towards China, especially for economic, rather than military or even strategic reasons although all of them have made any collative effort on any regional or international issues.

Nepal, the landlocked country, which is surrounded on three sides by India and China on one side over the Himalayas, depends on neighbors for its prosperity and also diversifying the sources of key supplies was very important for the successful conduct of its policies. Nepal is trying to find a way to ensure manageable risk in terms of resources it gets from other countries.

Extra pressure from New Delhi forced Nepal to move towards China.

Constantly tormented by the necessity of pursuing a neutral policy to effectively balancing between its immediate but antagonistic neighbors China and India, Nepal has been striving to figure out how it is related at multiple levels to both countries.

China and as well as Indian exerts tremendous influence on Nepal to toe their lines however, Katmandu is keen to be a partner of Beijing. While China is a UN veto power and world economic power, India is an emerging economy with its own limitations.

However, Hinduism playing a mediating factor, India has extensive political and economic influence over Nepal and thus far it provides much of Nepal’s supplies. In 2015, India withheld supplies, especially fuel, to the country after the devastating earthquake by blocking traffic because of a political dispute. Here Beijing stepped in and supplied fuel along the mountainous routes and became a trusted partner.

Rise of leftism

A Left parties’ alliance formed a new government in Nepal after a landslide victory, seen as a triumph of China over India regarding influence in Kathmandu, with pro-Chinese nationalist leader K.P. Sharma Oli expected to be prime minister. The alliance has an ideological affinity with communist China. Its top leaders, Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, both ex-prime ministers, also have a personal rapport with top Chinese and party officials.

Leaders of the coalition in Katmandu said the new government will launch five or six megaprojects aimed at spurring development and job growth, including revisiting the Chinese company-funded Budhi Gandaki dam project, which was cancelled on the eve of the election.

After the elections, Oli visited a border point with Tibet where a trans-Himalayan railway project is under review, further indicating future collaboration with China. Oli pledged to bring in Chinese investment for key infrastructure projects, and to return a US$2.5 billion hydropower project to China’s Gezhouba Group, after the current government scrapped the deal citing contract “irregularities”.

While Chinese communist ideology seems to be close to Nepalese political and intellectual classes, India under BJP government tries to  use Hindu religion to exert  more influence the on the Nepalese mindset than China.

Nepal’s newly elected Left Alliance is not doing Beijing’s bidding, but seeks to balance relations between China and India to promote economic growth and political stability. The sweeping victory of the Communist CPN-UML and Maoist Party alliance in Nepal’s election this month has raised alarm bells. The primary concern in the international press seems to be that a communist government will allow China a greater role in a region India sees as its backyard.

Earlier, the centrist Nepali Congress-led incumbent government played a role in slowing Beijing’s economic advances in Nepal. Not one project has yet been pursued under the “Belt and Road Initiative”, eight months since a framework agreement. Breaking with the tradition of visiting India first upon taking office, Dahal chose China as his first port of call in August 2008. Oli signed a slew of deals, including on transport and transit, when he arrived in Beijing as Nepal’s leader in March 2016. These treaties not only ended Nepal’s sole dependency on India for trade but also diversified the Nepalese market for petroleum imports, crucial for a landlocked nation that has faced three economic blockades by India.

Once considered close to New Delhi, Oli became vocal against India when it pressured Nepal over its constitution in September 2015, then imposed a five-month blockade, and tried to bar Oli from becoming prime minister. But, he is not against seeking Indian investment for development. No government in Nepal can ignore one neighbour at the cost of another. Nor can it afford sole dependency on either.

With China surpassing India on the list of Nepal’s largest donors and investors, India’s unease has deepened. The problem is India still sees Nepal as its “backyard”; it welcomes Chinese investment but expresses deep suspicions when it comes to its neighborhood.

There is speculation, mostly from Indian sources, that China has been pulling the levers behind the scenes to help the two major left parties come together. Western media have repeated the claim, with the alliance depicted as a pro-China force and Chinese activities held responsible for India’s diminishing influence in Nepal.

If India’s traditional dominance in Nepal has waned, it is more because of India’s reckless diplomacy and it new hate politics. After India imposed an effective blockade against Nepal in 2015-16 for refusing to write a constitution on its terms, Nepal was cut off from fuel and essential supplies for more than five months. Nepal has since looked north for development and diplomatic balance and China readily obliged its red neighbor.

