India-China Perspective: Nepal’s faltering Peace Process
Jan Sharma, Senior Journalist, NEPAL
India’s long-standing policy towards Nepal seeks to:
(a) Engage all political forces, including the CPN-M as well as the monarchy,
(b) Install a government friendly to India,
(c) Forestall any government unfriendly to India,
(d) Promote Indian political, economic and security interests,
(e) Thwart any attempt to challenge Indian supremacy and domination in Nepal, and
(f) Prevent Nepal diversifying sources of arms other than India. India’s interests in Nepal are extensive – from security to water resources for irrigation.
Nepal also shares a 1,880 km border with India to the east, south and west, and the best military talents among the Nepali hill people are recruited in the Indian Army estimated to be over 100,000. India has also refused to recruit a single Madhesi Nepal in their army obviously on grounds of their inferior military qualities. In addition, there are over 115,000 Indian government pensioners in Nepal whose welfare is the responsibility of the Indian Army Ex-Servicemen Welfare Organization (IEWON). It’s a huge network, given the number of family members and dependents, most of them in remote hills where CPN-M has its sway. The conflict-induced exodus of young Nepalis in India is estimated at 4 million and rising.
Top CPN-M leaders operated from India, giving credence to popular perception that the so-called “people’s war” was in fact a tool of Indian diplomacy. The meeting between Prachanda and leaders of communist parties represented in Parliament at Champasari near Siliguri in India in August 2001 and again in Lucknow on November 20, 2003 and March 29, 2004 was a huge embarrassment to India. In the context of the 9/11, Minister for External Affairs Jaswant Singh of India in September 2001 described the Maoists as “terrorists,” and pledged full support to Nepal to fight it. His successor Yashwant Sinha during his visit to Nepal in August 2002 expressed “concern over the clandestine use of the Nepali soil by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence for anti-Indian activities.” Indian Chief of the Army Staff General N. C. Vij visited Nepal in April 2002 to discuss military cooperation.
India nabbed Chandra Prasad Gajurel, Maoist Politburo member, at Chennai airport in India on August 19, 2003 and formally charged him of traveling under a fake document to Europe. Some saw it as a “major rethink” of India’s policy [Josse, 2004]. Unlike Gajurel, Matrika Prasad Yadav and Suresh Ale Magar arrested in Lucknow in India on February 8, 2004 were handed over to Nepal without formal charges. The arrest of Mohan Vaidya, second highest ranking in party command after Prachanda, in Siliguri on March 29, 2004 was described as a “consequence of the alliance and bargaining between the Indian and Nepali feudal rulers against Nepal’s rivers and other natural resources” [Prachanda, 2004]. Indian security officials seized important documents, including maps outlining planned Maoist attacks on security targets in Nepal.
It was reported that CPN-M was creating bases in Bihar to target security forces in Nepal and that international terror group and “a country hostile to India” may use them to create disturbances in the area and thus had “security implications” for India [TOI, 2003]. Instead of a military solution, India wanted a political solution, as indicated by its suggestion in November 2003 for the formation of a national government in Nepal to resolve conflict:
The Prime Minister of India expressed concern over the serious security situation prevailing in Nepal and stressed the need to take up urgent broad-based measures to deal with it. In this context, the Prime Minister reaffirmed India’s consistent position that a national consensus needs to be evolved based on the principles of multi-party democracy and constitutional monarchy. This would require both the institution of monarchy as well as the political parties to demonstrate flexibility and reach a consensus to address the challenges posed by the Maoist insurgency. A representative government with the participation of all parliamentary parties, working in close cooperation with the monarchy, would assist in evolving a national response to the situation [Sarna, 2003].
The Indian policy has undergone subtle shift since a Left-backed Congress-led coalition of Manmohan Singh was installed in May 2004. Minister for External Affairs Natwar Singh of India visited Nepal in June 2004 even as Prime Minister Deuba had not even formed his Cabinet. Singh gave an unsolicited advised to Nepal: “It is only a representative multiparty government, working in close concert with the institution of constitutional monarchy, which can restore political stability in Nepal. This would also pave the way for holding elections to new parliament and tackling the insurgency through peaceful negotiations” [EoI, 2004].
After the royal coup in February 2005, India suspended arms supplies and asked China to refuse arms to Nepal. New Delhi also successfully worked on a strategy to unite Prachanda and Bhattarai within the CPN-M, then cemented the SPA to oppose the king, and finally engineered SPAM “understanding” in what was a tactical shift to an alternative to the king from its earlier stand that constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy [India Today, 2005]. There was also suspicion that a prolonged freeze on military assistance would dilute traditional military cooperation between India and Nepal.
An Indian pro-establishment scholar argued for a “practical engagement” with the CPN-M to ensure Nepal’s stability, a “democratic monarchy” and “its internal autonomy preserved from the growing Western and other undesirable influences” [Muni, 2003]. India has been successful in pleading that “no arms should be given to Nepal which are more sophisticated than those in the Indian armoury” because India does not want “the level of conflict in Nepal to be upgraded” [Outlook, 2003]. India after the royal takeover of February 2005 was no more talking about constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy but was seeking “alternative” to the king [India Today, 2005].
