Nepal: Internal Challenges and External Influences
Report of Panel Discussion held at the IPCS Conference Room on 16 September 2011
Dr. Pushpa Adhikari, Associate Professor, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu
Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli, Centre for Chinese Studies, JNU, New Delhi
Speaker: Dr. Pushpa Adhikari
The on-going processes of democracy establishment and constitution-building in Nepal might appear as a colourful mosaic for most non-Nepalese but it is not so for Nepalese citizens. These processes are not of recent origin for the country as the roots of democracy can be traced back to the 1990s. But given the internal challenges of the polity they have not been able to flourish; lack of a political culture being foremost among them.
Unlike Western democracies or even in comparison to South Asian democracies, Nepal has never been able to develop an indigenous political culture. The vestiges of monarchy have prevented the proper functioning of Nepalese government, while the political parties have not been able to execute their roles properly. Maoists who were previously considered a roadblock to the peace process in Nepal have further become major determinants in weakening the peace process after joining the government in 2006. Regular extensions of drafting deadlines have also hampered constitutional development. The role of judiciary has also been undermined by politicians leading to increased institutional degradation of the country.
Nepal’s internal developments have also been greatly influenced by external players. Nepal’s development depends heavily on its donors or “developmental partners” who include the US, E.U. and Scandinavian countries. The 9th and 10th Five Year Plans have both failed and Nepal has been unable to attain the Millennium Development Goals it set for itself. There has been a superseding of government authority by the funders who were disappointed by the lack of implementation by governmental institutions in Nepal. These partners started investing directly into the districts and villages ignoring all directions and guidelines set out by government regarding foreign direct investment (FDIs). The government helplessly watched this flagrant violation since it was so heavily dependent upon external aid and lost its pivotal role in the development process.
Its two Asian neighbours India and China have also had an inevitable influence on Nepal. China’s influence is perceptible as it began intervening in Nepal’s political process with an intention to weaken Indian influence and to undo the repercussions of western efforts at destabilizing Nepal. On the other hand, India which used to enjoy a privileged position in Nepal since 1950s lost its upper hand by taking Nepal for granted. India’s biggest mistake lies in its approach of engaging only with the political parties and leaders while ignoring academics and planners. India needs to be more proactive in the region and sensitive to the shifts if it is serious about stabilising Nepal, which after all will serve its long term interests.
Speaker: Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli
Nepal is in a geopolitical and developmental dilemma in terms of GDP and other factors by virtue of being a landlocked country juxtaposed between two rising neighbours. Nepal needs to choose what kind of model it will adopt to have leverage against external influences. It can either piggybank on its rising neighbours in purely economic terms or it can adopt the neutral model of Switzerland developing technically and economically. A quadrilateral formation consisting of China, India, Nepal and Bhutan may also serve its interests.
For China the main concern is to check Tibetan migration and western influences in Nepal for which it is undertaking major infrastructure development thereby increasing Nepal’s dependency on China. China also intends to play a major role in Nepali politics which is evident in its huge amount of funding and bribing of Members of Parliaments creating what is in effect a turnkey China Lobby.
Report prepared by Ankita Shree, Research Intern, IPCS
- Despite India’s ignorance on Nepalese interests many times, India and Nepal still share an intimate relationship. The Indian role in aiding the Maoist insurgent leadership of Nepal needs to be researched and investigated. India is supportive of democracy and constitutional and institutional strengthening in Nepal. But its actions are often at cross purposes. Though the Chinese influence is new, it is quite strong and cannot be ignored. With the kind of projects China is undertaking in Nepal this influence is bound to grow and India needs to understand and adapt accordingly.
- Being a landlocked country is not a curse, it is regulated by the behaviour of one’s neighbours. Nepal can gain from both its neighbours if it is able to attract investments for its development projects. It would be more practical for China to open its 17 transit passes rather than extending the Railway track to Xigaze border. But the fear is that Nepal should not become a dumping ground for cheap Chinese goods. To avoid that Nepal needs to develop its own industries.
- Violation of the Indo-Nepal Treaty greatly affected the relationship between India and Nepal, but the fault lies with both sides. The treaty needs to be scrapped and should be replaced by a new treaty which would give ample opportunity to both the countries to address their concerns.
- Madheshi’s separatist demands are not a big issue and can be resolved by a political settlement.
- The UN delegation Conflict Resolution in Nepal has worsened things and is the biggest culprit in undermining Nepal’s peace process as it distorted the actual number of PLA soldiers; the existing limit is 3,200 whereas the actual figure was around 19,000.
- The Trans-Himalayan region has good potential for hydro-electric power to meet India’s agricultural and energy demand. Optimally exploiting this resource might form the basis of regeneration of Nepal.
- Political parties are funded by “development partners” so an average Nepali is forced to believe that there is an external “western hand” at play in the continuing political instability in that country. Bordering India and China, the burden falls on these two large states to address issues to ensure peace and stability in the region.
- Civil society is also very weak in Nepal as most of the civil society organizations align with some or the other political party and tend to trumpet the party line instead of representing a completely different point of view.