India may not accept developments in Nepal as the aspirations of a landlocked, sovereign neighbour to diversify its trade, transport and transit dependencies.  India’s clout would not count greatly if it continues to try to reverse the logical trend but on the contrary would only help steer China’s speedy footprints in Nepal.

But India must honour its earlier infrastructure commitments to Nepal, while admitting that China is a reality, not a choice, for Kathmandu.

Logic

It is geographic logic that geared Nepal towards the south but economic and geopolitical logic means it now also engages China. There is now a consensus across the political spectrum on the need to end Nepal’s exclusive southern orientation and develop better trade and transport links with China.

Study of China and its language are becoming popular in Nepal. The students of Nepal are also taught about contemporary China, including the government’s claim that it is the home of the “four great new inventions”, including shared bicycles and high-speed railways. The number of Chinese tourists travelling to Nepal is also swelling, rising 20 per cent in 2016 to 104,000, according to figures from the Nepal Tourism Board. The sharp rise has coincided with an increase in the number of Chinese businesses in Kathmandu, including hotels and restaurants in the so-called Chinatown in the city’s Thamel district.

Since opening in 2015, Nepal has organised dozens of events promoting Chinese culture. In fact, the Classrooms have sparked controversy in some countries because of their links to the Chinese government, and the perception that they support Beijing’s political objectives and fail to tackle sensitive topics. There are more than 1,000 such classrooms in primary and secondary schools around the world.

While China’s cultural clout in Nepal lags far behind that of India – with which Nepal shares a 1,700km open border – opportunities for Beijing to shift that balance were given a huge boost when Nepal’s Communist alliance, which is seen as friendlier to China, secured a landslide election victory.

Totalitarian China has restrictions placed on religions, especially Islam and controls over the internet and blocks many websites which might carry content that is religious and not exactly critical of the ruling Communist Party – including Google and Facebook – but also religious contents.

Political economy

The left win in Nepal was good news for China, given Nepal’s strategic location as a buffer with India and proximity to Tibet, an autonomous region of China with lingering tensions over its sovereignty.

Nepal’s communists have been adherents of the market economy since the establishment of democracy in 1990 and many leaders have close relationships with India. Most domestic forces have sought help from India and China to gain political leverage and both countries have attempted to influence political processes. Their involvement is as effective as local dynamics allow. No country wields absolute power over politics in Nepal.

China is Nepal’s largest foreign investor, and in the past financial year alone has invested 8.36 billion Nepalese rupees (US$81.89 million) in the country, an increase of almost 35 per cent from the year before, according to Nepal’s Department of Industry.

More than US$80 million of investment are helping Beijing to win hearts and minds in its tiny, but perfectly placed neighbour Nepal. Much to the annoyance of New Delhi, Beijing has poured huge sums of money into infrastructure projects in Nepal – a landlocked nation with China to its north and India to its south – under its trade and infrastructure development plan known as the “Belt and Road Initiative”.

The impact of Chinese investment in Nepal is visible in its roads and motorways, hydroelectric projects and railways, as well as the rebuilding projects launched after the devastating earthquake of 2015 that left more than 9,000 people dead. At the entrance to a project, partly funded by Beijing, to restore a tower in front of the old royal palace in Durbar Square, are the flags of both Nepal and China.

China has been making strenuous efforts to increase trade with Nepal. At present, China-Nepal relations are developing at the fastest pace we’ve seen,” said Yu Hong, Chinese ambassador to Nepal. Nepal’s closeness to China, expected to deepen under its New Leftist government, is just a sovereign nation’s wish to secure its interests and India should accept it as such.

In fact, the regional superpower China helps Nepal overcome it’s over dependence on India by providing those resources that come from India to the former kingdom of Himalayas. Nepal ended its long dependency on India for internet access recently by opening a fibre optic link to China. Nepal’s information minister Mohan Bahadur Basnet inaugurated the link across the Himalayas at a ceremony in the capital, Kathmandu. Previously, all internet connections in the landlocked country came via three access points in its only other neighbour, India through the cities of Bhairahawa, Biratnagar and Birgunj in southern Nepal.

