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Nepal’s journey towards resilient foreign policy

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

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There is a huge potential of rapid economic development if Nepal handles its relation with two Asian giants in a proper, pragmatic and prudent manner. The year 2017 has shown some indications in this direction which must be continued by new government in 2018.  2017 turned to bean encouraging year of Nepal with many positive developments in bilateral, regional and multilateral forums.

Nepalhas built upa degree of maturity in dealing with our immediate neighbors which are a key foreign policy challenge. The principle of balanced relation with both neighbors is gradually and slowly being materialized. Due to growing rivalry between India and China, Nepal’s foreign policy needs a lot of fine balancing, and we are mastering to handle such complex issue.

When there was a standoff between India and China over Doklam issues, like other south Asian countries, Nepal faced pressures to take position. Nepal showed a maturity by not taking sides of both countries. There was veiled pressure from both India and China to take their sides on Doklam issue but Nepal maintained an independent\neutral policy which was widely appreciated and acknowledged. On the basis of some provisions of 1950 Peace and Friendship, Nepal was under pressure to take India’s side in Doklam dispute. Later, India and China diplomatically resolved their 70-day long standoff diplomatically.

Another instance is Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI), a centerpiece of China’s foreign policy. Citing some sovereignty and security related issues, India is pressing its immediate neighbors no to be a part of BRI projects. Despite India’s pressure, all south Asian countries except Bhutan have signed on BRI projects.Despite pressures from India, then Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal managed to sign BRI framework with China on May 12, few days ago Belt and Road Conference held in Beijing. The next challenge for Nepal is to select and execute projects under BRI in an independent and prudent way.

Not only with India and China, Nepal has started to take independent decisions in international platforms and its international stature is gradually increasing.  Nepal voted against American President Donald Trump’s unilateral call to make Jerusalem despite warnings to cut development assistances. Nepal’s this policy is continuation of Nepal’s adherence to its policy of non-alignment.

In 2017, Nepal was elected to the powerful United Nations Human Rights Council for the term of 2018-2020. Nepal will be serving in that capacity for the first time since UN’s policy-making body was formed in 2006 which has substantially increased Nepal’s stature at international arena.

There were also some lapses on handling some regional issues which needs to be resolved in 2018. Saarc has been the victim of India-Pakistan rivalry and as chair Nepal did little to hold Saarc summit. As a chair of Saarc, we have to take decisive and bold steps to hold 19th Saarc summit. Nepal in the coming days will have to take active role to boost Saarc, BIMESTEC and Bhutan-Bangladesh-India-Nepal (BBIN) and other regional and sub-regional organizations.

When it comes to policy towards India and China there are some progress and some lapses. Chinese President Xi Jinping was supposed to visit Nepal in 2017 which was not materialized but Chinese side postponed visit citing lack of preparations on our side. Similarly, Indian President Narendra Modi was scheduled to visit in 2017 to inaugurate Arun-3 hydropower projects. The new government should seriously work for the visit of both Xi and Modi which will instrumental in Nepal quest for maintaining a balanced relation with both neighbors.

Despite some shortfall, foreign policy has heading towards position direction and there is a sort of consensus among major parties on it. After the victory of left alliance in Nepal in recently concluded general election, there is a new debate about Nepal’s policy towards two giant neighbors India and China.

There are perceptions that left alliance-led government will contribute to increase Chinese influence in Nepal. This may be partially true but some instances show Nepal is gradually becoming resilient in its foreign policy, and it is unlikely to be changed whichever party forms government in Kathmandu. Considering the fast-changing geopolitics of South Asia, we still need to take mature steps to make a cordial relation with both countries. Some attempts are already in place which needs to be expedited.

In order to prepare the foreign policy that would address the aspirations of changing times, some institutional initiatives were taken in 2017.  High Level Foreign Policy Review Taskforce was set up under the chairmanship of the Minister for Foreign Affairs in April 2017. The taskforce was entrusted to recommend suggesting ways on how foreign policy could be adopted that suits our national interests. These are the good initiatives taken by the government to meet foreign policy challenges. The need of the hour is to prepare to concrete policy towards India and China.

