Dr Nihar R Nayak : The current coalition in Kathmandu suits India’s interests
Dr Nihar R Nayak is a Research Fellow with Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi. His areas of expertise include political transitions in the eastern Himalayan region, non-traditional security, soft power diplomacy, left-wing extremism, and cooperative security in South Asia. Dr Nayak closely follows Nepal-India relations. Kamal Dev Bhattarai recently talked to Dr Nayak to gain insights into the current state of bilateral relations. Excerpts:
How do you assess the current state of Nepal-India relations?
Comparing it to the period of 2015-2016, there has been significant improvement in bilateral relations. Misunderstandings have substantially decreased, and bilateral mechanisms are functioning on schedule. Regular high-level political visits indicate that the bilateral relationship is in good shape. There has been good progress in energy cooperation with India addressing some concerns. While the overall relationship is in good shape, it remains complex, with certain pending issues yet to be addressed.
What are the pending issues that you are referring to?
The Nepali side has long been urging the update of the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty which is a major issue. Another issue is the submission of the EPG report, and border demarcation and map issues are also unresolved. The Boundary Working Group is yet to submit its report despite holding some meetings. The map row is yet to be resolved. A mechanism led by foreign secretaries was set up in 2014 to resolve border issues. But no dialogue has been taken so far under this format. There also are other issues such as air routes and trade and transit matters.
How do you view Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s relationship with New Delhi?
The current coalition aligns with India’s interests in the Himalayan region. India's experience with the previous government was not very comfortable as there were many misunderstandings with the CPN-UML-led government in Kathmandu. A non-controversial and friendly government in Kathmandu, like the current Maoist and NC coalition, somehow suits India's interests at this moment.
As a scholar, how do you see Dahal’s relationship with Beijing?
Regardless of who is the prime minister, Nepal must maintain a balanced relationship with Beijing and New Delhi. The foreign policy from King Mahendra's era in the 1960s is still continuing in Nepal. I do not see any deviation in that policy. India will engage with whoever comes to Baluwatar. Undertaking a bilateral visit to neighboring countries is a very regular issue. While analyzing the recent visit, I do not think it was a successful visit in terms of substance. Diplomatically, there was no major success though he spent seven days in China. Although the two sides had 13 agreements, there were no major agreements during the visits. There were no promises on BRI, no agreement on power trade, and no major understanding on infrastructure development. This suggests that Dahal is not very close to Beijing.
American assistance and engagement with Nepal has increased lately. How do you see it?
American policy in the Himalayan region seems somewhat at odds with building a strong partnership between India and the US. For example, the US has increased its annual aid to civil society in Nepal. Interestingly, the same civil society is critical of India's engagement with Kathmandu. This means, indirectly, the US funds are being utilized against India. I believe that American interests to some extent do not synchronize what India is trying to do in the region. I see there is a communication gap between the US and New Delhi in this matter.
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