The new internet line provided by China Telecom Global extends from Kathmandu to the border point Rasuwagadhi into the Tibet region. It comes after a coalition of two communist parties that are considered pro-China won Nepal’s election last month. The Nepal line is connected via Hong Kong bandwidth, which is not restricted by the infamous “Great Firewall”. The link was scheduled to be up and running by the middle of last year but it was delayed due to the difficulties of working at high altitudes above 4,000 metres.

Work on a communications link to China was finished in December 2014, but it was completely destroyed in a devastating earthquake in April 2015. A land transport route through the Tatopani border point to China is still closed.

Chinese influence can be seen across Nepal, Beijing still has some way to go, especially in the area of people-to-people relations, which are still not sufficient. Cultural relations and the people-to-people relations are the vehicle for strengthening bilateral relations

This visible presence is a concern for India, which regards China as a strategic competitor and views the influx of Chinese money with a geopolitical edge. There are also perennial concerns over China’s soft power regarding sovereignty

Helplessness

Any country would like to have full and complete sovereignty and freedom to decide its course without any pressure or force from any other big nation. Nepal feels for that ambiguity and inability. .

Nepal is pursuing a long history of trade and cultural connection with China that was broken after the British incursion. What the India/West axis sees as Nepal being breaking away from its fold, but Nepal sees as a much-needed rebalancing.

Nepalis strongly desire to break free from the shackles of political and economic domination from both Indi and China. They have seen Asian countries transform themselves in a matter of decades and are eager for similar change. They have seen the rise of China and how the Chinese have lifted millions out of poverty. They have seen in their own country how almost 70 years of Western development aid has done little in comparison.

There is a great disillusionment against what is widely perceived as the proclivity of the Indians and Westerners to get mired in domestic politics and social engineering Nepal is not a “security instrument” to contain China, nor a battleground in the new great game. It is easy to see why the Chinese model, with its strictly economic terms of engagement, is preferable to many, even with concerns about “debt entrapment” among countries dealing with China.

Anyone in China’s neighborhood is going to be aware of the gravity of China’s pull and the amount of influence it could potentially wield. But many in Nepal appear unconcerned, focusing instead on China’s massive economic development and the spillover benefits it could have for their country. 10 years down the road, Nepal’s economy will have largely benefited because of the Chinese economy.

Obviously Nepal will benefit from the growing Chinese economy and the Chinese protection would ward off any threats from India.

South Asia

Why India won’t intervene militarily in Maldives

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An Indian Ocean archipelago of 1,192 islands, the Maldives is a tourist paradise. The Maldives is a low-lying country that is expected to be among the first in the world to go under water as a result of climate change. While it may take a few more decades for rising sea levels to wreak havoc on the archipelago, there are more immediate and pressing problems tearing the country apart.

Tourism is the backbone of the country’s economy, and tour operators have reported hundreds of daily cancellations since the state of emergency was imposed on February 5. Following the state of emergency, Maldives has been in a tensed state of existence in as the archipelago is facing a sort of turmoil, ransacking its tourism based economy.

Crisis

The current crisis was the result of a Supreme Court ruling on February 1, overturning the convictions of Yameen’s rivals. In addition to ordering the government to release the nine convicted opposition leaders, the apex court called for reinstating 12 parliamentarians who were stripped of their seats last year when they left Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives to join the opposition.

Two weeks after the government of the Maldives declared a state of emergency amid rising political tension, on February 20th Parliament approved a 30-day extension that, among other grave consequences, may result in serious damages to the economy, scaring away international visitors. On February 20, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom requested to extend the Maldives state of emergency for a total of 45 days. The Maldives government and the Ministry of Tourism have emphasized their commitment to safety for civilians and tourists alike.

The emergency “shall only apply to those alleged to have carried out illegal activities — it shall not apply to otherwise law-abiding residents of, or visitors to, the Maldives,” Yameen’s office said in a statement.

The opposition Jumhooree Party says the approval of the extension is illegal, and urged Yameen to lift the state of emergency in order to restore normalcy. “Despite the State of Emergency, the country is functioning as normal as possible,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism told TPG Tuesday before the extension was approved. “Schools and government offices are in operation and we do not foresee any threats to the public or tourists. We too are continuing with the promotional activities of the destination.”

Since Yameen became president in a controversial election in 2013, he has systematically crushed dissidence within his party and removed rivals from the political arena.

