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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.

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South Asia

Pakistan PM’s Saudi affair likely to backfire

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Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia flourished during the previous government headed by Nawaz Sharif, primarily due to his personal business interests in the Kingdom and friendly association with members of the Saudi royal family. Despite the criticism at home, Sharif never missed an opportunity to eulogize the Saudi rulers and support their wrongs.

During Sharif’s tenure as Prime Minister, while Pakistan’s ‘love affair’ with Riyadh blossomed, relations with Tehran plummeted. When the ambitious gas pipeline project was shelved by the Sharif government in 2015 under the Saudi pressure, some experts couldn’t resist the temptation of reading the obituary of Iran-Pakistan friendship. It seemed game over.

But the political transition in Islamabad this year rekindled hopes of a new foreign policy taking shape in Islamabad under the populist premier Imran Khan.

In his victory speech, Khan made it categorically clear that he would like to strengthen ties with allies in the Middle East, including Iran and Saudi Arabia. During his first meeting with the Iranian envoy to Islamabad, Khan reiterated his desire to bolster ties with Tehran and revive important projects that had been put on the backburner by the previous political dispensation, including the gas pipeline.

Experts termed it a “significant shift” in Pakistan’s foreign policy as his predecessor was seen overtly inclined towards stronger Pakistan-Saudi relations than Pakistan-Iran relations. Writing in The New Arab, Dr. Fazzur Rahman Siddiqui, a fellow at Indian Council of World Affairs, said with the exit of Nawaz Sharif, Saudi Arabia had lost a reliable ally who never concealed his affection for the Gulf states in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular “for both personal and strategic reasons.”

It was widely believed that Khan’s approach will be different from Sharif and he will not yield to covert pressures from Washington or Riyadh. At least that is what appeared.
When Khan embarked on his first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, keeping alive the tradition set by his predecessors, he sought to underscore that Riyadh will remain a priority for Pakistan’s foreign policy. Pertinently, it was President Hasan Rouhani of Iran, not King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who first extended an invitation to him.

But the faith in his leadership or his vision for ‘Naya Pakistan’ (new Pakistan) was not yet dented. The massive army of his followers on Twitter ensured that the public opinion, or at least the opinion of netizens, was firmly in favor of his leadership and policies.

As the country’s fiscal deficit inflated to 6.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the 2017-2018 financial year, Khan panicked. He boarded the plane to Riyadh again, this time to seek funds. To woo the Saudi rulers, Khan said Riyadh had “always stood with Pakistan in difficult times and the Pakistani government and its people highly acknowledge it.”
Speculation had been put to rest. Khan was walking in the footsteps of his predecessor.

Following his second visit to Riyadh, Saudi regime announced $6 billion in financial support to Islamabad. It corresponded with the international outrage over the cold-blooded murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Even as many world leaders boycotted a Saudi investment conference, the so-called ‘Davos in the desert’, over Khashoggi’s death, Khan attended the event.

On asked why he attended the conference when many other world leaders had turned down the invitation, Khan said Pakistan was “desperate” for Saudi loans to shore up the flailing economy.

“Unless we get loans from friendly countries or the IMF, we actually won’t have in another two or three months enough foreign exchange to service our debts or to pay for our imports. So we’re desperate at the moment,” he was quoted saying by the Middle East Eye.

Khan conceded that his immediate foreign policy priority was maintaining good relations with Saudi Arabia despite unprecedented outrage over Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi officials or the outcry over Saudi’s horrendous war crimes in Yemen.

Pakistan, which had previously maintained a neutral stance on Yemen war, might now be forced to support the Saudi onslaught there, some observers fear. If Khan can ignore a reprehensible crime like the killing of Khashoggi because of Saudi petrodollars, it can be expected that he will support the Saudi war crimes in Yemen also, although he has so far resisted doing that.

While Khan has adopted a strong and unwavering stance against the US, he seems to have succumbed to the temptation of being subservient to the Saudi Kingdom, for funds. That is where he risks losing the goodwill he has earned back in Pakistan and in the international community.

At a time when the world is saying ‘no’ to Saudi Arabia, Khan is part of a tiny minority that is going against the tide. This approach will only isolate Pakistan and it has isolated Riyadh and Washington.

