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Bangladesh & Sikkim: Nepal's Response

February 26, 2010

M. R. Josee, Senior Journalist
The Nepal Telegraph
February 25, 2010

Britain’s 1947 departure from India, new China’s
emergence in 1949, including her re-establishment
of authority in Tibet, have had national security
policy implications for Nepal -- and continues to do so.

Other regional developments, too, have had their
impact, particularly the creation of Bangladesh
and the merger with, or annexation of Sikkim, by India in the 1970s.

Before that, note must be taken of Nepal’s
establishment of diplomatic relations with
Pakistan in 1960 — a decision that was also
influenced by geo-strategic considerations,
including the imperative of broadening her
contacts beyond her immediate periphery.

Nepal’s policy of trade diversification, begun
with a trade treaty with Pakistan in 1962, can
thus be interpreted as an attempt to maximize her
security vis-à-vis powerful neighbors.

It had come in the wake of initial bilateral
contacts in 1952, under the auspices of the
consultative committee of the Colombo Plan, and
subsequently at Bandung. (Author)

It was inevitable that the ripple effects of the
1971 creation of Bangladesh from East Pakistan
through the active intervention of India should
have been felt beyond the region.

The carefully planned dismemberment of Pakistan
through the instrumentality of Indo-Soviet
collaboration formalized on August 9, 1971 via a
20-year friendship treaty that possessed all the
hallmarks of a security pact, was noted with deep
anxiety in Nepal, as elsewhere.

Though Nepal, faced with a fait accompli, had no
option other than to finally accept the reality
of Bangladesh, her public policy makers noted the
disturbing implications, national security-wise,
that Pakistan -- cultivated, among other reasons,
as a countervailing force against India --
underwent a sudden transformation: from a close to distant neighbor.

Its effect on Nepal’s national security policy
mindset would become dramatically manifest a few
years later, spurred by developments in the
neighboring kingdom of Sikkim. That happened in
less than two years’ time through a carefully
orchestrated anti-Chogval (ruler) movement in
1973-74 that led, ultimately, to Sikkim’s integration with India in 1975.

It is also clear that Nepal’s sense of
tranquility and security was rudely disturbed by
developments in Sri Lanka, particularly India’s
overt military intervention in 1987, following
the Indo-Lanka Accord of July after which the
rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE)
declared war against Indian forces deployed on
the Island. After suffering over 1,100
casualties, India’s military intervention was ended in 1989.

NEPAL’S RESPONSE

The elimination of Sikkim’s distinct personality
and the uprooting of a dynasty that could be
traced back at least from Pungshoq Namgyal’s
installation in 1642 (B.S.K Grover, Sikkim and
India"), set the stage for a fundamental re-think
of Nepal’s national security options.

Basically, it took the shape of the Zone of Peace
(ZOP) proposal unveiled in Kathmandu on February
25, 1975 by King Birendra at a farewell reception
for dignitaries who had gathered for his coronation.

Its rationale was projected elliptically by his
explaining that 'we are not prompted out of fear
or threat from any country or quarter… As heirs
to a country that has always lived in
independence, we wish to see that our freedom and
independence shall not be thwarted by the
changing flux of time -- when conciliation is
replaced by belligerency and war." (HM King
Birendra’s Peace Proposal for Nepal)

The very first reference to a Nepal-specific zone
of peace was in King Birendra’s address to the
Fifth NAM summit in Algiers on September 8, 1973,
thus: “Nepal situated between two of the world’s
most populous countries, wishes within her
frontiers to be enveloped in a zone of peace."
(The Rising Nepal, September 9, 1973)

It will be appropriate to recall that although by
the time of the Popular Movement of April 1990,
116 sovereign nations had extended Support to ZOP, India refused to do so.

Over the years, India’s mainstream media had made
it abundantly clear that India’s refusal to do so
was that endorsement would cancel her special
status in Nepal purportedly secured in the 1950
Nepal-India Treaty -- one that could not be
compared to Nepal’s ties with any country
including China, Nepal’s other immediate neighbor.

ZOP was formally cremated when the drafters of
the 1990 Constitution in their collective wisdom
threw out the ZOP baby along with the Panchayat
bathwater. A few years earlier ZOP had been
inscribed into the directive principles of the
Panchayat constitution through its third amendment.

Therein the following foreign policy objective
was enunciated: "to work towards making Nepal a
Zone of Peace by adopting the basic ideals of the
United Nations and the principles of nonalignment." (Author)

No authoritative answer has been provided to date
for thus killing a key national security policy
initiative. Most independent analysts believe
such a move was inspired by a desire to placate
India, which had lent powerful support, including
via its media, to toppling the panchayat order
and transforming the monarchy from a ruling to a reigning entity.

NATIONAL SECURITY GQALS/POLICY SIDELINED

In addition to ZOP’s rubbishing, the decade after
1990 witnessed the deliberate, neglect of national security goals and policies.

This writer has it on excellent authority that an
attempt soon after 1990 by a group of academics
to set up an independent institute to pursue
strategic studies from a Nepali perspective was
spiked by the Nepali Congress government
installed after general elections following the
drafting of the November 1990 Constitution. (Source who requested anonymity)

For long, "foreign policy issues were solely
decided by the prime minister, who held on to the
foreign affairs portfolio till the bitter end,
without virtually any debate in political
circles, or indeed, as can be made out, much
input from HMG’s ministry of foreign affairs." (Author)

It was in that environment of opacity that Prime
Minister Koirala, during his official visit to
India in December 1991, categorically told the
international media in New Delhi that "the
forcible expulsion of southern Bhutanese by the
Thimphu regime was a matter that fell wholly
within Bhutan’s domestic jurisdiction." (Author)

Whatever the reasons that prompted Koirala’s
truly egregious comment, it triggered an upsurge
in ethnic cleansing activities within Bhutan.
Thus, within year of that statement, the
Bhutanese refugee population in Nepal shot up to
about 100,000 from a figure of around 10,000 at
the time of Koirala’s India mission.

Thereafter, "Koirala’s government continued to
turn a blind eye to the problem until in 1993
when it finally agreed to seek bilateral talks
with the Thimphu regime. Completely disregarding
the fact that the problem clearly involved Nepal,
Bhutan and India, the country of first asylum or
transit, Koirala agreed that talks should be
bilateral, not trilateral, and, furthermore, that
they should be led by the two home ministers, not
foreign ministers. Meetings at foreign ministers’
level were to come much later. (Author)

Clearly, lacking transparency in the functioning
of the ministry of foreign affairs, led by the
prime minister, and sans a national debate on the
multi-faceted implications of the Bhutanese
refugee crisis, including on her national
security, this issue has lingered on unresolved
until today, despite about a score of rounds of
formal talks. Despite all that, not one Bhutanese
refugee has been repatriated to Bhutan, as of this writing.

What is perhaps its most disturbing aspect from
the point of view of Nepal’s national security is
India permitting -- some claim, assisting —
Bhutanese refugees to cross through at least 100
km. of Indian territory before entering Nepal,
but preventing them from returning home.

Another national security policy disaster was the
failure of a succession of post-1990 governments
to stem the flow of illegal migrants across the
open Nepal-India border and the inability, during
that period, to bring about effective control of
cross-border movement there, including by criminal elements.

The impact of cross-border terrorism on national
security is too obvious to merit any further elaboration here.

(The author is a senior journalist of Nepal)
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