For instance, MDP leader and former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed, the archipelago’s first democratically elected leader, was convicted on terrorism charges in 2015 and sentenced to 13 years in jail. While Nasheed has been living in self-exile in Britain since 2016, several other opposition leaders, including a former defense minister in the Nasheed government, Mohamed Nazim; Yameen’s once “trusted” vice-president, Ahmed Adheeb; and leader of the opposition Adhaalath Party, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, are in jail on long prison terms.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) calls on neighboring India to militarily intervene to end the crisis, and let Nasheed become the president.

According to reports in the Indian media, the government has ruled out the military option for now, although it has activated its standing operating procedure for the Maldives by keeping troops ready for deployment there at short notice, should the need arise.

But India is said to be working with a group of countries, including the United States and Saudi Arabia, to pressure the government through imposition of sanctions. However, India has traditionally opposed the sanctions option to influence regime behavior, as sanctions affects ordinary people rather than the ruling elite.

Relations between India and the Maldives have been strong for decades; India played a major role in building the Maldives’ economy and military. It was India’s support that kept the authoritarian Gayoom in power for three decades.

However, bilateral ties have been fraying since Nasheed’s exit from power in 2012. That year, the Maldivian government abruptly terminated a $500 million contract awarded to India’s GMR Infrastructure for developing an airport in Male. Bilateral ties have deteriorated since then. Yameen’s “authoritarian governance” has irked India, but it is his tight embrace of China that has raised hackles in Delhi.

No invitation for invasion

A country could decide to send military forces to neighboring or any other country only on the request form that nation concerned. Otherwise the intervention becomes totally illegal and amounts to invasion. USA led NATO have been occupying many countries in Middle East and Afghanistan after invading them on false justifications.

Anyone who closely follows Indian state behavior abroad would quickly endorse the argument that India would not intervene in Maldives citing any reason.

In order to decide to sent troops to nearby Maldives, India must have got a request from the government of Maldives but that government has not sought it. In 1988 when India intervened in Maldives it was on the request received from the then President Gayoom.

When an external government is engaged in dealing with an emergency situation, naturally that power should be given huge service charges. Without any request from Maldivian government of Yameen, India won’t get any service charges. Though the exiled opposition leader Nasheed might be willing to pay the money to India as he has made the request to New Delhi, but India cannot respond to non-government actors.

This step alone can easily do away with any suggestion to India for intervention in Maldives.

The government of Maldives has not asked for Indian military to help bring peace and normalcy back to the island nation. India cannot attack Maldives on the suggestion by the opposition leader who now lives in Srilanka.

Claiming to be a ‘terror victim’, India would not like to be seen as an aggressor as no amount of justification can  make New Delhi “innocent” although it has got that look. .

China factor

But there are some more important reasons that deny India any chance to send troops to Maldives which, in the absence of a request from the government,   would mean to remove the President and government from power.

Today, archipelago Maldives is not alone, though insignificant for non-tourists. China is fast becoming an economic ally of Maldives and might soon have its own military bases in the island nations as well.

Chinese nexus is the prime strength Maldives would operate on.

Unlike China, USA can only bully small nations but cannot spend money on them, does not invest there to help their economies flourish. Already, Beijing, knowing the Indian strategic community’s desire for a military showcase byIndia in Maldives, has expressed its opposition to outside intervention from India.

Unlike USA, India cannot attack Maldives on the suggestion of USA or Israel or Opposition leader Nasheed and if that at all happens India would possibly be in a long term trouble.

In 2014, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Maldives, Yameen handed over the airport project to a state-run Chinese company. The two sides signed a string of deals during that visit that saw Beijing participate in a big way in infrastructure building in Maldives. Maldives also became an enthusiastic participant in the Maritime Belt of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Then in December last year, the Maldives and China signed a Free Trade Agreement, much to India’s concern. Delhi is worried about Beijing’s mounting influence over Maldives and the strategic implications for India.

China’s growing presence in the Maldives is a serious concern to India given the latter’s geographic proximity to the Indian coastline. The Maldives also sit near international sea lanes through which India’s oil imports traverse. India’s security would be threatened should the Chinese set up a naval base in the Maldives. These concerns are not without substance; in August 2017, three Chinese naval vessels docked at the Maldives’ capital, Male, setting off alarm bells in Delhi.

