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The Escalation of Tensions between India and Nepal

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The history of relations between India and Nepal are ancient. There is enough evidence of shared faith, religion and culture between the two nations to support this argument. However, in today’s ravishingly unscrupulous world, the weight of this baggage has greatly reduced. A more pragmatic and progressive relationship has been forged and this relationship is completely based on the dynamism of the political economy of Nepal as well as India.

Nepal is a land-locked nation and this forces it to bare a high duty to avail access to the services of the ocean. The nearest useable port being in the Bay of Bengal, under the Indian jurisdiction. Therefore, there is a massive need for this relationship to be stable since trade forms a significant part of the Nepalese economy. It also has strategic importance in the geopolitical context since Nepal is on undulating, hilly land and this access to the ocean through the Indian landmass provides them access to level ground and easy access to several East and Southeast Asian states. Several reports indicate that these regions constitute the largest proportion of revenue brought in by Nepal through waterways.

These issues are addressed quite often at bilateral meetings. For instance, Nepal has in-quired about a possible review of the Indo-Nepal Trade Treaty at such as bilateral meeting but the governmental response from India was rather nonchalant and complacent. However, India continues to support Nepal in infrastructural development especially by fostering bus and rail links to usher in long-term growth and development by way of enhanced trade and tourism between the two culturally rich nations.

A large number of people move across the border regularly seeking employment opportunities and both the countries comprise a Hindu majority. This is seemingly important to note since one of the two governments in question has been quite vehement in quantifying politics in the name of the Hindu religion. No wonder that contrary to what most Western theorists interpreted earlier, the relationship between these two countries has become openly conflictual in recent decades. There has been strong opposition from a few sections of the Nepalese population towards the Indian culture’s excess religious baggage and its coercive cultural conservatism.

This anti-India agency in Nepal has been growing for decades and this has been bolstered by the emergence of China as a global economic power. This has emboldened the conservative political elites of Nepal to openly challenge the system of governance in India. Several political leaders from Nepal are using anti-India political jargon to strengthen their political base regularly which has left India in a well with an open tap.

In recent years, India’s support for the ethnic Madhesi community in Nepal has also become a major irritant in foreign affairs in the neighbourhood. The marginalisation of this community has been overlooked by Nepal for decades until India’s bold move in support of the minorities coerced Nepal to act and not merely look. However, a close analysis of the bilateral relationship between India and Nepal reveals that the most consistent reason of Nepal’s resentment towards India has been the perceived exploitation of Nepal’s water resources by India for meeting its agricultural and energy needs. This continues to remain an integral part of this bilateral relationship even today.

The origin of this water sharing issue dates back an era before India’s independence back in 1947. The colonial administration under the British Empire signed the Sarada Treaty with Nepal in 1920, based on which India constructed the Sarada barrage on Mahakali River after receiving 4,000 acres of land. However, as time passed, the indigenous people of Nepal showed widespread resentment to this construction; India faced stiff criticism. After independence, India again pushed Nepal to sign similar agreements to build the Kosi barrage in 1954 and the Gandak Barrage in 1959. The increasing public agitation within Nepal against ‘Indian’ water projects delayed the implementation of several of the proposed projects. The current government has also failed to begin the construction of the promised Pancheswar Dam Project under the provisions enshrined in the Mahakali Treaty, which has triggered a new series of public agitation in Nepal against India.

On the developmental front, the two prime ministers launched the 900-megawatts Arun III project and agreed on the construction of a railway line between Raxaul and Kathmandu. The two prime ministers also launched a bus service from Janakpur, the alleged birthplace of goddess Sita to Ayodhya is which fabled to be the birthplace of Hindu god Ram.

India’s economic restrictions towards Nepal after the promulgation of Nepal’s new constitution in September 2015, led to an unprecedented energy crisis in Nepal which led to a shift from its support of Indian policymaking and ignited Nepal’s innate desire to forge closer diplomatic and trade ties with China. However, just before the 2017 elections in Nepal, the government under Nepalese Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba succumbed to Indian pressure had to cancel the 2.5 billion dollar agreement with China’s Gezhouba Group to construct the Budhi Gandaki Hydro Electric Project. This project was only however revived by Nepal’s Prime Minister succeeding Prime Minister, Khadega Oli in 2018.

