The Dialogue’s Founder Kazim Rizvi recently caught up with Mr. Sunil KC, Founder/CEO of Asian Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs (AIDIA), a Kathmandu based foreign policy think-tank, on the upcoming visit of Mr. Narendra Modi to Nepal.
Here are a few excerpts from the interview:
1. With PM Modi’s visit to Nepal within a month after Mr. Oli’s visit to India, do you think that the relations between the two countries are becoming better now?
High-level visits can positively contribute trust and confidence in bilateral relations by removing the existing underlying factors of tensions. PM Oli visit to India had certainly played the role in the process of resetting the Nepal-India relations, which were very low after the Indian economic blockade to Nepal in 2015 and that largely supported for increasing anti-Indian sentiment in Nepal. Though it looks that the relation is becoming better now, it would be pre-mature to conclude that the Nepal-India relations are in the position of complete normalcy. It remains to be seen how the bilateral engagement will take a concrete shape in foreseeable future.
2. What in your view prompted the frequent reciprocal visits in such a short span of time?
There are couples of factors contributing for stimulating these ongoing reciprocal visits between Nepal and India. First, Nepal is positively moving towards the political stability after the decades of tumultuous political environment with the resounding victory of left alliance. Domestic political environment of any country will play the huge role in bilateral and international engagement. The visit of Sushma Swaraj, External Affairs Minister of India to Nepal even before the formation of current government led by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli illustrates the importance of political stability in bilateral engagement.
Second, it seems India has also comprehended that there were the absence of mutual respect and sensitivity in its dealings with Nepal in the past – particularly 2015 economic embargo, which was imposed in the very critical time of extreme need of help when Nepal was suffering from the effect of a catastrophic earthquake. And, which act as impediments to smooth bilateral relations despite sharing very close multifaceted affairs in economy, culture, geography and politics.
Third, the enormous transformation taking place in the global stage also has forced both the countries revisit their bilateral affairs and to take the proactive steps to ensure the constructive engagement to preserve and promote each-others national interests.
3. What were the key outcomes of Mr. Oli’s visit to India and how do you think it helped improves Indo-Nepal ties?
In fact, PM Oli who rises with the popular agenda of nationalism had faced backlash from some commentators, leaders from opposition and even leaders from his coalition partner CPN Maoist Center stating after Oli made his first foreign trip to India. Nevertheless, Oli visit to India can be taken by New Delhi as a good gesture to bilateral relations and should reciprocate the same.
Reportedly, as stated by the government the various issues were discussed in one-to-one meeting including, the waning of widening trade deficit, revisiting Nepal-India trade treaty, border issues and managing yearly havoc created by the food in Terai among other. Oli said he conveyed Nepal concerns about new energy law of Indian and Nepal’s desire for non-discriminatory access of cross-border electricity trade in line with the Power Trade Agreement signed between the two in 2014. But, both the government seriously need to work out to shoe the tangible result.
Two agreements on connectivity Raxul-Kathmandu railways and inland waterways can be consider as the good step forward, even though it is necessary to study thorough assessment on financial and technical feasibility.
4. What are we expecting as key objectives and agendas of discussion of Mr. Modi’s visit to Nepal?
Narendra Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Nepal after 17 years with the landslide victory in 2014 election of India and the visit was well-heartedly welcomed and acknowledged from the Nepal’s parliament to the street. Now PM Modi is visiting third time in Nepal and first time after the relations hit a new low after the 2015 crisis. In this context, it is important for Modi to regain the image of his first visit and one of the key priorities should be on trust building.
Similarly, one of the most oft-repeated criticisms about India in Nepal is not completing the various economic projects promised in past like Pancheshwar multipurpose project, postal highways. There is the schedule of join inaugural ceremony of 900 MW Arun III hydropower project and Ramayan Circuit by two prime minister. But, merely the approach of cherry-picking will not serve for the healthy bilateral relations. It is also important to look at the progress, recently, Indian government handed over the Integrated Check Post of Birgunj, India side of ICP has been already completed, Jayanagar-Janakpur and Jogbani-Biratnagar is expected to complete within this year among other. In the other hand, Nepali side also need to facilitate the by omitting any hassles that can hinder the timely completion of the project. Regular, joint meeting of inter-governmental commission should be conducted in order to expedite the agreed project.
Managing the trade deficit, flood management, issues related to the resolving the effect of demonetization in Nepal, opening up the new opening of air routes via Mahendranagar, Janakpur, and Nepalgunj, and more importantly, shaping some concrete direction of for inland waterways and Raxul to Kathmandu railways connectivity likely to be on the agendas.
5. What could be the key areas for cooperation between India and Nepal post PM Modi’s visit?
The close observation of historical track record depicts that there is the frequent flip-flopped of ‘new height’ and ‘new low’ in Nepal-India relations. Last time, PM Modi conducted the especial Puja at Pashupatinath temple and during this visit going to offer puja at Janaki and Muktinath mandir resembles the very deep cultural bilateral linkages. With the strong government in both Nepal and India, it is the greatest opportunities to reset the relations in real terms. As Prime Minister Modi stated that his mantra of economic development ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ and vision of ‘Samriddha Nepal Sukhi Nepali’ of Oli are complementary to each other, now both the government need to focus on promoting mutually inclusive economic projects – that can bring the positive changes in the life of the peoples of both countries. And, engage constructively in various bilateral issues including boarder issues, 1950 Peace Treaty among other to the logical end.