India’s vulnerability

India is watching the unfolding crisis in the Maldives with concern. It is mulling different options. Not doing anything is not an option given India’s stakes in a stable Maldives.

A seemingly busy India, whose PM is on a perpetual foreign tours as India’s foreign policy with very little time for the people and keeps mum on all major anti-people events, promotes rampant corruption and the powerful lords  loot the nation and its resources for private use, steel cash from nationalized banks, illegal mining and land grabbing.

IPL Modi, PNB looter Nirav Modi- both have escaped from India and are now abroad thanks to timely help and aid from agencies of Indian regime, Kothari, et al are just the tip of iceberg in Indian sage of misappropriation of state resources while the intelligence and media lords are terribly busy blasting fake news about Pakistan and Muslims in order rot keep the fanatic sections of India.

The Indian government has said it is “disturbed” by the declaration of emergency in the Maldives and “the suspension of the Maldivian people’s constitutional rights.” It is “carefully monitoring the situation,” it said. Earlier, its Ministry of External Affairs issued a travel advisory to its citizens traveling to Maldives.

Sections in India are in favor of an Indian military intervention in the Maldives. Some argue that it does not behoove a rising power with big ambitions like India to shrink away from acting robustly to defend its interests in the region.

A section of the BJP leadership has described the current crisis in the Maldives as an “opportunity” for India “to stake its claim to being a global player.” It is “imperative” for India to intervene in the Maldives, they argue,  “since any global role is always dependent on a country’s performance in the neighborhood first. Those who want to see India a superpower as soon as possible with a magic touch, say that “time is ripe for a decisive Indian intervention in the Maldives.”  Such intervention by India would have the support of countries like the USA, Israel and UK, which, they reason, would be keen to see the pro-China Yameen removed from power. “This could be used to silence the Kashmiris who fancy for sovereignty”.

If India does decide in favor of military intervention, this will not be the first time it has done so in the Maldives. In 1988, India sent in a small contingent of troops to avert a coup attempt against Gayoom. But the circumstances of that intervention were different from what exists today. In 1988, President Gayoom invited India to intervene. Yameen is unlikely to do so now. Importantly as well, 30 years ago the coup plotters were just a small group of mercenaries. A military intervention today could leave Indian troops stuck in a Maldivian quagmire.

Yameen wins power struggle

Yameen, like most rulers today, is determined to cling to power. Not only has Yameen ignored the court order, but he went on to declare an emergency and had the judges who handed out the ruling arrested. Reinstating the 12 parliamentarians would reduce his government to a minority. That would enable parliament to oust him in a no-confidence vote.

Besides, Yameen seems apprehensive that allowing Nasheed to return to the Maldives and freeing the other opposition leaders would galvanize the opposition and boost mass protests against his iron-fisted rule. Presidential elections are due later this year and Yameen fears that he will be defeated by a strong opposition campaign.

With the proclamation of a state of emergency, Yameen has prevented parliament from meeting. The emergency will be in place for 15 days, during which he can be expected to pack the judiciary with loyal judges. He is likely to engineer defections from the opposition. He could extend the state of emergency as well.

Yameen has already appointed new judges, who have since annulled the court order releasing the opposition politicians. Former president and opposition leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who is Yameen’s half-brother, has been detained and Yameen has fired two police chiefs over three days.

With Yameen tightening his grip, Nasheed has called on India “to send an envoy, backed by its military to free the judges and the political detainees.” He has asked for India’s “physical presence” in the Maldives.

China has warned India against any military intervention in Maldives.

Observation

China is closely watching events in the Maldives. The archipelago is a popular destination for Chinese tourists; in light of the current uncertainty, Beijing has advised its citizens to postpone travel to the Maldives. Having invested heavily in the Maldives, China is concerned about the safety of its investments, projects, and personnel. It has asked the Maldivian government to “to take necessary measures to earnestly protect the security of the Chinese enterprises, situations and personnel.”

Unlike India, China has leverage with the Maldivian government. Yameen is likely to listen to China. But Beijing would not want to see him go.

China is opposed to India meddling in Maldives and has made this more than clear. An editorial in China’s state-run Global Times chided India for openly intervening in its neighbors’ domestic affairs. There is “no justification” for India “to intervene in Male’s affairs,” it observed.

