India faces setback in Nepal: Rivalries of external forces continue

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India seems to realize that its ‘grip’ in Kathmandu politics is dwindling. The question, who is causing India a setback in Nepal politics? remains unanswered, though.

By Deepak Gajurel, Associate Professor, Tribhuvan University, Nepal

Deepak Gajurel

Nepal’s political instability and uncertainty has become a matter of concerns for major powers of the world. Monitoring cursorily through the past history, Nepal had not been so prominently taken by global and regional powers. It was till, by and large, two decades back.

As the political imbroglio goes on unabated in Kathmandu, notwithstanding a new constitution is in place, involvement of external players is becoming more visible.

Right from its birth as a country seventy years ago, Nepal’s southern neighbor, India, had enjoyed somewhat ‘monopoly’ in meddling with Nepal’s internal affairs. More than one polity changes here were driven and directed by India, the latest being April 2006, that did away with the century-old monarchy.

As Nepal tries to go ahead with new-found ‘secular, federal, republican’ political system with a new constitution in hand, doubts have begun to surface about its success, even its survival. And the equilibrium of power play in Kathmandu appears to be take turn.

India seems to realize that its ‘grip’ in Kathmandu politics is dwindling. No less than a former Indian high official has explicitly spelled out that India’s position has been weakening in Nepal. Shyam Sharan, former Foreign Secretary of India, in his latest book, wrote in clear words that India’s say in Nepal has gone down since sometime back. Several other ‘Nepal experts’ and analysts in India have also echoed the same ‘analysis.’

The question, who is causing India a setback in Nepal politics? remains unanswered, though. Lets wait and see for the time being.

As the political imbroglio goes on unabated in Kathmandu, notwithstanding a new constitution is in place, involvement of external players is becoming more visible.

Rivalry of external forces:

Role of external forces in Nepal’s domestic affairs could be analyzed in more than one perspective. Regional perspective is one of the aspects. The Himalayan Asia (South Asia plus China) has become the hotspot of international power struggle. This scenario became more visible after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as Super Power, and the end of the Cold War in early 1990’s.

Nepal’s importance has since been amplified in terms of regional as well as international power rivalry. Since the beginning of ‘peace process,’ in 2007, Nepal’s two giant neighbors – China and India – and the United States, showed activities in Nepal that were unmatched in the past. The current political deadlock in Nepal is mere a reflection of the power rivalry among these major powers, that are competing for increased role in the world arena in general, and in this region of the Himalayan Asia, in particular.

‘Continued political instability in Nepal will have its grave negative impact not only in this part of Asia but also in the entire Asian continent.’ a high level Chinese official sometime back had correctly analyzed the ground reality.

Successive American Ambassadors to Nepal have time and again reaffirmed that United States has a firm and continued interest in Nepal. It is common knowledge that the United States has been working in Nepal for the fulfillment of its national interests as the cornerstone.

Another key player, and perhaps, most effective and aggressive till recent past, India, has been vigorously attempting to maintain its influences in Nepal’s domestic affairs. India takes Nepal as a country under its sphere of influence. India visibly wants Nepal to remain under its sphere of influence, a continuation of Nehru doctrine, who had asserted that Indian borders were up to the Himalayas in the North. With metamorphosed regional power equation, this Indian position has been seriously challenged, making New Delhi desperate.

Chinese understanding is that the United States, with support and favor from India, can play from a weakened Nepali soil and act against the Chinese security interests. Thus, Chinese interest in Nepal is to block the penetration of those forces which could pose a threat to its very survival, especially through Tibet, China’s weak belly.

Nepal a hotspot

Since international relations went global, especially the expansion of European powers into Asia, Africa and Americas, one or another region has been contested by the world powers for the strengthening and expansion of their own interests.

Because of its location sandwiched between global players and possible threats to the regional powers, China and India, Nepal provides a suitable ground for overt as well as covert strategic activities.

East Europe and a part of West Asia, especially Turkey, bleed between the boulders of rivaling powers. West Asia, the Middle East as seen by the Europeans, suffered a devastating blow during the Cold War. Rivalry between the super powers was focused on getting hold over West Asia. During the Cold War, West Asia was a vital region for both the super powers because of its location.

First reason for its prominence is that West Asia is the place which harbors as much as 80 percent of known oil reserve. Second reason is Suez Canal. The third, and the most important of all, is the strategic location of this region. This is why, the United States and the Soviet Union both tried to get control of this region. The result was continuous unrest in the region since the formation of the state of Israel in 1948.

The nature of the global power rivalry has shifted with the demise of the Soviet Union. While there is no other power to challenge the lone Super Power, the world’s heartland has shifted from West Asia to the Himalayan Asia, i.e. the region covering South Asia plus China.

Since the turn of the century, the United States has been strengthening its presence in the Middle East, Korean peninsula, Asia-Pacific, Africa, the Indian Ocean and South Asia. It is interesting to note that the increased US presence in the areas or territories are in the periphery of China.

Nepal is located in a strategically important position which is flanked by two emerging world powers – China and India. If China and India continue to grow in the way that they are doing today, they can be in a position to challenge the United States, not only economically, but militarily as well. It is this concern which has been prompting the Americans to avert the looming challenge from China, in the short term, and India, in the longer run.

Because of its location sandwiched between global players and possible threats to the regional powers, China and India, Nepal provides a suitable ground for overt as well as covert strategic activities.

The current power rivalry, among world powers, for the quest of taking hold of this region, results that external powers have been doing more in Nepali domestic politics, than Nepalis themselves do.