Saturday, February 19, 2005

NEPAL: Is China doing a second Tibet?

+ Over the years, Beijing has been patiently building political and military bridges with Nepal. It still regards itself as the “Middle Kingdom”, destined to lord over all other humans and has been diligently working towards that end. Despite its ancient ties with India, Nepal willy nilly continues to succumb to Beijing’s charms, as reflected by China’s latest move to enter SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation). Kathmandu, along with Pakistan and Bangladesh, has backed China’s entry into the South Asian grouping even as New Delhi has voiced its opposition. Again, take Tibet. While New Delhi sympathises with the Tibetans and has provided the Dalai Lama a haven where he can peacefully carry on his crusade against China, Kathmandu accepts Tibet as an integral part of China. +

19/02/2005

Is China doing a second Tibet?
Poonam I Kaushish

Be pragmatic and accept. Or just lump it. These are the latest buzzwords in the corridors of power. While political parties are now chanting the mantra of expediency, thanks to the exit polls for the three state Assemblies, South Block is busy burning the midnight oil to mug up on international real politik. Necessitated by the shocking royal coup in Nepal. Either way, the message rings loud and clear : Grin and bear it!

For New Delhi, the coup in Kathmandu couldn’t have been more ill-timed, as it grapples on its own soil with various terrorist outfits, including the gun-toting Naxalites spread over 13 states and their links with the Maoists of Nepal. This spells double trouble for India, because the conflict between the monarchists, mainstream parties and the Maoists could spill over across the 1,747 km of the open border with India. The Maoists facing reprisal by the Royal Nepal Army may seek a safe haven here and regroup to assist its Indian counterparts. This could lead to a resurgence of Naxalite activity.

No less than the Bhutan King, Jigme Singye Wanchuk, has been quick to warn New Delhi of “the real threat” of the Maoists to India. This, he has stated, could have “negative implications”, for both the countries. According to the Shillong Times, the Maoists have build up a strong nexus with Assam’s terrorist outfit ULFA. In fact, a Red corridor stretches from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh, splitting north India into half.

As it stands, South Block’s ties with the Hindu kingdom have been lukewarm since 1997. Acting on its intelligence inputs of a possible monarchical takeover, New Delhi tried hard to impress upon the King the foolhardiness of taking over the government. The last occasion ostensibly was when Foreign Minister Natwar Singh visited the Himalayan kingdom and met the King. As events have proved, the advice fell on deaf years. What is more, Nepal even refused to back India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Earlier, Kathmandu had sought withdrawal of India’s military post from Kalapani situated at the tri-junction of India, Tibet (China) and Nepal on the holy Mansarover.

Notably, Beijing’s reaction to the happenings in the Himalayan kingdom has been mild in sharp contrast to the worldwide condemnation of the palace coups. In a shrewd but outwardly innocuous statement, to put it mildly, the Chinese brushed it aside as ‘Nepal’s internal matter’, (sic). Adding “It is for the Nepalese people to decide”. Especially against the backdrop of China increasingly spreading its “super power” tentacles in the region – albeit surreptitiously and stealthily.

Over the years, Beijing has been patiently building political and military bridges with Nepal. It still regards itself as the “Middle Kingdom”, destined to lord over all other humans and has been diligently working towards that end. Despite its ancient ties with India, Nepal willy nilly continues to succumb to Beijing’s charms, as reflected by China’s latest move to enter SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation). Kathmandu, along with Pakistan and Bangladesh, has backed China’s entry into the South Asian grouping even as New Delhi has voiced its opposition. Again, take Tibet. While New Delhi sympathises with the Tibetans and has provided the Dalai Lama a haven where he can peacefully carry on his crusade against China, Kathmandu accepts Tibet as an integral part of China.

Also, the slow but sure Sino-Nepalese closeness can be gauged from the construction of a 106 km major Kathmandu-Kodari highway linking Tibet with Nepal in 1960. China used this highway in the mid-eighties to supply military hardware to Nepal when the then Rajiv Gandhi government insisted on inspecting military supplies going through India under the Indo-Nepal Military pact. Beijing has recently got Kathmandu to agree in principle to two more additional highways linking Nepal with Tibet. One of these will be 500-600 km long and link Kathmandu with Mastung.

In fact, Beijing’s military ties date back to 1988-89 when Kathmandu procured anti-aircraft guns from China without informing New Delhi as per the Indo-Nepal Treaty. This was perceived by South Block as directed solely against India. Beijing’s thinking reflected in a White Paper on National Defence 2000, which calls for aggressive expansion of China’s hegemony in Asia.

Recall, India lost Tibet as a strategic buffer between itself and China following Independence when the Government mucked up its vital interests by confusing suzerainty for sovereignty (a la Ambassador K M Pannikar). New Delhi should not now allow a shrewd and scheming China to do a second Tibet in Nepal through inadequate and myopic handling, influenced by the so-called sweet and calculated talk of a peaceful resolution of the contentious Indo-Sino border dispute. Unlike New Delhi, which seldom looks beyond its nose. Beijing plans and plots for a hundred years ahead.

As New Delhi comes to terms with the complex ireality n the mountain kingdom it must prepare for all eventualities – continued monarchical rule, a Maoist-dominated government, return of mainstream parties and a new Constituent Assembly. In these fluid circumstances, Indian interests may be better served by trying to influence the powers-that-be in favour of democracy, rather than who wins or loses. In either case, the bottom line is clear. It has to do business with whosoever rules Kathmandu and effectively watch out for its own security concerns.

It cannot afford to take any chance with what constitutes a grave threat to India’s security. Be it the monarchy in the immediate, Maoists in the short term or China in the long term. It needs to remove its blinkers and face harsh realities. It should for a change look ahead and act and not merely react, as is its wont. A strong stable and democratic Nepal is in New Delhi’s interest. It needs to reconsider its overall ties – military, strategic, political and economic. National interest and statesmanship demand that India looks beyond superficial bon homie.