We wouldn’t even be reduced to citing the Sugauli Treaty borders today but for Chinese perfidy.

By Maila Baje

The unanimous adoption of a Constitutional amendment on Saturday changing Nepal’s external boundary on its national emblem should have put an end to an issue so intertwined with our national identity.

Yet the order of things gives ominous room for reflection. After the vote, Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli asserted that talks with India on the long-festering border dispute pertaining to nearly 400sq km of territory on Nepal’s northwestern border tri-junction with India and China could begin in earnest.  On the eve of the parliamentary vote, moreover, the government appointed an expert panel to collect evidence of Nepal’s ownership of the land.

It would be easy to accuse the government of immaturity. But, then, this is symptomatic of the twisted logic that has defined developments in Nepal. We ushered in ‘democracy’ in 1951 by merely letting India turn Mohan Shamsher Rana from Shree Teen into a commoner. Four decades later, the late-night parleys at Narayanhity Palace had merely ended the partyless character of the Panchayat system. But we took that to mean a full-fledged restoration of the multiparty system abolished in 1960.

In 2005, the Maoists and the Seven Party Alliance never signed a single document in New Delhi, much less agree to turn Nepal into a secular and federal republic. But here we are today. Maybe there is some sense in the Oli government-led consensus.

Without some element of Chinese acquiescence in India’s claims to the disputed territory, Beijing could not have concluded a series of bilateral agreements with New Delhi from the 1950s. Have Chinese affirmations of steadfast support for Nepal’s sovereignty and territorial integrity merely been a convenient tool for Beijing to provoke and pressure India?

We aren’t terribly bothered about immediate negotiations. After all, we still need to collect evidence backing the amendment. Nor is there reason to suspect urgency from New Delhi. For decades, the Indians have lived with Pakistani and Chinese maps depicting ownership of parts of greater Kashmir New Delhi has claimed as its own. Heck, depending on the mood in Beijing, Arunachal Pradesh – a full-fledged state of the Indian Union – plays hide and seek on the Chinese map. India – much less the world – is going to use a magnifying glass while consulting our national emblem.

What we collectively hope and pray is the team collects not mere evidence – we have no shortage of that. What we need is evidence that is admissible and ultimately winnable in the eyes of both the law and evolving geopolitics.

Our challenge has been compounded by India’s assertion – based on willful ignorance of the evolution of the dispute – that Nepal has somehow raked up this issue at the behest of China. The national political consensus and public unity behind the issue have indeed thwarted India’s initial attempt to delegitimize our grievances. That setback for India has bred irritation, resentment and fury manifesting itself in outright threats. We have the will to weather the pressures from that bilateral front.

Simultaneously, we cannot afford to ignore Chinese duplicity in the matter. Without some element of Chinese acquiescence in India’s claims to the disputed territory, Beijing could not have concluded a series of bilateral agreements with New Delhi from the 1950s. Have Chinese affirmations of steadfast support for Nepal’s sovereignty and territorial integrity merely been a convenient tool for Beijing to provoke and pressure India?

That setback for India has bred irritation, resentment and fury manifesting itself in outright threats.

It’s tempting to demonize those asking that question as agents of India. Yet consider the origins of the border dispute. Nepal’s continual expansion under Prithvi Narayan Shah’s successors alarmed the British East India Company. Calcutta was constrained from acting because of the 1792 Betravati Treaty, under which the Chinese had undertaken to protect Nepal against third powers in exchange for our tributary relationship with the Qing Dynasty.

When Nepal appealed for Chinese help on the eve of war with the British, Beijing instead blamed Nepal and advised us to sort things out with Calcutta. We wouldn’t even be reduced to citing the Sugauli Treaty borders today but for Chinese perfidy.

No matter how much legal evidence we present to the world, a resolution would eventually have to be geopolitical. When Pushpa Kamal Dahal, breaking his long silence, claims that republican Nepal is about to reclaim territory the monarchy lost, he carries an imploring tone rather than one of affirmation. Perhaps there is a reason why we amended the national emblem, and not the far more fundamental Article 4.2. – or inserted the new map into the Basic Law.

Courtesy: Nepali Netbook

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