| April 24, 2018

Matter of trust

PM Oli’s planned India visit
Over the years the intermediaries between the political leaderships in Nepal and India have willfully twisted the communication to suit their individual interests. Even now, the prime minister of Nepal cannot talk to his Indian counterpart directly. He has to go through endless channels starting with the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu to arrange for an appropriate time to talk over phone. It is strange that this should be the case between two countries that have historically shared such close and extensive ties. Why can’t there be a hotline over which the Nepali prime minister can directly talk to the Indian prime minister on important issues? Wouldn’t the Indian political leadership prefer to hear about the ground realities in Nepal from the horse’s mouth? Given the disastrous role played by these meddling middlemen after the promulgation of the new constitution on September 20th—resulting in the blockade of our borders and the consequent increase in anti-India sentiments in Nepal—we hope that establishing such direct contact is among the issues discussed during KP Sharma Oli’s upcoming state visit to India starting February 19.

According to sources, Prime Minister Oli during his visit will ask India to honor its US 1 billion commitment for post-quake recovery and explore new avenues of economic cooperation. These too are important issues, no doubt. But the major focus of Oli’s India visit has to be rebuilding trust between the political leaderships of the two countries. In our view, this can happen only when there is firm commitment from India that it will in the future let Nepali actors settle their issues; that New Delhi won’t again, under any circumstances, resort to crude tactics like economic blockade. This does not mean Kathmandu should ignore New Delhi’s genuine concerns, for instance over the possible spillover of instability in Tarai-Madhesh or the prospect of terrorists using Nepal as a safe haven to harm India. What the Nepali political establishment should rather try to do is take the Indians into confidence that Nepalis are more than capable of ensuring that Indian interests in Nepal are not harmed.

But we are in no doubt that after imposing over four months of unrelenting hardship on Nepali people, the onus is on India to rebuild bilateral ties. As a rising power, not just in Asia but in the entire world, India has a lot to offer its small and landlocked neighbor. The areas of Indian investments in Nepal are potentially endless. But the question again is: Is India first ready to treat Nepal as a sovereign and independent country, rather than trying to dictate terms like a big brother? We are delighted with the recent turn of events as the last bone of contention between the two countries—continued obstruction at Raxaul-Birjung—now seems to have been cleared. We hope that in the future India won’t allow its territories to be used against Nepal. Confidence in India is so low in Nepal right now it will take more than token gestures from India for it to regain lost trust.

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