Is the Millennium Challenge Cooperation compact a part of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy? American officials say it certainly is. Our government says it definitely is not. One of them has to be wrong—and it is our government. The grant giver gets to decide how to classify its money. The taker then has the choice of either accepting or rejecting the offer. The Nepal government has adopted a strange position. It cannot say it will accept the MCC, despite it being a part of the IPS, as the electricity and road projects under it are vital for our development.
It is instead saying that the grant givers themselves don’t know what they are talking about.It is also interesting how the MCC debate has been framed. Even the most ardent opponents of the MCC in the ruling party have no problem with the compact if the Americans clarify that it is not part of the IPS. What is wrong in this principled position? Isn’t it the Americans who have added to the confusion about the MCC by trying to retrospectively lump it under the IPS? The Nepal government says it will accept the MCC but not the IPS. But what if you can’t separate them?
Again, I am not qualified enough to work out the project’s economic benefits for Nepal. In fact, the cross-border transmission lines the $500m grant will help build might be in Nepal’s interest. All I want is for our government to stop fooling us. The NCP leaders in the government must be under tremendous US pressure to ratify the compact. Those of them outside the government are under less pressure and can voice their concerns—as they rightly have.
The American ambassador says if Nepal rejects the grant, it will go to some other country, and Nepal will lose out. If so, why is the US so insistent that Nepal accept the grant? Why not give it to another needy country and teach Nepal a lesson? But, no, the Americans are putting all kinds of pressure on the government to accept it. This only adds to the suspicion that the MCC, just like the IPS, has an ulterior motive. Yes, there is no mention of any IPS stuff in the MCC documents. But what if the Americans argue tomorrow that the MCC was approved by the Nepali parliament after it was declared a part of the IPS, and hence Nepal ipso facto accepts the IPS?
Either our government is so naïve that it has started believing in free lunches in international relations. Or it has been put under so much pressure it has become impossible to put off the MCC any longer. Whenever we get any assistance in cash or kind from abroad, be it from India, China, or the US, the first question to be asked is: Is it in our national interest? If the MCC is in our interest, why so blatantly lie to get it approved? If it is not, the near two-third Oli government, I am afraid, is a bit of a paper tiger unsuited to dealing with the new geopolitical challenges facing Nepal.