There has been some substantial engagement with India in 2017. Nepal-India Eminent Persons Group has working on how to review 1950. The formation of EGP has triggered public discourse on redefining Nepal’s relation with 1950.  The exchange of high-level visits and fast-tracking the implementation of joint economic projects are some the achievements of 2107. A joint oversight mechanism is monitoring the status of development projects. Instead of launching new development projects, India seems keen to complete pending development projects. Regarding China, there has been regular exchange of visits between two countries. Economic cooperation and connectivity remain the top agenda of bilateral visits between two countries. The areas of bilateral cooperation are expanding with beginning of Nepal-China joint military exercise in 2017. The visits of Chinese political leaders, government officials and academicians have substantially increased.

2018 must be a best a year in the history of Nepal’s foreign policy when it comes to our policy towards India and China. With increasing completion, Nepal-India may come up with new proposals which need to be carefully examined before taking any decisions. 2018 will be a crucial year for Nepal’s foreign policy. Both India and China will make efforts to increase their influence in Nepal. India will struggle to retain its influence in Nepal, while China is work to further consolidate its influence in Nepal. Nepal’s priority should to maintaining a balanced relationship with them to take maximum benefit from their economic development. Building a mutual trust has been a key factor in Nepal’s relation with New Delhi and Beijing.

Kamal Dev Bhattarai is Kathmandu-based writer and journalist. He writes on geopolitical issues mainly focusing on South Asian region. He is closely following Nepal’s peace process, constitution drafting, and constitution implementation process. He has written a book title, '12-point understanding to constitution drafting process.'

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South Asia

PTI Government in Pakistan: To full-fill its promise on curbing Corruption

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Big achievements of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaf) Government in Pakistan. Corruption is an international phenomenon, especially among developing and underdeveloped countries. Corruption is a major hurdle in the fight against poverty and development. However, the beneficiary of corruption is still the developed world. The rulers from developing and underdeveloped world, transfer all their black money to developed countries and in the end, developed world enjoy out of their black money.

Pakistan, being a developing country, no exception to this curse. During the last few governments, it was very much visible. Either it was financial corruption of moral corruption, all are equally harmful to the country. Previous few governments, appointed corrupt and unqualified persons on key posts and used them as their front men in corruption.

Some of their front men were an evil genius and committed heinous crimes in such a technical manner that it is very difficult to find out evidence. Either it is fake accounts or various forms of money laundering or in the form of subsidies or government grants, commissions or kickbacks in projects or procurement, bribes or gift, all are the same but with different forms to harm the socio-economic of this country.

It was in the manifesto of PTI, and part of its slogan during the election campaign, to fight against corruption. Prime Minister Imran Khan in his speech on several occasions has promised with the nation that, he will fix all corrupt, irrespective of their status in the society. It is logical to start from the big fish and later on to common corrupt officials at junior levels.

Pakistan’s judiciary and the military are also on the same page and extending full support to the PTI government’s mission to eliminate corruption from this society once for all. The recent arrests are just the beginning of accountability and have to go on a long journey. May it take one term or even next term, but the accountability process must keep on going till the eradication of corruption completely.

Pakistan is under the heavy foreign-debt, worth US Dollars 100 billion approximately. Who took this huge loan? Have they worked out, how to pay back? Have they spent all the loans on the development of Pakistan? Why this loan has not been trickled down impact? Why this heavy loan could not improve Pakistan’s economy? How useful was this loan to common man of Pakistan? Why IMF could not improve the governance of Pakistan? Why IMF failed to improve performance of Pakistan? Why IMF could not give positive advice to Government of Pakistan? The lenders also need to be blamed for lending without any feasibility and failure of IMF packages offered to Pakistan during last one decade or so long. Why few families (rulers) become more rich and country become poorer?

If the sitting governments of that times have been borrowing without any planning or homework or without considering how to pay back, all of them must be held responsible for this heinous crime against the nation. Whether they are inside Pakistan or left the country, they must be arrested and brought back to face justice.

If only a few corrupt families are arrested and asked for the return of looted money, Pakistan can get rid of its major part of foreign-debt. We may not need any bailout package from the IMF or any help from any friendly country. All the looted money must be returned, all the illegal assets must be confiscated and suctioned out. All the recovered money must be used to pay back our foreign-debt.

