Nepal is failing on multiple fronts. What can be the way out?

We should first be able to discern neighbors’ core interests and maneuver our binding compulsions while managing our internal problems.

Suresh Sharma

  • Read Time 5 min.

Deeper underneath, concerns about whether Nepal could be heading towards a unique nature of political turbulence are prevalent. The growing distrust among people in the political system, the plunging national economy and various bad governance issues, constitutional anomalies, governance malfunctions and, above all, the desires for change add to these. Even though emerging political magnates try to reassure by speaking about the nation’s vastness of rich natural resources and capacities, peoples’ unique bond and unity due to rich philosophical and diverse cultural history, the people of Nepal have begun to lose hope that their desired aspirations will ever be met.

Challenges galore

Honesty, integrity, and loyalty are grossly lacking among many government officials and political leaders. Not a single day passes without news on corruption and misappropriations of state coffers, abuse of power and authority, and lack of accountability. The high-handedness of public officials has an edge over service seekers or entrepreneurs, or business tycoons and perpetrators evade offenses as they form critical ‘leviers’ to political parties. The Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International consistently ranks Nepal on the top list but state organs fail to curb such ‘national irritations’. Many corruption scams do come to the surface but fade away quickly. The gross mistrust of people against the political parties and judiciary is growing every day. As a result of this, national and international bodies are disconnected. These are not good signs for the stability and peace of the country.  

Over many other political issues, both internal and external, a gross partisan mentality among people is emerging. The balance of payment situation has slim hope of possible economic recovery. Every government’s plans and programs are found null and void. Crisis due to climate change, agricultural shortfalls and food security situations, demographic changes, unemployment, and recession are colossal.

I recall reading Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson’s book Why Nations Fail. The writers have not missed delving into some nations’ misery despite their ‘written political system’ but with ‘inefficient leaders’. They highlight the right policies, especially the judicious use of funds in national developments. It is ironic why Nepal’s ‘competitive leaders’ failed to constructively materialize the state and foreign assistance funds in achieving developmental goals. The answer is simple: Their sincerity and loyalty to the nation was nil as long as the ‘setting in corruption’ would make them fat.

The intellectual Kathmanduites have begun to ponder the cause of the state disarray and interact on the fault lines. Some scholars are found to be in a debate for amendments or major ‘rewriting’ of the present constitution to amend the existing electoral system as a prescription to all problems. No one knows when the next debate among Nepali intellectuals will begin in chalking out the ‘exit strategy’ and what would be its consequential fallout. Security experts may assess how their exit strategy mitigates ‘public disorder avalanche’.

Tightrope of geo-politics

India has emerged as a regional power and has specific interests in Nepal. India wants to remain engaged in Nepal politically, socio- economically, religiously, culturally and voices security concerns centrally. The harnessing of water resources, trade, and regulation of sub- regional supply chains are key areas. India wants to validate its position as a net security provider of South Asia. India’s strategic objectives in BIMSTEC are Indo-centric. 

We may recall now, a few years ago one of our Prime Ministers had voiced ‘there is common understanding between India and Nepal with major international affairs’. India’s Ministry of External Affairs writes: India’s core interest in Nepal is a united Nepal’s peace and stability which has a bearing on India as well because of the long and open border shared between India and Nepal. This document further states that around 6,00,000 Indians are living/domiciled in Nepal. These include businessmen and traders who have been living in Nepal for a long time, professionals (doctors, engineers, IT personnel) and laborers (including seasonal/migratory in the construction sector). “An Indian Citizens’ Association (ICA) of Nepal was formed on 14 September 1990. ICA is the only association of resident Indian citizens in Nepal with branches at Pokhara, Damak and Bhairahawa, and provides a platform for discussion on matters pertaining to the legitimate interest of resident Indians in Nepal and works for the protection of such interests,” says the document. Notably, most of the business houses belong to those people. 

Some eminent scholars have gone to the extent of advocating that Nepal must not take assistance from China that is against India’s interest. It will be much harder for Nepali politicians to approve such ‘interest”. Some Indian scholars view that the increased influence of the US in Nepal helps reinforce India’s political footprints and safeguard against China. The activities of the US and the EU appear to be dubious at times. Indian scholar Nihar Nayak writes that such external engagements have prompted Nepal’s two neighboring countries, India and China, to rethink and recalibrate their foreign policies towards a ‘New Nepal’ (Strategic Analysis; Jan2009, Vol. 33 Issue 1, p41-53, 13p). Many foreign powers had shown real interest in Nepali politics and interfered directly or indirectly in possible areas of cooperation (Nayak).

India’s denial to buy renewable energy from Nepal wherever China’s involvement is attached to its production is a case in point. For that reason, hydropower generation cooperation and other diverse cooperation in water resources has become a distinct phenomenon over these years in the Indo-Nepal bilateral agenda. India believes in regional connectivity and trade but ironically will not welcome neighbor’s trade imports easily.

India’s eye on Nepal’s key resources is not new. The northern belt of India faces water scarcity due to climate change, if not the energy crisis in the years to come. In the future, we may fall much inside the Indian interest loop in harnessing Nepal’s water resources.

Honesty, integrity, and loyalty seem to be grossly lacking among many government officials and political leaders. Not a single day passes without news on corruption and misappropriations of state coffers, abuse of power and authority, and lack of accountability.

Various other unhindered foreign maneuvers to impede China’s influence over Kathmandu can be predicted. China has also been worried about Nepal being used by external powers to challenge its strategic interests. China would not allow this to happen with her diplomatic tact.

Way forward

No one knows what will be the far-reaching impacts of all these on Nepal as Nepal drags further into the aforementioned uncertainties—especially on political and economic fronts. I guess Nepal’s federal structure, revolutionized political culture, and ‘futuristic’ economy all will have already entered a ‘closed end impasse’ where bulks of issues clog the vista. All we require is either to extract those or push through them. For this, we should first, be able to discern neighbors’ core interests and maneuver our binding compulsions while managing our internal problems. In solving our problems, any unwarranted foreign competition over us would put us in tight ropes.  Our foreign engagements in diverse political and diplomatic sects should be exemplarily sound in the new geo-political paradigm.  On top of all, the people of Nepal must have a clear unity of thoughts in choosing a ‘new way’ to first to navigate, at least, and then to ascertain stable politics and economy.

Suresh Sharma is retired Brigadier General of Nepal Army.