India in a sense punished King Gyanendra not because of his assault on democracy and freedom but because of his audacity to challenge India’s supremacy at the summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Dhaka where it threatened to veto entry of Afghanistan as a new member unless China was simultaneously invited to join as an observer. The summit concluded with Afghanistan became the eighth member, and both China and Japan admitted as observers. China without even being present at the summit just tore up India’s Monroe doctrine [Mohan, 2005]. The summit declaration noted that “small states require special measures for support from all concerned for safeguarding their sovereign independence and territorial integrity” and that “protection of small states should be firmly rooted in scrupulous adherence to the UN Charter, rule of law, the strict adherence to universally accepted principles and norms related to sovereign rights and territorial integrity of all states, irrespective of their size” [Dhaka Declaration, 2005].
China has traditionally lent strong and unequivocal support to the monarchy but is likely to have friendliest of relations with anyone in the saddle of power. China would like to have a stable and strong regime in Nepal because it borders Tibet, its soft underbelly. China is wary of hostile environment in the neighborhood, and is watching closely the activities of a large Tibetan population in Nepal. It has also been recently stressing on integrating the economies of Nepal and Tibet. It is for these considerations that Beijing described the royal coup as Nepal’s “internal affair.” At the same time, it has categorically disassociated itself with the CPN-M, saying “neither the communist party nor any entity of the government of the People’s Republic of China has any link with and support for the terrorists of Nepal.” The official Chinese position has always been that the Nepal government would “properly handle its domestic issues” [Zhang, 2001]. It subsequently accused self-styled Maoists, which it described as “anti-government forces” of “usurping the name of the leader of the Chinese people. China supports Nepal’s fight against the anti-government forces and hopes for peace, stability and economic development for its neighbour” [Liu, 2002].
During his first state visit to China in July 2002, King Gyanendra reassured President Jiang Zemin that Nepal “will not allow the emergence of elements ruining against the development of Nepal-China ties. It will not permit within its borders any activities that undermine China’s interests” [People’s Daily, 2002]. The reference was clearly Tibet, which Nepal recognizes as an inalienable and integral part of China. Beijing, which shares a 1,400 kilometer border with Nepal, is worried by the presence of an estimated 35,000 Tibetans in Nepal who have fled from Tibet and could launch anti-China activities from Nepal, as was the case with the Khampa insurgency in the 1960s and crushed by the Nepal Army in 1974. It is for this reason that it has been maintaining a close watch on the movement of Tibetans in Nepal, especially since the flight of Karmapa to India in the summer of 2000. In a major policy departure, the royal regime arrested 18 Tibetans, including eight minors, fleeing China into Nepal and handed over to the Chinese authorities in Kathmandu in July 2003.
Beijing welcomed the move but Washington deplored Nepal’s handling of the issue which “not only violates international norms and practices regarding the humane treatment of asylum seekers, but also tarnishes the Government of Nepal’s long-standing and well-deserved reputation for tolerance and hospitality.” Nepal subsequently closed down the office of the Dalai Lama’s Representative in Kathmandu near the royal palace. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also stopped providing travel documents it had been providing since 1990 to Tibetan and Bhutanese refugees for third country travel. Nepal gave “unequivocal” support for the Chinese anti-secessionist law in 2005 authorizing the use of force against Taiwan [People’s Daily, 2005].
President Hu Jintao visited South Asian capitals in February 2005 but skipped Nepal. Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing visited Nepal March 31-April 1, 2005 when he described the king’s direct rule as Nepal’s “internal matter which has nothing to do with China. Nepali people have full authority to tackle their internal politics and development.” Li quoted the king as saying, “Nepal appreciates and supports the important role that China has been playing in the international affairs” [Xinhua, 2005]. China and Nepal also agreed to promote military cooperation. An agreement was signed on military cooperation under which China was to provide Nepal eight million yuan (Rs.72 million) to promote “stability, development and peace in Nepal” and “combat internal and external terrorism.” The Sino-Nepal military cooperation alarmed India.
Since the regime change in 2006, the Office of the Dalai Lama is back in business, as are pro-Tibet rallies. For example, in March 2007 a free-Tibet protest rally was held at Bouddha and Swayambhu, the two areas with a heavy concentration of Tibetan refugees, and a group set ablaze the Chinese national flag at Bhat Bhateni close to the Chinese Embassy. Celebrated Hollywood star Richard Gare, a well-known free-Tibet campaigner, addressed the Tibetan community to urge them to liberate Tibet. Then there was an American Everest Expedition, which demonstrated a banner urging solidarity for the "liberation" of Tibet. While the Nepal government has maintained a total silence on these developments, Chinese are worried by the changes and currently engaging major political parties. [Excerpts: Paper Presented at a NEFAS/FES Seminar]