There is no need to impose additional taxes and duties on the common man. Electricity, Fuel, Gas and consumer products may be kept on the original position. It is illogical that the common man, who is not responsible for the debt and still suffers due to the corruption of rulers.  It is desired, the previous rulers, who have pushed the country into economic chaos, should be held responsible and all damages need to be compensated by them only. There is no need to punish the whole nation for few criminals. Recovery from previous corrupt rulers is very much do-able and very much possible, above all very much desired. There are examples available in the world, how they recovered looted money from their big shots.  Saudi Arabia has done it well. China is a role model to be followed in this regard.  The Chinese government is willing to share its experience and expertise in fighting against corruption.

Our internal resources may be utilized fully to control corruption and recover all black money. Even if there is a need to introduce new legislation, the Government should not hesitate. Masses in Pakistan stands with Government on this issue. The government should move smartly in this direction with full strength and confidence. Public support is already there.  However, if the Government fails to accomplish this task, it may lose popularity.

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Gentlemen’s game or Propaganda? Cricket and the India-Pakistan Voices

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Can a sport be utilized as an effective propaganda tool? And if so, does it ideally mean that government intrusion is a necessity for its success? The answer to this question lies in the reflection of the cricket scenario in Asia. Although recognized as a gentlemen’s game, much can be said about its dichotomy as a weapon in the ever-growing war between India and Pakistan. Cricket propaganda has become a major trend over the past decade between the two countries as competition remains scarce with the political tensions and matches are seen as a great opportunity to reflect those political tensions. 

Recently, the tension between the two countries escalated with a suicide bombing attack sponsored by the terror group, Jaish-e-Mohammed in the Pulwama district of Jammu & Kashmir. This grave attack resulted in the death of 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel, which in the opinion of the Indian government was an act of war leading them to raise the issue on the global platform. Surprising, one of the biggest acts of public response, with the usual backlash of the country’s rights over the Kashmir valley, was a call to abandon the upcoming match between the two countries following the start of the ICC cricket world cup. Although, the Modi government did conduct airstrikes against Pakistan, leading to a major confrontation between the two countries along the ‘line of control’ (the de facto border between the two countries), a large scale debate about whether India should abandon the game was a hotly debated topic in the country.

It is worth noticing that later the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), did hand over the matter to the Modi government, after which the decision was inclined towards the sportsmanship of the country, however, both the Indian cricket team and the BCCI were not ready to desert the will of the public that easily. Involved in an ODI series with Australia, the Indian team walked out wearing military caps as a sign of apparent solidarity with the troopers killed in the terrorist attack. Never before had Team India taken it upon themselves to spread such jingoistic propaganda on a global scale and make such overt statement. The rise of the protestors in Pakistan were met with official statements from the International body of Cricket (ICC), stating their approval as a means of “support” to the Indian team for a fund-raising effort for their fallen soldiers.  

Similarly, in an act of nationalistic fervor, the BCCI decided to get Pakistan banned from the upcoming world-cup prior to its commencement but was severely backlashed by the International Cricket Council (ICC), to keep politics away from the sanctity of the game. Although BCCI was unsuccessful in passing an unrealistic degree of order, given their large scale influence on the International body, it was clear that cricket had become an additional weapon of mass destruction and means of propaganda between the two countries.

So has the situation become better now? Recently, an Ad-war following the start of the world cup has emerged between the two countries, given their highly anticipated upcoming clash on the 16th of June. Ahead of the Sunday clash-guaranteed to put both the nations at a standstill- Star Sport’s Mauka ad ( loosely translated to a chance of winning) has captured the attention of the Indian fans, as the video has garnered over 2.5 million views after it was published on 10th June 2019. This video currently stands as a reprise an extension of the “Patakhe kab podhenge” campaign (clumsily translated to “When will be get to burn crackers”), wherein a Pakistani fan never gets a chance to burn his crackers as Pakistan is always defeated by India on a world cup stage, as indicated by the records as well. However, the new Mauka ad seems to recognize the importance of June 16th as Father’s day and does not fail to interject the role of India as a father in comparison Pakistan, as a means of cheeky humor which received large scale reaction from the Pakistani fans.

