Wedged Between Two Giants
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
Author : Sanil Shrestha
Through my piece, I intend to provide you some insight into my country, Nepal. We shall delve into its history, present geopolitics and its relationship with its neighbouring countries.
Given that significant border disputes are presently underway among India, China and Nepal, it is pertinent that we acknowledge that the situation is on a precipice and it has extremely high stakes. The deterioration of the ongoing dispute shall be devastating to Nepal as it is entirely landlocked. The political situation improved considerably after a tumultuous period of monarchy and revolution. Ten years of civil war, a revolutionary movement, a movement for democracy and the exponential rise of civil rights movements brought the 240-year-old monarchy to an end. We finally have a legitimate and stable government, elected democratically, which has been a reflection of the peoples’ will for the past three years. Mr. K.P Sharma Oli from the Nepal Communist Party has been serving as the Prime Minister of Nepal since 2018.
“The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal ruled by Nepal Communist Party”
This statement seems quite strange from a Nepalese perspective, given how many characteristics of governance are defined in a single sentence. Not many of those characteristics translate into principles actively promoted by the state and accepted by the population.
Democracy in Nepal is still in its incipient stage. The coronavirus pandemic has further exposed the fault lines and cleavages in governance and exacerbated them. There is an added national security threat from India and China as they are strong military and nuclear powers. It is sometimes felt that Nepal’s geographic position, irrespective of its present political situation, lets other countries take advantage of it.
Nepal lies in the lap of the Himalayas. It borders India to the east, south, and west and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China to the north, while Bangladesh is located within only 27 km towards the south-eastern side and Bhutan is separated from it by Sikkim, an Indian state. Wedged between two giants, Nepal always has to keep a balance in its foreign policy to remain independent. Geographically, Nepal is very rich including mountain ranges, hilly regions and plains. Due to the geographical situation, we are considered one of the least developed nations considering our natural isolation. Nepal is home to the Mount Everest and has 8 out of 10 highest peaks in the world. Siddhartha Gautam, popularly known as the Buddha was born in Nepal. Other than this Nepal is also known for its Gorkha Armies, who are considered one of the bravest soldiers in history, the UK still has the British Gurkhas in their Army, and India has a Gorkha regiment.
Historically speaking, Nepal has had a great relationship with India. National leaders have met each other in a cordial manner and were greeted by huge crowds. Both countries have large followers of Hinduism. Both Hindi and Nepali are written in the same Devnagari script and they come from the same language Sanskrit.
Nepal and India have an open trade system with the two countries sharing open borders that don’t require any visas and just an identity card is enough for traveling. The sovereignty of Nepal is often questioned due to this as many think that it is a part of India. Besides these, both the nations are a part of SAARC and BIMSTEC, which are two intergovernmental organizations and organization of South Asian nations.
Nepal helped India during the Anti-British Movements, even fighting with the British Army. India has also supported Nepal to remove the Rana-rule which was a dictatorship. India is the largest democracy in the world developing rapidly in every field and definitely would want more power over the politics of Nepal. Nepal is largely dependent on India, with about 64% of its import coming from India worth $6520 million (According to the WITS in the year 2017) and about 56% of its export to India worth $420 million. India is also said to have a direct hand on most political events of Nepal. There have been many disputes in the past which have been resolved through mutual consent. There surely are some disadvantages of an open border.
Border encroachment is an extremely serious issue between Nepal and India but often gets sidelined. The Lipulekh border issue has received significant attention from the Nepali political leadership. Nepal’s relationship with China was hitherto not as cordial as it was with India. Tibet, which is now considered as a territory of China, has a rich history with Nepal which is centuries old. The Sherpa people, the Gurung people, and the Thakali people of Nepal share close linguistic, cultural, marital and ethnic ties with the Tibetan people. However, in 1950, when China occupied Tibet, the border security between Nepal and Tibet was intensified with increased patrolling which impacted the mobility and mingling of Nepali and Tibetan groups. Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, was considered one of the places many Nepali people visited in search of gold which is also described in the famous Nepali episodic love-poem Muna-Madan which dates back to 1936 written by the great poet Laxmi Prasad Devkota who is considered the greatest literary figure in Nepal.
The monarchs of Tibet and Nepal were considered close but there had also been some wars between the two. China occupying Tibet led to many Tibetan refugees coming to Nepal which impacted the relationship of Nepal and China. Since, Nepal has tried to maintain a good relationship with China and lately signed a deal in 2015 to be a part of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Nepal faces the same issue of border encroachment with both China and India. The northern territory of Nepal contains many mountain regions which have been claimed by China. There have been many meetings with China about the issue but only certain issues get acknowledgement. In November 2019, Nepal's Survey Department reported a series of Chinese encroachment on 36 hectares in four districts of Nepal (Sankhuwasabha, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk, and Humla) and that there was a further risk of losing several hundred hectares of land. In May 2020, Chinese media, calling Mount Everest (known in Nepal as Sagarmatha) as Mount Qomolangma claimed it as part of Chinese territory, sparking outrage among Nepali citizens. There is nothing Nepal can do about these issues being a small and less powerful country.
To conclude, Nepal has tried to keep a balance in its foreign policies with India and China, it seems that India and China are moving further apart from each other rather than trying to establish a good relation, India banning many Chinese apps and restricting Chinese investments in huge projects all over India and China trying to claim several territories and hijacking them as its own. This makes it extremely difficult for a country like Nepal to further equivocate in foreign policy matters. Nepal must take a decision over whether it wishes to protect its citizens and its territory or continues to satisfy the demands and wishes of its neighbours.