Current Situation

India’s current issue with the border has been with an enraged China while simultaneously they are being coerced into planning a strategy for the resolve a land dispute with Nepal. While the standoff with China has seen a growing military involvement, the problem with Nepal is primarily diplomatic. India’s current diplomatic row with Nepal began on May 8 when the government in India announced the inauguration of a Himalayan road link that would pass through Kalapani, a disputed region under the Indian administration as an integral part of the Pithoragarh district in the Uttarakhand while it is also claimed by Nepal since 1998 wherein they claim that it lies in the Darchula district of Sudurpashchim Pradesh.

Under immense pressure from the formidable opposition and the press alike, Oli approved the issuance of a new political map of Nepal that distinctively showed Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura and Kalapani, within its borders. There was considerable opposition to this move from India. However, a further review reveals to us that this dispute originates in November 2019 with the release of India’s new political map, which showed Kalapani within India. This announcement led to protests in Kathmandu. While Nepal requested a high-level bilateral meeting to resolve the dispute diplomatically, India continued to remain nonchalant and largely silent on this issue. This resulted in an escalation of tensions between the two neighbouring states as Asia witnessed a new paradigm of ‘cartographic war’.

There were some angry exchanges between India and Nepal after this dispute became a significant threat to Indian security with the alleged involvement of China in this shift in the foreign policy of Nepal. Making India’s relations with Nepal a crucial one. However, this relationship seems to have frayed remarkably since the Indian Army Chief, General Manoj Naravane’s public comments that suggested Nepal had acted at the behest of China. This led to a response from Nepal’s Defence Minister Ishwor Pokhrel who stated that this comment was an insult to the Nepali soldiers committed to working in the Indian Army as nearly 40,000 Nepali Gurkha soldiers are part of 40 battalions stationed in the Indian Army.

Oli has taken a predominating nationalistic approach towards institutes governmental de-crees, statements and reforms. He even went on call Covid-19 as ‘Indian Virus’ further stating that it is this ‘Indian Virus’ that is the cause of the pandemic. This was perhaps a third world reiteration of Donald Trump’s remarks on deliberating terming the Covid-19 as ‘China/Chinese Virus’ in his speeches at least 20 times between March 16th and March 30th.

India has argued that the Himalayan-link road is completely in its territory while Nepal at least 17km of the proposed road traverses Nepal’s territory. Nepal argues that the road crosses over to the East Bank of the Mahakali River which based on the 1816 Sugauli Treaty falls under Nepal’s jurisdiction. Akhilesh Upadhyay, former editor of The Kathmandu Post, aimed at Nepal’s objections to the 2015 bilateral agreement between India and China that opened up Lipulekh for trade and also that Nepal’s position had remained consistent despite multiple governments changes in the recent past. Nepal backs its claim with evidence of five British-Indian maps published between 1819 and 1894 that show Limpiyadhura as the headwaters of the Mahakali, a letter drafted by the erstwhile Prime Minister Rana Chandra Shamsher to village chiefs dated 1904 and the evidence of a 1958 voter list and the 1961 census by Nepali authorities in the disputed region. Nepal also possesses land registration records and tax receipts from the disputed territory.

According to Upadhyay, at the heart of the dispute lies the differing cartographic interpretations about the headwaters of the Mahakali river. Nepal continues to argue that Limpiyadhura is the location of the headwaters, India regards a stream flowing down from Lipulekh as the river’s headwaters. The dispute is further affected by the presence of Indian troops in Kalapani stationed there even before its 1962 standoff with China.

