India's Strategically Unwise Nepal Policy

Nepal is a country of significant geo-strategic and geographical importance for India in South Asia. Geo-strategically its location places it as an important buffer state between India and China. In the long stretch of India's borders with Tibet, the Chinese hold is broken only by Nepal and Bhutan. Nepal, therefore, keeps Chinese military presence away from India for a stretch of hundreds of kilometers. Culturally, the reality that Nepal is the only Hindu Kingdom in the World cannot be ignored by secular India, as India's Hindus comprising over 80% of India's population have a special attachment for it.

India's foreign policy towards Nepal, therefore, requires to be based on strategic determinants and stances which serve India's national security interests. It is amazing, therefore, that India's current foreign policy towards Nepal, is totally oblivious to India's national security interests, in the wake of King Gyanendras dismissal of the Parliament and assuming direct powers to combat the mortal threat that Nepal's Maoist insurgency is posing to Nepal's political fabric.

The Indian establishment and the host of India's political and strategic analysts have adopted a monochromatic stand on Nepal that King Gyanendra rolls back his decisions and restores democracy in Nepal. This monochromatic stance unwisely ignores the stark reality that under Nepal's successive democratic governments, the Maoist insurgency has grown alarmingly. The political system in Nepal failed to provide a united front to counter this Communist menace and the democratic governments in Nepal failed to exhibit any determination to suppress the Maoist insurgency. It is this inadequacy which probably led King Gyanendra to step in to restore law and order with more firm handling.

Against this backdrop, India's foreign policy should not have been determined by idealist notions of exporting democracy to Nepal when it has not insisted for the same in India's neighborhood in the West, in Pakistan. India's current foreign policy formulations should have been based on the answers to the following questions which have linkages to India's national security interests:

  • Can democratic governments in Nepal effectively neutralize Maoist insurgency threat?
  • Can a Maoist take-over of Nepal ensure a democratic and stable Nepal?
  • Will a Maoist Government in Nepal be India-friendly or China-friendly?
  • What would be the impact of a Maoist Government in Nepal on Maoist insurgent activities in India extending from Bihar to Andhra.
  • Can a Maoist Govt. provide a workable buffer between China and India?
  • Can King Gyanendra reclaim Nepal's regions under Maoist occupation.

Democratic governments in Nepal have been utterly ineffective in curbing the Maoist insurgency. Major portions of Nepal are under Maoist control, inflicting unending misery on the poor people of Nepal. Democratic governments in Nepal under a Maoist Government cannot be expected to act as an effective buffer state between India and China. A Maoist Nepal under Chinese influence could bring Chinese military presence on Bihar's and Uttar Pradesh's borders with Nepal. This would entail sizeable Indian military deployments on the Indo-Nepal border.

King Gyanendra and the Royal Nepal Army directly under his orders can be expected to reclaim Nepal's regions under suppressive occupation of Nepalese Maoists. This possibility of success could be reinforced if India changes its current policy and pledges unequivocal support to the monarch in his campaign to liquidate the Maoist insurgency.

On all counts above, it is in India's national security interests that a Maoist takeover of Nepal is impeded and prevented. The Indian establishment's personal aversions to the personality of King Gyanendra, if any, should not be allowed to overtake India's national security interests in Nepal. It should not be forgotten that King Gyanendra before dismissing the Nepal Government sought thrice to visit India for consultations. On all three occasions, it is reported that the Indian Government found excuses to put off the King's visit. The Indian establishment should realize that the smaller the nation, the more its sensitivities have to be respected if we have to retain influence in South Asia. Presently, King Gyanendra backed by the Royal Nepal Army deserves all out support from India to quell the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. Once that has been effectively achieved, the talk of return to a democratic government in Nepal can be resumed.

India does not have to be a camp follower of the United States and Britain in spearheading democracy crusades all over the world. Their democracy crusades are selective. In any case the choice of the political system in Nepal should lie with the people of Nepal whether they opt for a constitutional monarchy or a Western style democracy. It is none of India's business to meddle in Nepalese people's options. The Nepalese people seem to be equally fed up with their factitious political parties as well as with the brutalization by the Maoist insurgents of Nepal's countryside. All that they yearn for is peace and order and livelihood. That is the impression one gets from ordinary Nepalese working in India and returning from visits to Nepal.

It is also strange that the United Nations and Western NGOs clamoring for Human Rights monitoring in Nepal, remain silent on such abuses in Pakistan and in the Middle East.

India's present policy of withholding its earlier programme of military assistance to the Royal Nepal Army amounts to strengthening the upper hand of Nepalese Maoist insurgents. Is it not strange that the Gorkha soldiers of the Indian Army and the British Army are known to have excelled in valor while Gorkha soldiers of Royal Nepal Army are ineffective so far in quelling the Maoist insurgency. This obviously has something to do with lack of superior mobility and availability of Special Forces in the Royal Nepal Army. India must step in a big way in terms of military assistance to make the Royal Nepal Army strong and in the creation and training of Special Forces.

India's present policy towards Nepal is strategically unwise. It rests on inputs from Nepal's discredited polity, from India's liberalist glitterati, likely pressures of the Leftists in the UPA Government coupled with the dislike of some sections of the Indian establishment of the King.

India's present policy towards Nepal endangers India's national security interests and carries the seeds of an India ' USA isolated Nepal falling prey to the predatory moves of China and Pakistan to discomfit India strategically. China has already made the first moves by sending in the first eighteen truck-loads of arms to Nepal through the land-route from Tibet.

India would also be well-advised in not resorting to host meetings on Indian soil between Nepalese Maoist leaders and Nepalese ousted political leaders which patently makes India a party in Nepal's disturbed politics and project Indian policies as anti-monarchy. The decisive determinant of India's Nepal policies should be India's national interests and not the bad chemistry between the Indian establishment and the King.

India's endgame in Nepal should be to ensure that Nepal remains in India's sphere of influence ' a politically and economically stable Nepal facilitated by India's assistance and considerate approaches ' and not consigning Nepal into the laps of the Maoist insurgents. If that is the endgame, then India's present policies need to be transformed towards that end. At present these are otherwise.  


More by :  Dr. Subhash Kapila

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