Dahal’s immediate external challenges

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Dahal’s immediate external challenges

How Nepal deals with India, China, and the US, will be a key determinant of its success or failure in the coming years

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has won a vote of confidence from nearly every member in the 275-strong parliament. However dubious it may seem across the democratic world, Nepal now has a coalition government without any official opposition.

The newly appointed prime minister from the CPN (Maoist Center) is now all set to give a full shape to his government and get into the business of governing. A committee of the seven-party ruling coalition has already prepared a policy document or the common minimum program, outlining the government’s priorities for the next five years.

The document will serve as a blueprint to drive the country forward economically, socially and politically. It also includes the government’s foreign policy priorities.

How Nepal deals with the external world, more specifically with India, China, and the US, will be a key determinant of its success or failure in the coming years.

The common minimum program mentions the government’s foreign policy priorities in a vague way. It speaks about non-alignment approach and maintaining balanced ties, which offers no insight into how the government will go about finding the diplomatic equipoise. This issue begs clear articulation at a time when India, China and the US are trying to spread the scope of their influence in South Asia.

The three countries are expecting early decisions from the new government on some of their key agendas. India wants an early decision on its Agnipath scheme concerning recruitment of Nepali as well as Indian youths in its security forces for a certain period.

The previous government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba had put the issue on hold, stating that the new government would take a decision.

An Indian official said the plan cannot be delayed for an indefinite period.

The recruitment program by the Narendra Modi government has become a divisive topic in India as well as in Nepal, as it offers a military service period of only four years. There are concerns about the future of Agnipath retirees while some have even raised the alarm about dangers of letting military trained youths into civilian life, especially if they do not find other job opportunities.

If the Nepal government opts out of Agnipath, the official said the seats reserved for Nepali would be provided to Indian nationals.

With China, the new government needs to take the decision on whether or not to be part of Xi Jinping’s Global Security Initiative and Global Development Initiative. There are also the projects under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Foreign policy experts consider these initiatives as China’s way of building a new world order, an antidote to the US global dominance.

Chinese diplomats have already started to claim that Nepal is already part of these initiatives, even though the Nepal government has not taken any official decision.

As a country sharing a border with China and India, Nepal is of strategic interest not just to Beijing and New Delhi, but also Washington.

As China-US geopolitical rivalry peaks in South Asia, they are after building ally countries in the region.  Washington wants an environment conducive for the implementation of Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) projects, which has two components. The first one is the construction of a transmission line and another is an upgrade of road networks.

Beijing has already raised objections to Nepal signing the compact. Protests have erupted in Nuwakot and Dang, which has alarmed the Americans.

US Ambassador to Nepal Dean Thomson recently told the media that the implementation of MCC projects remains a key concern in America and they are concerned about the protests.

Besides ensuring successful implementation of the MCC projects, the Dahal government must also decide on America’s State Partnership Program, which too was put on hold by the previous administration.

It will be an enormous decision, with a potential to make Nepal a friend or a foe of Washington and Beijing.

In his previous tenure in 2016-2017, Dahal had sent special envoys—Bimalendra Nidhi and Krishna Bahadur Mahara—to New Delhi and Beijing—signaling that he wants to maintain a balanced relationship. But he eventually ended up angering New Delhi and Washington by signing up for the BRI and deciding to hold joint military drills with China.

With India, China and the US breathing down the neck to fulfill their strategic interests, it remains to be seen how the Dahal government will apply its policy of maintaining balanced ties. The common minimum program offers no clues.


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