The Nepal-India border has been demarcated through a joint boundary committee except for the southern districts of Kalapani and Sustal due to the historic political agreements and impending disputes. This border issue appears to be easy to resolve, as long as there is a positive political will on both sides. There are new tensions due to the hardening of positions on both sides. Although India incidentally wants to defuse the crisis by calling for ‘constructive and positive efforts’ it fails to understand the potential gravity of this border dispute turning into a full-scale conflict with increased Chinese military involvement and hardening of the Indian stance against such involvement in the region.

Sudheer Sharma, editor of Kantipur Daily stated that this dispute has become far more complicated after both the parties hardened their respective positions on the matter. While Nepal’s demands previously focused on the withdrawal of Indian troops from Kalapani, its recent focus now includes the demarcation of Limpiyadhura as the headwaters of the Mahakali river. The growing presence of the Indian Army at the junction connecting India, Nepal and China further complicates the resolution of this conflict. A few analysts suggest that it is difficult to call for a complete withdrawal of troops since the situation acquires a larger security dilemma against the background of an imminent India-China border standoff, along a border that remains un-demarcated till date.

This issue is further complicated by Nepal’s current Communist Party government’s stance in reaching out to China for investment and diplomatic support in recent years. Needless to state, this has continued to trouble India since both India and China continue the conquest to be regarded as the Asian powerhouses towards the goal of regional dominance putting at risk the diplomatic and political survival of the smaller states like Nepal. However, China’s position on the Kalapani dispute continues to remain ambiguous. This means that the only solution to this issue right now is a bilateral one, much to Nepal’s chagrin and India’s most preferred outcome.

Ayush Banerjee is a postgraduate student at the Department of International Relations at Jadavpur university, Kolkata, India. He has worked under the UN Online Volunteering banner for research related projects in organizations like the CAMAAY, GLOWA, UNICEF Nigeria, IDMC, UNITAR etc. His interests lie in contemporary politics, diplomacy and non-traditional security.

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South Asia

Floods; A Challenge to Comprehensive National Security of Pakistan

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Starting mid-June 2022, flooding and landslides caused by heavy monsoon rainfall have brought widespread destruction across Pakistan. © WFP/Saiyna Bashir

Pakistan is encountering one of the major catastrophic occurrence in the present day history. The colossal floods, along with the glacier melt, have prompted 33% of the nation to submerge underwater with more than a million individuals being displaced along with a loss of above 43 billion.  The rising recurrence of floods, outrageous rainfall, and heatwaves have moved environmental change from a hypothetical conversation to an intense burden on the country and its people. Looking at the human perspective, the losses are too grave to quantify. However, in political terms, they address the missing area of climate security in the state’s national security paradigm, which could present existential difficulties for Pakistan.

Pakistan’s comprehensive national security is under stress by the adverse consequences of outrageous weather events across different areas. It isn’t just about financial security versus traditional security any longer. Comprehensive National Security can never be comprehensively achieved because national power comprises of all components and assets that facilitate the state to pursue interests. Hence, all these components, resources, and areas form the crux of what we call comprehensive security. Subsequently, to address the existence of multiple threats, an extensive perspective on national security is expected with an equivalent focus on all areas, while prioritizing climate security because of its seriousness and immediacy. The grave economic losses may be quantified in the long run but societal and political impacts also cannot be ignored. Pakistan’s representative of UNICEF, Abdullah Fadil reposts that “At least 18000 schools have been damaged in the flood, which have affected an estimated 16 million children. Many children are now at heightened risk, without a home, school or even safe drinking water. There is therefore a risk of many more child deaths.” International experts, humanitarians and Social workers visiting Pakistan have termed it as one of the largest catastrophe of the modern history. South Asian expert Michael Kugelman states “that the only hope within the flood victims is the International aid but it is slow to come”. The international world needs to respond to the aid appeals as a collective responsibility rather than a favor to Pakistan because the climate change crisis is largely driven by the world’s most industrialized countries.

