What is going on in Nepal?
No much good for India if one goes by the latest news. The Maoists with their Chinese supporters are clearly trying to change the status quo. An article in The Times of India gives a significant example: “Nepal's 'fractured polity' is clearly taking a heavy toll on India's relations with the important Indian neighbour. After the controversial withdrawal of the contract issued to an Indian government firm for machine readable passports, New Delhi's initiative for a fresh India-Nepal extradition treaty seems to be the next target of Kathmandu's political instability.”
Now sources in the Nepali government say that the extradition treaty is not likely to be signed before Nepal's new Constitution comes into force. It may take some time and in any case the Maoists are against the new treaty.
But the collaboration freeze (‘until the Constitution is passed’), is not applicable to everybody. Sino-Nepal relations flourish as never before. The website China Tibet Information Center, a subsidy of the official Xinhua news agency, announced on July 13 that that the port of Gyirong located in Shigatse Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) will be fully operational in 2011. The website affirmed: “Since the end of 2009, TAR has made great efforts to build the Gyirong Port and speed up its construction in 2010. The construction will keep on after the port reopens.”
The Economic Times explained further: “China is expanding its engagement with Nepal by building what is being billed as the biggest land port connecting it with the South Asian region as a whole. This is seen by observers as part of a larger move to connect Xigaze (Shigatse) with Nepal by rail,” adding: “The idea is to apparently build it as a border post larger than Nathu-la [in Sikkim].”
The message is clear, even if there is nobody to read it in Delhi. Kathmandu is also interested to import petroleum products from China once the secluded ex-Kingdom is connected by rail to the TAR. A Nepali government statement mentions that “an expanded and enhanced connectivity between the two countries [will] also open the avenues for Nepal being a transit country between the two giant economies, China and India."
While Nathu-la does not fare too well, will future business between India and China pass through Nepal? It seems surrealistic.
But there is more. While India has to wait for the promulgation of the Constitution, the Chinese are happily signing agreements with Kathmandu. It was reported that Nepal and China will soon establish ‘a high-level mechanism to share intelligence to contain anti-China activities in Nepal’. So, no extraditions of anti-India elements, but Tibetan refugees who try to flee the most-repressive regime of the world will be sent back.
It is what was decided at the Nepal-China Border Security and Law Enforcement Talks which recently concluded in Kathmandu.
Both parties agreed to set up focal points in the respective home ministries in Kathmandu and Beijing. A senior Nepali government official told The Kathmandu Post: “The Chinese side assured full support to enhance capacity building, training of Nepali security personnel to be deployed across the northern border, seeking Nepal’s full commitment on information sharing on anti-China activities with effective law enforcement mechanism to contain the activities.”
Worse for the Tibetans, the Chinese offered ‘logistic support’ worth 300,000 US dollars to the Nepalis in the form of laptops, searchlights or metal detectors. The Chinese Vice-Minister for Public Security Chen Zhiming was pleased with results of his stay in Nepal: “My visit is to find out ways to strengthen the bilateral relations between Nepal and China.”
The Nepalese have already started the deportation of Tibetans crossing the border: three of them have been handed over to the Chinese authorities in early June 2010. According to Nini Gurung, spokeswoman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): "It is a very serious issue and we are extremely concerned." They were sent back by helicopter with a Nepali escort (a politician accompanying them).
Since 1989, there was a ‘gentlemen's agreement’ between the government in Kathmandu and the UNHCR: Nepal did not grant the refugee status to the Tibetans, but they were allowed a safe transit through Nepal en route to Dharamsala, India.
After the unrest on the Tibetan plateau in March/April 2008, the Chinese repression against the Tibetans was unanimously condemned. A report of the Human Right Watch recently provided more details: “the Chinese government has yet to …reveal the fate of hundreds of Tibetans arrested during the protests, or disclosed how many it has detained, sentenced, still holds pending trial, or has sentenced to extrajudicial forms of detention”. Nicholas Bequelin, who is based in Hong Kong and worked for HRW, in an interview with the French Daily Le Monde asked a pertinent question: “What is the Chinese government trying to hide by locking the entire Tibetan plateau since the demonstration of March 2008.”
Despite this, Kathmandu has tightened its border with the TAR by deploying armed police near several frontier passes. In early July, Nepal banned the celebration of the Dalai Lama's 75th birthday. The 20,000 or so Tibetans refugees living in Nepal were asked to stay at home.
In the past, between 2,500 and 3,000 Tibetans yearly crossed the Himalayas via Nepal on their way to Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama lives. After the events of 2008, the number of refugees nearly came to nil.
Vice-Minister Zhimin need not fume, ”anti-China activities taking in Nepal in the name of religion and human rights are unacceptable to China,” Nepal religiously obeys Beijing’s diktats.
This reminded me of an article published by Mother India, a fortnightly magazine published in Mumbai, a week after the Chinese invaded Tibet in November 1950. The Editor wrote: “But Nepal, with sixteen railroads leading directly into India from her borders, appears to be the most likely [next] objective [of the Chinese]. There may not be direct attack at first, for the Gurkhas are great fighters though their fighting abilities may not weigh against overwhelming number and better equipment. What is more likely is a Communist penetration of the existing popular movements a further working up of internal disturbances dividing the political structure as well the soldiery, and then the call by one party to China for aid.”
It is what has happened today.
In the meantime, a strange thing has been reported: the former king of Nepal, Gyanendra's family has started to make common cause with the Maoists in Nepal. As Nepal is gearing itself towards a third round of voting to designate a prime minister on August 2, it has been reported that former King Gyanendra's son-in-law, Raj Bahadur Singh, has decide to support the Maoists “by trying to buy off some constituent assembly members particularly from the smaller parties”.
The dual standard adopted by Kathmandu to deal with China and India, as well as the games played the Maoists and the royal family are worrying trends. Is it possible to stop a further deterioration of the already dramatic situation? It is not easy to answer today.