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South Asia

The Escalation of Tensions between India and Nepal



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

Afghanistan: the US and NATO withdrawal and future prospects



On April 14, the United States of America announced that it would withdraw all its troops stationed in Afghanistan from May 1 to September 11, 2021. On the same day, NATO also said it would coordinate with the White House military to initiate the withdrawal.

The year 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of war in Afghanistan, a conflict that has actually been going on since the Soviet invasion of that unfortunate country on December 24, 1979.

What are the plans of NATO and the United States? How will the situation in Afghanistan change in the future?

Regarding the US announcement of the deadline for troop withdrawal, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said that the Afghan government respects the US government’s decision to withdraw its troops by the agreed date.

According to the Associated Press, there were 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan before May 1, far below the peak of over 110,000 in 2011.

According to the websites of the Financial Times and theDeutsche Welle, some ten thousand soldiers from the 36 NATO Member States and other US allies are currently stationed in Afghanistan, including as many as 895 Italian soldiers, as well as 1,300 Germans, 750 Brits, 619 Romanians, 600 Turks, etc.

President Trump’s previous Administration signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan in February 2020, setting May 1, 2021 as the deadline for NATO to begin withdrawing from that country. The Washington Post reported that after the current US government issued the withdrawal statement, the Taliban immediately said that if the United States violated the peace agreement and did not withdraw its troops in Afghanistan, the situation would get worse and one of the parties to the agreement would take responsibility for it.

This year is the twentieth since the United States started the war in Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The war in Afghanistan is the United States’ longest overseas war, and has killed over 2,300 US soldiers and wounded some 20,000 people, at a cost of over 1 trillion US dollars.

Although the United States and its allies attacked the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the situation in Afghanistan has been turbulent for a long time, with over a hundred thousand Afghan civilian casualties in the fighting.

According to The New York Times, both Parties’ members of the US Congress have differing views on the consequences of withdrawal. According to the newspaper, Republicans and some Democrats believe that the troop withdrawal will encourage the Taliban insurgency, while others believe it is necessary to put an end to this indefinite war.

But what considerations can be made for the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan?

It is well known that the purpose of the United States in taking the war to Afghanistan was a very heavy measure of retaliation against al-Qaeda, which had organised the terrorist attacks of September 11, and against the Taliban regime that protected the top leaders of that terrorist organisation. Although al-Qaeda has not been destroyed, it is unlikely to create similar problems. The United States has achieved its strategic goals and is no longer involved in East Asia’s tactics and strategy.

The interests of NATO (considering its individual Member States) in Afghanistan are fewer than those of the United States. As a military alliance with the United States, the achievement of US strategic goals means that NATO’s equal strategic goals have also been achieved. Hence, rather than continuing to run the risk of confronting the Taliban and al-Qaeda after US military withdrawals, NATO is more willing to remove the “political burden” as soon as possible.

While announcing the terms of the withdrawal, the White House has stated that the threat of extremist organisations such as Somalia’s al-Shabaab and ISIS is spreading globally and it is therefore meaningless to concentrate forces in Afghanistan, with a steady expansion of its military cycle. At the same time, however, the White House has stated that after withdrawal, diplomatic and counter-terrorism mechanisms will be reorganised in Afghanistan to face security challenges. Hence, from the US perspective, there is currently a greater terrorist threat than al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The prospectsfor advancing the Indo-Pacific regional strategy to oppose China also means that it would be counterproductive for the United States to remain in Afghanistan any longer. Even after the troop withdrawal, there will be insecurity in Afghanistan. That being the case, however, the United States will still find ways and means to support the Afghan regime and the armed forces of the Kabul government.

The Washington Post has also reported statements by a Pentagon official who has stressed that Afghanistan is a landlocked country: consequently, once US and NATO forces withdraw, one of the biggest challenges will be how to effectively monitor and combat extremist organisations and resist threats to US security: at that distance it will be even more difficult without sea landings.