Any military showcase by India could also prove counterproductive to India’s long-term interests. It would push Yameen closer to the Chinese, for instance. Besides, it would boost perception of India as a “big brother” and a “bully” in the region. Undemocratic forces in India’s neighboring countries have usually stoked anti-India sentiment among the masses by stressing such perceptions. This can be expected to happen in the Maldives too.

Importantly, an Indian military intervention is unlikely to benefit democratic forces in the Maldives in the long run as a democratic government, should one come to power in the archipelago following an intervention, would be seen as “made in India” with the USA acting as a “midwife.” Such a government would lack legitimacy in the eyes of many Maldivian people.

It does seem that the Sino-Indian contest for influence in the archipelago is as fierce as the ongoing tussle between Yameen and the Maldivian opposition.

Thus any suggestion for Indian military intervention in Maldives is ruled out.

India could perhaps act as a facilitator or even a mediator in a possible dialogue between Yameen’s Maldivian government and the opposition. But will Yameen welcome an Indian role against the Chinese wish? Moreover, he has reportedly defied Indian requests relating to the current crisis. India cannot have privileged the leverage to influence the decisions of Maldivian President.

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Into the Sea: Nepal in International Waters

Sisir Devkota

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A visit to the only dry port of Nepal will immediately captivate busy scenes with hundreds of trucks, some railway carriages and huge Maersk containers at play. Trains from the Port of Kolkata in India carry tons of Nepal’s exports every week. Every year, Nepal is fined millions of rupees for overstaying its containers at the designated dock in Haldiya Port of Kolkata. Nepal pays for spaces inside Indian ships to carry out its exports via the sea. This is the closest Nepal has come in exploiting economic opportunities through sea waters. Prime Minister KP Oli went one step further and presented an idea of steering Nepal’s own fleets in the vast international sea space. While his idea of Nepal affording its own ship was mocked; on the contrary, he was right. The idea is practical but herculean.

To start with, Nepal has a landlocked right to use international waters via a third country for economic purposes only. Law of the Sea conferences held during the 80’s, guarantees Nepal’s right to use the exclusive economic zone all around the globe. Article 69 of the Law of the Sea convention states that Nepal could both use sea as a trading route and exploit the exclusive economic zone of its sea facing neighbors. Nepal’s closest neighbor, India has a wide exclusive economic zone which consists of 7500 km long coastline. The article also allows landlocked nations to use docking facilities of the nearest coastal nation to run its fleets. An exclusive economic zone in sea waters is designated after a coastal nation’s eleven mile parallel water boundary ends; which is also a part of the coastal nations territory. Simply put, Nepali fleets can dock at India’s port, sail eleven miles further into international waters-carry out fishing and other activities, sail back to the Indian coast and transfer its catches back to Nepal.

Floating Challenges

Before ships can carry the triangular flag into sea waters, Nepal will need treaties in place to use coastal nation’s water to take off and build shipment facilities. Law of the Sea convention clearly mentions that the right to use another nation’s coast will depend solely on the will of the hosting coastal nation. Does Nepal have the political will to communicate and forge a comprehensive sea transit agreement with its coastal neighbors? Nepal’s chance of securing fleets in and around the Indian Ocean will depend on whether it can convince nations like India of mutual benefits and cancel any apprehension regarding its security that might be compromised via Nepal’s sea activity. The convention itself is one among the most controversial international agreements where deteriorating marine ecosystems, sovereignty issues and maritime crimes are at its core. Majority of global and environmental problems persist in the high seas; ranging from territorial acquisitions to resource drilling offences. Nepal is welcome into the high seas, but does it comprehend the sensitivity that clouts sea horizons? Nepal needs a diplomatic strategy, but lacking experience, Nepal will need to develop institutional capacities to materialize the oceanic dream. Secondly, the cost of operating such a national project will be dreadfully expensive. Does the Nepali treasury boast finances for a leapfrogging adventure?

How is it possible?