The 2022 floods in the country have uprooted entire communities, finished occupations and revenue generation sources, and have drastically expanded migrations inside the country and levels of urbanization. Assume relief projects are not comprehensive and the impacted population feels that they have not been accommodated Post-catastrophe which they themselves didn’t create.  Considering all this, their confidence in the legitimacy or administering authority of the state could be antagonistically affected, creating threats of mass unrest. Destroyed homes, displacement within the country, and temporary camp-like arrangements have a potential of posing critical identity challenges and meanwhile create financial instabilities among impacted communities. Such aftereffects severely hurt the societal and political segments of security, undermining comprehensive national security. Such extreme climatic disasters account for short term reliefs along with long-term impacts on the resources of state. Increased displacement within the country, increased poverty with unemployment rate on the surge creates huge risks which directly impact the comprehensive national security. Violence against women tend to rise, Children drop out of school as there exists no infrastructure, food security is challenged, health security is badly endangered and quality of human life declines in a worst possible way. Extremists, Proxies and non-state actors may capitalize on resentment felt by the displaced. In short, human security is challenged in all basic forms.  So when human security is challenged, how can a state achieve comprehensive national security which itself places human as a center point.

Another challenge which is indirectly affiliated with the climate change is directed towards military. Pakistan’s military has played a crucial and a comprehensive role in flood through its rescue efforts, humanitarian relief and rehabilitation process. Military has rendered sacrifices in these flood operations especially when a Corps Commander along with senior officers embraced martyrdom in the Lasbela district in Balochistan while overlooking relief activities. The IPCC report itself states that Pakistan’s Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) will only increase over time. Military resources being expended to HADR will obviously take away military’s attention away from hardline security issues and put it under increased management stress in times to come.

It can be asserted that the comprehensive national security is under stress by the negative impacts of horrific weather incidents across the various sectors of the society. It isn’t only about economic security versus the traditional security anymore, because today what constitutes the national power and comprehensive national security isn’t only the traditional and economic security but all societal elements form a collective part of this comprehensive framework. Thus, a comprehensive outlook of national security is required with equivalent focus on all sectors, with a priority on climate and food security due to its immediacy.

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South Asia

Political Scientist: Taliban Rule will not bring Afghanistan to the Stability and Development

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The evidence suggests that the Taliban movement cannot stabilize Afghanistan and does not want to fight international terrorism that threatens the region and stability globally.

The day before, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a report on Afghanistan, citing increasing security problems. For example, the paper states that foreign terrorist groups remain in the country. “The security situation reveals a worrisome trend in recent months, particularly the series of attacks by ISIL-K, recurring armed opposition clashes with Taliban de facto security forces and the continuing presence of foreign terrorist groups in Afghanistan,” the UN Secretary General’s report says. The report also declared that the US statement on the elimination of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul “highlighted the ongoing ties between the terrorist group and the Taliban, which go against the latter’s obligations to combat terrorism.”

At the same time, the Taliban claims that there are no more terrorist groups in Afghanistan. “We will never allow anyone to pose a threat from Afghanistan to other countries,” Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Thakur said.

It should be pointed out that the leader of Al-Qaeda was destroyed in the guarded central district of Kabul, where international organizations, diplomatic missions and administrative facilities are located. It is pretty tricky to assume that the leadership of the Taliban movement was not aware of the presence of this terrorist. If the Taliban security forces did not know that Zawahiri was hiding in Kabul, they would not control the situation even in the heart of Afghanistan. If we assume the opposite, the Taliban’s policy of supporting or, at least, reluctance to fight international terrorist organizations is apparent. Recall that the Taliban promised the international community to fight international terrorism more actively in exchange for humanitarian aid and possible recognition of their regime in the future.

Moreover, it gives the impression that the main sponsor of the Taliban, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, has lost control of the movement. It is obvious that organizations similar to the Taliban cannot function successfully without foreign economic, military and political assistance. The Pakistani military, particularly the ISI, took part in creating the Taliban movement in the 1990s and patronized them all this time. It is known that there are many Islamabad henchmen in the Taliban leadership, and either radicals or Pakistanis do not hide close ties and contacts. However, neither the Pakistanis nor other players can exert pressure on the Taliban. At least, the political pressure that is being exerted now by the international community is not enough: the Taliban do not show a desire to begin the fight against terrorism.