According to Reuters, the CIA predicts that the possibility of a further US-Afghan peace deal is little and has warned that once the United States and its allies withdraw, it will be difficult to stop the Taliban.

The Afghan government forces currently control Kabul and other large cities, but the Taliban are present in more than half of the country’s territory and rural areas. In the future, the possibility of a Taliban counter-offensive cannot be ruled out.

Great Britain’s The Guardian has commented that the years of war have generally made Afghans feel a strong sense of insecurity and the withdrawal of troops will not bring much comfort to the local population. According to the London-based newspaper, for the United States this is yet another war that cannot be won.

According to experts, there are two extreme possibilities in the future situation in Afghanistan. The excellent situation is the one in which the less extremist wing of the Taliban mediates so that, once the United States withdraws, the Taliban can gradually move from being an extremist organisation to being an internal administrative one and then negotiate with the legitimate government supported by the United Nations: this would mean a long-term peace after forty-two years of war.

Under extremely unfavourable circumstances, instead, the Afghan government forces would overestimate their military strength and intend to continue the war alone against their traditional opponents, at which point peace negotiations between the two sides would break down.

This would mean falling again into a prolonged civil war and into eternal war.

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Bhashan Char Relocation: Bangladesh’s Effort Appreciated by UN



Bhashan Char. Image source:

Bhashan Char, situated in the district of Noakhali, is one of the 75 islands of Bangladesh. To ease the pressure on the digested camps in Cox’s Bazar and to maintain law and order, Bangladesh has relocated about 18,500 Rohingya refugees from the overcrowded camps to the island since December last year. The Rohingya relocation plan to Bhashan Char aligns with the Bangladesh government’s all-encompassing efforts towards repatriation. The initial plan was to relocate 100,000 of the more than a million refugees from the clogged camps to the island. From the onset of the relocation process, the UN and some other human rights organizations criticized the decision pointing to remoteness and sustainability. UNHCR showed their concern over the island’s susceptibility to seasonal storm and flood. They proposed for a “technical assessment” of the Bhashan Char facilities.

An 18-member UN delegation visited Bhashan Char Island on March 17 this year to have a first-hand assessment of the housing facility for the Rohingya forcibly displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs). Shortly after the UN’s visit, a team with 10 diplomats including heads of missions of embassies and delegations from Turkey, the EU, US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands also went to the island on April 3 to appraise the facilities. All the members of the technical team opined that they are ‘satisfied’ with the facilities in Bhashan Char. The experts of the UN told, they will hand over a 10-page report of their annotations and they have already submitted a two-page abridgment. On April 16, they released the two-page synopsis after a month of the visit.  After the three-day study of Bhashan Char by the UN delegates, they recommended the Bangladesh government to continue the relocation process to the island in a ‘phased manner’. The team twigged three points – education for Rohingya children, increasing heights of the embankments and better communication system. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh A. K. Abdul Momen concerted to take the necessary measures to create a safe and secure environment for the Rohingya refugees until the repatriation takes place. The relocation is not the solution of the Rohingya crisis rather the over emphasis of the relocation and facilities inside Bangladesh is protracting the crisis and distracting the attention from the broader emphasis on the repatriation to Myanmar.

The UNHCR and other concerned parties should plan for a long run repatriation process. Repatriation is the only durable solution, not the relocation of the Rohingya refugees. For the time being, resettlement under the Asrayan-3 project is an ease for the FDMNs but in the long run the Rohingya crisis is going to turn as a tremendous threat for regional peace and stability. Besides, resentment in the host community in Bangladesh due to the scarce resources may emerge as a critical security and socio-economic concern for Bangladesh.  It is not new that the Rohingyas are repatriated in Myanmar during the Military rule. Around 20,000 Rohingya refugees were repatriated to Myanmar in the 2000s. The focus of the world community should be creating favourable conditions for the Rohingyas to return safely regardless who is in the power seat of Myanmar-civilian or military government. The UN should largely focus on repatriating the Rohingya refugees in a “phased manner”, let alone deciding their concern in the camps and the Bhashan Char. After the praiseworthy relocation plan, they should now concentrate on implementing speedy and durable repatriation. Proactive initiatives are essential from all walks for a safe and dignified return of the FDMNs. To be specific, the relocation is a part of the repatriation, not the solution of the problem. 