The good news is that many landlocked nations operate in international waters. Switzerland, as an example might not assure the Nepali case, but Ethiopia exercising its sea rights via Djibouti’s port could be inspiring. Before Nepal can start ordering its fleets, it will need to design its own political and diplomatic strategy. Nepal’s best rationale would lie in working together with its neighbors. The South Asian network of nations could finally come into use. Along with Nepal, Bhutan is another landlocked nation where possible alliances await. If India’s coasts are unapproachable, Nepal and Bhutan could vie for Bangladeshi coastlines to experience sea trading. Maldivian and Pakistani waters are geographically and economically inaccessible but Sri Lanka lies deep down the South Asian continent. If Nepal and Bhutan can satisfy Sri Lankan interests, the landlocked union could not only skim through thousands of nautical miles around the Bay of Bengal without entering Indian water space; but also neutralize the hegemonic status of India in the region. If such a multinational agreement can be sought; SAARC- the passive regional body will not only gain political prowess but other areas of regional development will also kickstart.

Most importantly, a transit route (such as the Rohanpur-Singhdabad transit route) from Bangladesh to Nepal and Bhutan will need to be constructed well before ships start running in the Indian Ocean. In doing so, Nepal will not only tranquilize Nepal-Bhutan relations but also exercise leadership role in South Asia. A regional agreement will flourish trade but will also make landlocked Nepal’s agenda of sailing through other regions of international sea strong and plausible. A landlocked union with Bhutan will trim the costs than that of which Nepal will be spending alone. Such regional compliance would also encourage international financial institutions to fund Nepal’s sea project. Apart from political leverages, Nepal’s economy would scale new heights with decreasing price of paramount goods and services. Flourishing exports and increased tourism opportunities would be Nepal’s grandiloquence. Nepal’s main challenge lies in assuring its neighbors on how its idea would be mutually beneficial. Nepal’s work starts here. Nepal needs to put together a cunning diplomatic show.

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South Asia

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hug Diplomacy Fails

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s enthusiasm is only to capture power; the same, however, cannot be said of foreign policy administration, especially in dealing with our immediate neighbors, and China. The best examples of his policy paralysis are the way in which demonetization and GSTs are implemented, or his sudden visit to Pakistan in December 2015. He is always in election mode. During the first two years, he was in the humor of a general election victory. Thereafter, he has spent much of his energy in establishing himself as the sole savior of the BJP in state elections, and this year he will turn his attention to the 2019 general elections.

Two years ago, without doing any homework or planning, Modi travelled to Pakistan from Afghanistan to greet his counterpart, the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to wish him well on his birthday. He hugged Sharif and spent only two hours with him to try to sort out the 70 year outstanding divergence between India and Pakistan.

Modi strategically hugs fellow world leaders. He has no strategic perception. He believes only in the power of his personal charisma in dealing with foreign policy matters. This strategy has failed considerably with China and with our other immediate neighbors, but he neither intends to accept these mistakes, nor is he interested in learning from them. More importantly, an alternative diplomatic strategy is necessary to maintain our international position; through prudent policy articulations. Let us examine the impact of his hug diplomacy.

During the 2013/14 general elections campaign he attacked the Congress-led UPA government on multiple fronts, including towards former Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh’s policy on Pakistan. He proposed that the BJP government would have more guts to better deal with Pakistan. Under his administration, we lost numerous soldiers in fighting with Pakistan terrorists, experienced a 100-day shutdown in Kashmir, blindly allowed a Pakistan team to inspect our Pathankot Air Force Station, and generally continued down a visionless path in foreign policy. These indicate that Modi’s defensive and offensive strokes against Pakistan have failed completely, including the most politicized ‘surgical strike’ that did not contain the terrorists from Pakistan. Today, the Modi government is searching for policy directions in handling Pakistan, but sat in a corner like a lame duck.

In the beginning, when he took office, Modi perhaps believed that ‘everything is possible’ in international affairs simply by virtue of occupying the prime minister seat. Further, he thought that all his visits abroad would bring a breakthrough. His hugs with counterparts, various costume changes, and the serving of tea, indicate that our prime minister is using soft power approaches. These approaches were used by our first Prime Minister Nehru whilst India did not have a strong military or economy. However, India is not today what it was in the 1950/60s. Presently, hugging and changing costumes will not necessarily keep India influential in international relations, especially at a time when the world is undergoing multi-polar disorder. However, he is in continuous denial that his paths are wrong, especially in dealing with our neighbors.