Being subservient to Saudi interests also means that Khan will be forced to toe his predecessor’s line on Iran. If that happens, Islamabad will again be forced to shelve the gas pipeline project, which is being described as critical to Pakistan’s energy requirements.

Khan is walking a tightrope. Wisdom lies in taking informed decisions in the best interests of Pakistan keeping in view long-term goals. In the cricketing terminology, the cricketer-turned-prime minister could do well by playing the forward defensive shot rather than the mistimed stroke in the air.

First published in our partner MNA

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Pakistan a peace loving nation

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Muslims when meeting each other greet “Peace be upon you”. Islam is the religion of Peace and Love, Islamophobia is the creation of a few minds only. There is no doubt that there exists few criminals in every society, every religion, and every country, but such exceptions, may not be used to blame the whole nation, religion or country. Since its independence Pakistan has been promoting peace and stability around the world. Pakistan’s Peace-keeping missions have been playing important roles around the world to maintain peace in troubled areas. We are major contributor to Peace-Keeping Force and have been part of almost all of UN Peace-Missions, during the history of 7 decades. Pakistan is supportive of any efforts by any nation towards promotion or maintenance of peace.

Recently, UNGA’s Disarmament Committee adopted Pakistan’s resolutions with an overwhelming support, in New York on 9th November 2018. Three resolutions proposed by Pakistan were adopted by the UN General Assembly’s First Committee with an overwhelming support. The whole world supported Pakistan’s resolution while India was the only country to oppose them.

In fact, the resolutions highlight the importance of regional approaches to disarmament, which complement global disarmament efforts and stress the need to promote confidence building measures for enhancing regional and international peace and security. The resolution on conventional arms control was adopted by a large majority of 179 countries. India was the sole country to vote against the resolution.

Earlier, a big victory for Pakistan came, on November 1stwhen the Committee also adopted Pakistan’s resolution on assuring non-nuclear weapon states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons by 122 votes. The First Committee of the UN General Assembly which meets annually deals with disarmament, global challenges, and threats to peace that affect the international community and is mandated to seek solutions to global security challenges by considering all disarmament and international security matters within the scope of the UN Charter. Pakistan’s role in disarmament was admired and non-proliferation of uranium. We strongly condemn biological and chemical weapons and strictly adhere to UN decisions.

Pakistan is a responsible country and always exploring the opportunities of peace. Pakistan has always initiated the peace process with India and sincerely tried best to resolve all issues with India, including Jammu and Kashmir, by a peaceful dialogue. Pakistan respects UN, Respect UN mandate, Respect UN Charter, and wants others to do the same. It believes in diplomacy, and there is precedence that some of the more complicated issues around the world, has been resolved by diplomacy, then why not Pakistan-India issues be resolved by dialogue too.

We support the supremacy of UN and all nations must respect the UN. We always stand with the oppressed and raise voice for the victims. Our struggle for justice and righteousness is always admired. We keep on struggling for global peace and be part of any peace process around the world.

The Indian opposition to Pakistani resolution and persistent refusal to leave Kashmir has exposed the true Indian face. The recent International Amnesty report on Human Right violation in Kashmir was a big blow to India. Indian atrocities against its own minorities and lower caste Hindus is condemned widely. Indian opposition to the UN resolution on Palestine is also an example of India’s international position.

It is time that serious notice is taken by the UN, International Community and all conscious individuals to stand up for International Peace, Justice and Human Rights.  We all should keep on struggling for a better world for our next generation. We should be united for “Peace, Stability and Prosperity” for humanity globally.