As a means of response, a Pakistani news channel Jazz Tv published a video with a character impersonating Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the Indian air force pilot who was captured, briefly held and then released under the pretense of the Geneva Convention. The character is seen sporting the pilot’s handlebar mustache with a fake South Indian accent and is dressed in the Indian team jersey, following which an interrogator asks him to give back the teacup he has been holding, as a means to denote how the cup belongs to Pakistan. This video was met with the usual support from the Pakistani fans and deemed ‘racist’ by the Indian fans, accounting to the portrayal of the esteemed pilot with a fake southern accent. Although, tension has been running high between the countries for some time now, both the nations have resorted to extending their tensions to the cricket pitch as well, ensuring large scale traction for their upcoming matches.

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Modi’s Operandi

Syed Nasir Hassan

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Same old Modi puts himself in throne again but with different mandate this time. This time he came with much force and appeared more vigilant. Sweeping an electoral win with more than 300 seats out of 543 and restricting Indian National Congress to mere 52 seats. This clearly shows that India gave priority to nationalism over any other set of idea. Prior to previous electoral year i.e. 2014,Modi lured with promises of social and economic reforms and upheaval. Which sunk badly as some of the predicaments are still in the society. From being miserable in improving the job sector that gave rise to unemployment rate to the inducing grieves to the farmers, Modi bagged some failures as well in his previous tenure.

Whereas this time bait was the Hindu nationalistic sentiments, which Mr. Modi and his members of the den enjoyed the feast by winning the election. By using hate mandate, Modi successfully maneuvered himself and his party in to the realms of Delhi. Before elections, his unfortunate adventurous voyage with its neighbor and rival Pakistan made a lucid chance to portray himself as heroic figure. Modi flaunted anger and hate towards its immediate neighbor. It profited him in shape of getting a majority in the lower house of the Indian political saga. Hate sentiments were provoked and inducted in common minds. Question herby rises that how Hindu nationalism can or will transform India?

During previous reign of Mr. Modi, clear social and religious divisions were drawn onto the Indian society. This was mechanized in recent elections as well by promoting nationalism or more likely Hinduism. One of the tactics that was opted by BJP and Modi is persuasion of fears of Indian society and Hindu ideology and presenting himself as the only savior. Modi portrayed himself as the only option for Hindu caste to save Hindu ideology from external threats.

Modi has always been fond of shifting Indian secular discourse towards a Hindu nationalist sermon. His previous tenure and the plight minorities faced during that time testifies his aims. Now he has been elected for another five years. This time he has secured almost 56% of the lower house that clearly means that Mr. Modi will have to face no hurdle in his way towards passing a legislation.

Media and Modi has always been close aides to each other. This nexus was also prominent in the recent elections as Social and Electronic media, both were eminent in glaring Modi-ism. It ultimately cultivated his ideology in the minds of a common viewer hence reflecting it in the election results. His election campaign was given more coverage than any other thing on TV. The election soap series continued feeding the people of the India. Without any doubt, there have been immense flow of monetary funds in the veins on Indian media during the election time.

Modi’s Bharatya Jantya Party or BJP’s Modi have already drawn a plan to be executed in the society. Selection of candidates that were given tickets and won were some of the most extremist in nature. Shakshi Mahraj, a newly elected member of parliament on BJP’s seat already has more than 30 criminal cases against him. Another newly elected BJP’s Member of Parliament, Pragya Singh Thakur remarked Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin as “a patriot”. Not only this, selections for new cabinet members clearly indicated where Mr. Modi would be leading Indian society. Amit Shah who is also a president of BJP has ironically been selected as India’s Home Minister. There is a clear chance thatnew reforms might be religion centric rather than being focused on governance. BJP will clearly exhibit the Hindu ideology in governance that would further raise concerns for the minorities in India.

The Indian future and the question of Indian minorities seems bleak. Modi created a narrative on abhorrence and nationalism, he won elections on this mandate but now he has to defend it and every word of hatred that came out of his mouth may be realized through his actions. It puts Indian society in a dismal situation.

It is arduous to analyze that how large populous has voted in favor of hate mandate prompted by Modi. But there is a chance that Indian society might be falling prey to reverse psychology. It indulged itself so deep and intense in criticizing and accusing its neighbor, Pakistan, for being extremist and conservative society that it itself is becoming one.

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