What is the BJP led-NDA government policy on Pakistan? Does this government have any policy for Pakistan? Since 2014,Modi has not permitted the Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, to contribute to any foreign policy articulations. As long as Sushma fulfills the duty of Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs she will receive praise from the prime minister’s office.

During 2015 he met Sharif at his residence in Islamabad to give him a hug. This happened exactly two years ago. Further, this is a very serious question that the Media and Modi-supporting TV channels forgot to raise. Instead, without hesitation, they praised him for touching the sky, and described the moment as a diplomatic initiative for a breakthrough with our neighbor Pakistan. The Media will realize this mistake when their traditional viewers switch over to other channels to get centrist news.

What are the outcomes of Modi hugging Sharif at his residence? The results are terrible. India’s relation with Pakistan touches the lowest ever level in a history of 70 years. The Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed was released from house arrest and has started a political party to contest the general elections in Pakistan next year. This government does not have the guts to put pressure on Pakistan to provide the evidence – as requested by the Pakistan’s Court – essential to keeping the trial alive against Saeed. Modi has often preached that his government succeeded in isolating Pakistan in the international domain. The reality would be as much India diplomatically isolating Pakistan from the international community as the vacuum has been comfortably filled by China without any difficulty. These are the achievements that Modi’s hugs have brought to India.

The stability of Afghanistan is in India’s long-term strategic interest. India’s ‘aid diplomacy’ to Afghanistan in various fields has been increasing day after day, including infrastructure development and the training of Afghan security forces. Yet, India’s influence in Afghanistan is in disarray. Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said, “India should have its own policy on Afghanistan”. However, Modi’s policy makers in New Delhi are expecting the US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to maintain India’s active and significant role in Afghanistan.

India showed its displeasure during the constitutional crisis in Nepal, in halting energy supply to Kathmandu. This forced the land-locked country to obtain easy support from Beijing. Nepal was once the buffer state between India and China; it is now sitting on China’s lap and steering India. Modi’s mute approach to the Rohingya crisis speculates India’s major power ambition. This is a serious setback to India’s diplomacy: it is now pushing Myanmar to get support from China, along with our neighbor Bangladesh, in resolving the crisis with Rohingya refugees.

The first democratically elected government under Mohamed Nasheed was toppled unconstitutionally in Maldives. Since India has failed to raise any substantial voice against this atrocity, China has jumped onto the scene. New Delhi ought to have designed a policy to resolve the political crisis, but India, the world’s largest democracy, has watched this incident as a movie in the Indian Ocean Theatre. The highlight was the decision of our Prime Minister to skip a visit to the Maldives whilst on his tour of the Indian Ocean islands.

In Sri Lanka, China is designing its future battlefield against India. As the war against LTTE was over, Colombo started travelling in a two-way track, with India and China. Beijing’s love affair, apparently with Colombo, but with an eye on New Delhi, is no secret. Since Modi has allowed these developments without exercising any diplomatic resistance, he has given China a comfortable seat inside Sri Lanka. China has now realised that her weaved network against India can be strengthened easily in the Indian Ocean, because New Delhi only displays silent concern. After Modi took office, India – China relations have remained static. The border talks are on stand still. Beijing holds on to extend a technical hold on Masood Azhar, a UN designated terrorist. The dragon pulls our immediate neighbors to her side. These developments indicate that our foreign policy articulations are not supported by any clear strategic trajectory.

Modi’s diplomacy is like an air balloon which, once torn, cannot be refilled; a new balloon is needed. Hugging a leader does not lead to any commitment in foreign affairs. Personal charisma does not work as a foreign policy tool in dealing with a world power. For this reason, Modi cannot understand the setback he is facing with China, Pakistan, and our other neighbors. In comparison, Vajpayee’s or Dr. Manmohan Singh’s combined simple charisma as leaders or economists with appropriate home-work in the past; has caused tremendous results in foreign policy, including expected results in Indo-US nuclear negotiations. This is completely missing in Modi’s administration.

Hence, the newly elected Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi has said, “Modi’s hug diplomacy fails”. It was a valuable comment that the ruling elite should consider as a meaningful insight. Alternative approaches are vital to regain our neighbors’ trust, as opposed to China’s. However, Prime Minister Modi’s this year of work will be focused on the 2019 general elections, compromising the proper attention due to India’s international diplomacy.

First published in Congress Sandesh

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