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Afghan peace options



President Biden’s decision to withdraw unconditionally all foreign forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 will leave behind an uncertain and genuine security concerns that ramifications will be born by Afghanistan as well as the region.

The Taliban seems least interested in peace talks with the Afghan government and appear determined to take control of the entire afghan government territory by force during post-withdrawal of American forces. Short of the total surrender, Afghan government has no possible influence to force the Taliban to prefer talks over violence. Resultantly, the apprehensions that Afghanistan could plunge into another civil war runs very high.

The consequences of yet another civil war will be deadly for Afghanistan and the whole region as well. Among the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan will bear the severe burnt of an escalation of violence in particular. A civil war or possible Taliban takeover will surely upsurge and reinvigorate the Islamic militancy in Pakistan, thus threatening to lose the hard won gains made against militancy over the past decade.

The afghan and Pakistani Taliban, nevertheless, are the two sides of the same coin. Coming back to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan is surely emboldened and revives Pakistani Taliban and other militant outfits. Moreover, spread of violence not only reduce all chances of repatriation of refugees but possibly increase the inflow of refugees from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Furthermore, worsening of the security situation in Afghanistan will jeopardize the prospects of  trade, foreign investment and economic development initiatives such as china-Pakistan economic corridor. The chances of Gawadar and Karachi port to become a transit trade route for the region and link the energy rich region of central asia will become bleak until a sustainable peace and stability is achieved in Afghanistan.

It is against this background that the successful end of the intra-afghan talk is highly required for Pakistan, for its own sake.  Officially, Islamabad stated policy is to ensure the afghan-led and afghan-owned peace solution of the afghan conflict. It helped in bringing the Taliban on the negotiation table, which finally resulted in the signing of the Doha deal between US and Taliban. Further, Pakistan has time and again pressurized the Taliban to resume the dialogue. Moreover, Islamabad holds that, unlike in the past when it wanted a friendly regime in Kabul, it aims to develop a friendly and diplomatic relation whoever is on the power in Kabul.

Notwithstanding the stated policy and position of the Islamabad, the afghan government and the many in the US remains dubious of Pakistan’s commitment. Against these concerns, Islamabad categorically stated that it does not have complete control over the Taliban.

The success of the peace process will require coordination and cooperation among the all regional actors and the US and afghan government. Pakistan’s role is of an immense significance because of its past relation with the Taliban. There is no denying of the fact that Pakistan has not complete control over the Taliban. Despite, it has more leverage than the other actors in the region.

The Islamabad’s willingness to use its influence over the Taliban is her real test in the achievement of peace process. However, Pakistan has successfully used its leverage and brought the Taliban on negotiations table. Although, history is the testimony of the fact that mere cajoling won’t dissuade the Taliban from unleashing violence.

The prospects of intra-afghan talks will develop in success when the cajoling strategy is backed up by with credible threats of crackdown which may involve denial of safe heaven to militant leaders and their families, stopping medical treatment, and disruption of finance etc. on the other hand, strong arm tactics fail to bring the Taliban to the table, then Pakistan should make sure that its territory is not used to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

The afghan peace process has an opportunity for Pakistan to bury its hatchets with Afghanistan and start its diplomatic journey with a new vigor. While Kabul every time attach its failure with the Pakistan and shun away from its responsibility of providing peace to people of Afghanistan, it has a fair point about our pro Taliban afghan policy. Now that the US is leaving Afghanistan, it is high time that Pakistan bring forth a shift in its Afghanistan policy. Sustainable peace in Pakistan, especially Balochistan and ex-fata region is unlikely to achieve without Pakistan contributing to peace in Afghanistan.    

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