There is a need to acknowledge that the geostrategic environment is altering not just in South Asia but the whole world. It is very important for Nepal and India to find what issues will be fundamental in shaping the age-old (long standing) and bold (self-possessed) relations for a better and preferable destiny of the two countries. Nepal and India have come to these geostrategic circumstances, which are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, with harmonies and discords. But the discords that these two countries have encountered reveal their commonalities, and they drive their relationship forward.
This is the first of three parts article that aims to find answers to political-diplomacy-security disciplines with three subject matters: geostrategic apprehensions, foreign policy and lastly security relationship.
The geostrategic apprehensions
In the international pitch, India aspires to lead the global south. This is evident in its influence in global political affairs, with a rising status and engagements with political-economic-security groupings like the QUAD, BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the G7, G20 and ASEAN.
The security architecture of South Asia with Indian perspective is shifting, forcing one to question the existing and imminent narratives and leave behind the past by taking lessons.
The Himalayas as the barrier and a geographic challenge is lessening. So immediate neighborhoods are more a constraint from the regional security point of view.
The South Asian security situation is deteriorating with resolute political and diplomatic support from great powers. The Indo-Pacific Region (IPR) is the center for global politics, and South Asia is significantly vital in the IPR with India standing prominently and promising.
There is a diplomatic maneuvering on the expansion of G7 to G10, and one of the member nations could be India. As G20 is not expected to be in action, G7 will play a crucial role on devising policies with the US, European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, advancing to the IPR with several geopolitical collaborative efforts like Build Back Better World for ecology, economy, infrastructure connectivity, or the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment—a collaborative effort by G7 to fund projects in developing nations based on the trust principles of the Blue Dot Network (BDN). The BDN is a multi-stakeholder initiative by the US, Japan and Australia for infrastructure development projects worldwide on measures of financial transparency, environmental sustainability and impact on economic development.
India’s rise in engagement has also expanded to West Asia, East Asia and Far-east Asia with Act East policy, Look Far East Policy etc. and does not only remain in the immediate neighborhood though “Neighborhood First” policy remains at the core for Nepal and India.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party’s centennial anniversary has sent a strong message that China will no longer be bullied, oppressed or subjugated by foreign countries, or the US-led Western countries. China is expanding cooperation in South Asia, shaping the region as a bridge to the Indian Ocean, an alternative for connectivity, resources management and national security.
The five states in the northern borders adjoining China along continental Himalayas and five nations (Myanmar, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan) along the Indian Ocean will continue to be of interest to the powers involved particularly China, India and the US.
One of the fundamentals of India and China relationship is “politics of space” with political interests, resources management and security leverages for stability, with economy as a priority as well as the shift in people’s perception.
On the bilateral front between Nepal and India, a 12-point agreement between the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists in New Delhi came into effect with the absence of an exit strategy in addition to the visualization of the upcoming geostrategic surroundings. This added to the mayhem in the relationship.
The alteration of the political system essentially convinced the democratic force like the Nepal Congress to accept the Nepal Communist Party Maoist’s agenda to adopt a federal secular republic without comprehending the real actors behind the scene.
Now, the Eminent Person Group report with suggestions to replace the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship and also regulate the open border, which is the foundation of a special relationship, is also threatening the ties.
As the region shifts from the 20th century to the 21st century the power’s political interests have transformed with economic growth as well as a geography that is more accessible than in the latter half of the 20th century. One phase passed with India’s independence ending the colonial period. The second phase was when India shaped a favorable South Asia security architecture during the 1970 to the 1990s, as well as when Communist China solidified the expanded territory particularly Tibet in the 1950s. The third phase was when India persuaded Nepal to adopt democracy, secularism and a federal republic order. The imminent phase will be defined by political-geography. China and India’s growing interests are not only in their peripheries but beyond. For China, it is the Indo-Pacific Region with multi-continental diplomatic engagements. For India, it is beyond its immediate neighborhood, be it Southeast Asia, East Asia, West Asia or the Persian Gulf.
The region is divided into two power blocks China and India. China has come as a major foreign policy challenge to India and the US-led West. The accessible Himalayas will revolve into further contest rather than act as a facilitator of peace.
In this circumstance, Nepal and India should move together for a better and preferable destiny in search for identity, inclusiveness and value-based democratic system.
India’s policy in South Asia is based on “Neighbourhood First” but Nepal and India relationship goes further, not just because of proximity, cultural and people-to- people connection. Successful strategy for foreign affairs should end and begin in the real world of international relations. And for Nepal and India, the understanding of the geopolitical shift can offer a win-win solution.
If successful, this relationship will influence other global actors and regional actors. It may even change the international environment in ways favorable to both Nepal and India’s interests.
To do so, Nepal and India must begin with an accurate mental picture of domestic, regional and international realties. They should have a sound understanding of the politics, economy and security aspects of foreign policy.
Part II will be on the foreign policy tight spot and a common effort to comprehend
The author is a Strategic Analyst, Major General (Retd) of the Nepali Army, and is associated with Rangsit University, Thailand