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The Making of Modern Maldives: A Look at Maumoon Gayoom

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Authors: Srimal Fernando and Pooja Singh

Former Maldivian President Maumoon Gayoom occupies an important place in Maldivian political history largely because he guided this equatorial island nation to unprecedented levels of economic growth and also through tough times when democracy was challenged. Gayoom has a national as well as international reputation that made his name familiar to the rest of the South Asian countries. It was after his return from Nigeria’s Ahmadu Bello University as a lecturer, Gayoom commenced his political journey as a close aid of prime minister Ahmed Zaki in mid-70’s and later as a cabinet minister under Ibrahim Nasir. Gayoom’s leadership embarked on a more reformist approach in the first two terms during his presidency. He was able to take credit for the rise of the tourism sector and an increase in the fish productivity. In Male, as well as in the rest of the Maldivian islands, building of small fisheries harbors were accelerated under the rapid development programs initiated under his presidency. When one looks at the Maldivian foreign policy, Maumoon was credited as one of the key founders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in 1985. Hence, he raised global awareness on climate change on the international arena. In this context, especially the awareness on small island nations facing rise in sea water levels which affects the livelihood of the islanders was a key theme which brought international attention. On the development side, the Hulhulemale reclamation project and the upgrading of roads and other infrastructure initiatives that he implemented are highly credited for by the Maldivians. In fact, the people’s president who visits the islands regularly was named as “A Man for All Islands” by the famous author in his book about Gayoom’s biography.

Early in his administration, former president introduced socio-economic experiments in reawakening the islands. His administration accelerated the economic growth in the twenty Atolls from Northern Haa Atoll to Southern Seenu Atoll instilling a degree of optimism and enthusiasm among the Maldivians. Yet another economic achievement in the tourism sector was the increase of luxury resorts from two in 1978 to hundred by 2008. Gayoom’s career is most relevant due to his performance and for changing the country’s political system to a multi-party democratic system where the power is vested on the citizens.

Another milestone during his tenure was to expand the average income of Maldivians from US$ 377 in 1978 to US$3,654 in 2008. However, towards the end of his presidency, the first signs of irreconcilable difficulties with the Maldivian opposition led by Mohamed Nasheed, the leader of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) started emerging in 2000. The Maldivian pro-democracy movement started in Male in 2003 and then moved to other Islands. As a result, Maldives adopted a multi-party political system and in 2008. In the same year the presidential campaign came to a climax where in the second phase of the presidential elections, the confident president had felt a constant sense of uncertainty since most of the opposition presidential candidates supported Mohamed Nasheed, the leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party. Gayoom lost the election and Nasheed the opposition leader assumed presidency.  The courageous former president Gayoom transferred the presidential powers to the newly elected president smoothly.

In fact, the reformist former president Gayoom formed the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party and later, he was one of the key founders of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) where his half-brother, Yameen Abdul Gayoom shared powers within the party. Hence, Qasim Ibrahim, a former finance minister under Nasheed’s government and also close confidant of president Gayoom led the Jumhooree Party (JP) which combined with PPM in 2013 presidential elections.

Unfortunately, in 2012 the overthrow of president Nasheed one of New Delhi’s closest allies in South Asia shocked the diplomatic circles on both sides of Asia as well as in the west. It took more than five years for Gayoom’s PPM party under the presidency of Yameen to return to power. However, due to widespread corruption and authoritative rules under Yameen’s presidency, many of the opposition party members such as former Maldivian president Nasheed, Jumhooree Party leader Qasim Ibrahim and many other political leaders who opposed the undemocratic rule were prisoned through unlawful means.

During the darkest period of the Maldivian politics from 2017 to September 2018, the lone voice of the public opposition belonged to a few opposition leaders such as, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih cannot be forgotten. In the same period, former president Gayoom, Nasheed and several opposition members created a united opposition to unseat president Yameen and his majority party rule through democratic non-violent means. One of the major reasons for this change by Gayoom in Yameen’s leadership was the widespread corruption and the authoritative rule. Finally, president Yameen prisoned former president Gayoom and his son, Faris Maumoon. This was one of the main reasons where large number of Gayoom supporters broke away from PPM led by president Yameen. This reason influenced the 23rd September 2018 presidential elections where opposition common candidate Ibrahim Solih saw a massive victory margin against president Yameen.

One could argue that, Gayoom, the president who guided Maldives to economic prosperity was the same charismatic leader who guided the South Asian Island nation towards democratic maturity. Maumoon Gayoom has been the most unpredictable political influencer in the modern political making of Maldives.

*Pooja Singh, a scholar of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, Business at Jindal School of International Affairs, India.

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