In the theory of political science and international relations, I am unaware of cases when similar regimes have gained success and contributed to the long-term development of their countries, societies and regions. In this regard, it can be considered that the Taliban and their patrons must significantly and profoundly transform their guidelines, ideology and management strategies. Otherwise, as experience shows, in the future, similar regimes end badly, which affects the stable development and position of their countries and nations.

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South Asia

World ‘must engage’ or risk Afghanistan’s collapse

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A woman walks through a corridor in a village in Zindajan district, Afghanistan. © UNICEF/Shehzad Noorani

“Patience is running out” for many in the international community when it comes to effectively engaging with Afghanistan’s de facto rulers, the Taliban, senior UN envoy for the country, Markus Potzel, told the Security Council on Tuesday.

Despite some positive developments over the past few months, the Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan said they have been “too few and too slow and they are outweighed by the negatives”.

Women’s rights

He drew attention to the ongoing ban on girls’ secondary education and growing restrictions on women’s rights, as “signals that the Taliban are indifferent to more than 50 per cent of the population” and are willing to risk international isolation.

“The relegation of women and girls to the home not only deprives them of their rights, but Afghanistan as a whole is denied the benefit of the significant contributions that women and girls have to offer,” he detailed.

Terrorism concerns ‘dismissed’

Meanwhile, from armed clashes to deadly terrorist attacks, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has monitored a steady rise in security incidents by terrorist groups and others.

“Our earlier warnings about the capabilities of Islamic State Khorosan Province (ISKP) were dismissed by the Taliban”, he told ambassadors.

“But ISKP has demonstrated in the last few months alone that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attacks against foreign embassies, as well as fire rockets across Afghanistan’s border to attack its neighbours – all while maintaining its long-standing sectarian campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities,” said Mr. Potzel.

Provincial rights violations

And armed clashes are continuing between Taliban security forces and armed opposition groups in the Panjshir, Baghlan, Kapisa, Takhar, and Badakhshan provinces, the UN envoy continued.

“There are disturbing reports, as well as videos and photos, indicating possible serious human rights violations committed in Panjshir,” he said, calling for an investigation into allegations of extra-judicial killings there.

The mission will continue to carefully monitor these and other reports of serious human rights violations, he added.

UN bolstering cash economy

As per capita income has collapsed to 2007 levels – erasing 15 years of economic growth – the country’s economic situation “remains tenuous” (with little detail forthcoming from the Taliban) due in part to Afghanistan’s isolation from the international banking system.

Liquidity remains heavily dependent on the cash that the UN continues to bring in for humanitarian operations – cash, I must stress, that supports the needs of the Afghan people and does not directly reach the de facto authorities,” said Mr. Potzel.

But even the funding is uncertain as the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan has only received $1.9 billion out of a $4.4 billion requirement.

No representation

Humanitarian and economic measures will not meet the Afghan people’s longer-term needs, and the emergency aid cannot replace essential service delivery systems, such as health and water, or hold off an economic collapse, he warned.

Moreover, a continued lack of political inclusivity and transparency in decision-making leave most Afghans without any government representation.

“There are no consistent mechanisms for citizens to provide feedback to the authorities and little indication that the Taliban wish to even hear any,” the UN envoy said.

‘We have to engage’

While the Taliban’s self-identified emirate has not been recognized by any State, the international community also does not want to see the country collapse, Mr. Potzel stressed.

“If the Taliban do not respond to the needs of all elements of Afghan society and constructively engage within the very limited window of opportunity with the international community, it is unclear what would come next,” said the Deputy Special Representative.

“Further fragmentation, isolation, poverty, and internal conflict are among the likely scenarios, leading to potential mass migration and a domestic environment conducive to terrorist organizations, as well as greater misery for the Afghan population.

“That’s why we have to engage”, he declared, adding that “continued qualified engagement” was the most realistic way of helping the Afghan people.

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