Jaswant's Visit to Kathmandu Rejuvenating Indo-Nepal Ties?

20 Sep, 1999    ·   263

Mollica Dastider says what might be a trivial issue for India can generate immense feelings of nationlism and public outrage in Nepal

India ’s External Affairs Minister, Mr Jaswant Singh’s recent visit to Kathmandu , has been the first high-level official visit of an Indian delegation to Nepal , since the installation of a newly elected Nepali Congress government in the May’99. 



The formation of a popularly elected majority government in Kathmandu after years of political instability, did enhance the significance of the visit of the Indian Foreign Minister---as many believed that the political instability in both India and Nepal had actually put the bi-lateral cooperation between the two country on the political back-burner, and hence there prevailed a lackadaisical attitude towards implementing the various, already existing, bilateral agreements.  Given the multi-pronged nature of the relationship-- dealing with economic, security, political and environmental issues-- along with the inherent domestic compulsions of a small state’s interaction with its big neighbour, the 3-day (Sept.8-10) visit of the Indian Foreign Minister was clearly an effort towards strengthening, among other things, the economic and security cooperation between the two countries.



Following are the major outcome of the visit:



(1)Agreement on reviving the Indo-Nepal Joint Commission:



To put their economic cooperation on a “fast track,” reactivating the Joint Commission has been proposed. With a clear stress on energy imports from Nepal , it has been decided that a Joint Project Office would be set up in Kathmandu for a speedy preparation of a detailed Project report for the 6,000 mw Pancheshwar Project, a scheme, much delayed due to non completion of a detailed investigative report on it.



A decision has also been taken to begin work on the detailed project report on the 2000mw Saptakosi Project. Besides it has also been agreed that Indian private sector would be encouraged in developing small and medium sized power plants in Nepal .



In an effort to boost trade, an Integrated Border Management Programme has been envisaged for infra-structural development in the border areas, including construction of  cross-border roads which would connect to Nepal ’s main highways. These lateral road construction would further the cause of cross-border trade.  Besides, creation of export promotion zones along the border at Biratnagar,Birgunj, Bhairwa,and Nepalgunj have been agreed in principle by both the countries. 



(2) Revival of Extradition Treaty: 



In regard to India’s serious concern over Nepal being used as a springboard for Pakistan sponsored cross-border terrorism, and Nepal’s apprehension that Maoist insurgents, active in mid-western Nepal having links with the extreme leftist groups in India and therefore finding shelter across the border, it has been decided to revive the Indo-Nepal Extradition Treaty, and also conclude an understanding on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters.



(3) Joint Task Force:



While both the countries have agreed to set up a new Joint Task Force to study the problems of flood control in a comprehensive manner and submit its recommendation within six months; they have also directed the Joint Expert Group (Technical) to expedite the work on the demarcation of the Indo-Nepal boundary including the disputed Kalapani area.



The agreements reached between India and Nepal as an outcome of the Minister’s trip, do reflect upon an overall strategy, adopted by both the countries, in striving for a vibrant economic relationship. However it is essential to point out that it is the actual implementation of these agreements that will ultimately put the economic cooperation on a “fast track”, as previous experiences have shown that even treaties that had been signed at the highest level, are yet to be translated into practice (the delay in the implementation of the Treaty concerning the integrated development of the Mahakali River, signed by the Prime Ministers of the two countries on 12 February 1996, is just a case in the point) largely because of the political impediments and other complexities which form an integral part of the relationship.  In this regard, the growing imbroglio over the disputed status of Kalapani indicates that it has every potential to become a major obstacle to any future cooperation (between the two countries), unless and until the issue is amicably resolved. The main opposition party CPN (UML) has already described it as a gross violation of Nepal’s sovereignty and has sought clarification from the N.C. government---in response to which, P. M. Bhattarai and foreign minister Ram Saran Mahat had to declare in the parliament that Kalapani belongs to Nepal and that “the government is continuing its efforts to have the Indian troops removed from Kalapani”.



Thus it is advisable on part of India that while not taking a rigid stand, it should also aim to resolve the Kalapani issue through quiet diplomacy, goodwill and understanding, even though it feels that the status of Kalapani has become a simple victim of over politicisation, indulged mainly by the nationalists in Nepal . For, what might be a trivial issue for India, can nevertheless generate immense feeling of nationalism and public outrage-- no sooner than it is projected as an ‘attempt’ of big and powerful India to usurp the territory of a small Nepal!