As most of Nepal’s recent foreign policy documents suggest, it’s in the country’s interest to diversify its relations and reap economic benefits from friends near and far. History has time and again shown that over-reliance on any of its two giant neighbors is fraught with danger. This is why Nepal in the late 1940s started reaching out to the US and European states. As a country precariously placed between two regional behemoths, it is a wise course. In this light, the recent announcement that Nepal was being ‘promoted’ from a ‘dialogue partner’ to an ‘observer’ in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)—the Eurasian grouping with now 10 members including Russia, China, India and Pakistan—is something to be celebrated.
Interestingly, Nepal expressed its interest in the organization way back in 2001 when Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala wanted to explore the import of petroleum products from Central Asia via China. This is not as dreamy as it sounds. Nepal and China are already discussing a cross-border electricity grid. A cross-border railway has also long been talked about. So why not a cross-border pipeline to bring Central Asian oil and gas? Alas, the geopolitical chessboard is seldom as simple to figure out. The SCO is basically a Russia-China construct to challenge the supremacy of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the post-World War II grouping of Western countries. In other words, the organization has a huge strategic component.
If so, should Nepal embrace one strategic grouping, the SCO, while it shuns another in the form of the American Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS)? With no official statement coming from the government, it is unclear what exactly we want to achieve through a bigger SCO role. Nepal, the current SAARC head, has been unable to play a meaningful role in bringing the moribund organization back to life. Shouldn’t the SAARC be higher on Nepal’s priority than the SCO? The question is not about the rightness or wrongness of joining the SCO. It is rather that those lobbying for Nepal’s greater participation in it haven’t thought it worthwhile to explain their logic. Perhaps they too don’t have a clue.