Geostrategic Location and its Implications for the Foreign Policy of Nepal – Telegraph Nepal

Professor Mohan P. Lohani
Former Ambassador to Bangladesh
And
Former President of Nepal Council of World Affairs

Kathmandu, Nepal

Abstract:

There is a consensus that Nepal’s foreign policy formulation and implementation has been significantly shaped, among others, by the country’s geostrategic location. Such location of the country was perceived, more than 2 centuries ago, by late King Prithvi Narayan Shah who unified different principalities into a single country and was recognized as the Founder of modern Nepal.

He used the yam between 2 boulders imagery to concretely illustrate the geostrategic location of Nepal situated between 2 neighbors China to the north and India to the south with diametrically opposite political and social systems. This imagery is valid even today.

The pursuit of a nonaligned foreign policy has enabled Nepal to maintain ‘balanced relations not only with two immediate neighbors but also with big powers and other countries of the world.

The paper argues that it is in the national interest of Nepal to maintain friendly, cooperative and balanced relations with its neighbors to benefit from their tremendous economic success and prosperity. It is equally important for Nepal to become sensitive to its neighbors ‘interests and aspirations and accommodate their legitimate concerns by tilting to neither side.

The paper, in conclusion, argues that in view of Nepal’s geostrategic location, Nepal’s interdependence between China and India is an irrefutable reality and the country’s foreign policy is dynamic as it is based on continuity and change Nepal would do well to adopt a pragmatic approach and play a proactive role in promoting its national interest in all forums-bilateral, regional and multilateral, for the well-being of the people.”

Key Words: Geostrategic location, Foreign Policy Formulation, Nonaligned foreign policy, yam between 2 boulders’ imagery, balanced relations, immediate neighbors China and India, pragmatic policy and proactive role.

Introduction:

Nepal’s unique geostrategic location, among others, has shaped and guided the country’s foreign policy formulation and implementation ever since the ‘yam between two boulders’ imagery was imaginatively conceived and pronounced by King Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of modern Nepal. He unified, more than two centuries ago, tiny principalities into a single geographical entity which proved to be a bulwark against foreign invasion.

Had late King Shah not succeeded in his unification campaign, several experts wonder whether Nepal, then confined within the boundaries of a small Gorkha Kingdom, could have survived the existential threat looming large on the horizon.

The basic parameters of Nepal’s foreign policy, namely, commitment to the UN Charter, principles of nonalignment; Panchasheel (Five principles of peaceful co-existence); world peace; and respect for international law have been consistently enunciated, irrespective of systemic change, in all constitutions, including the latest constitution of September 20, 2015, ever since the country liberated itself from century-old family rule of the Ranas in 1951.

It may be noted that the 2015 constitution was promulgated, for the first time, by the Constituent Assembly composed of over 600 people’s representatives.

From Isolationist to Non-Isolationist Policy:

Commenting on how Nepal moved from isolationist to non-isolationist foreign policy late Prof. Y. N Khanal, an eminent scholar and ambassador to India and China and the US, makes an insightful observation in his book Nepal’s Non-Isolationist Foreign Policy, an anthology of more than 100 articles and essays on various topics ranging from foreign policy to literature and arts: ‘During the Rana days Nepal was isolated from the current of world opinion. Parochial conservatism, distrust and doubt all these elements cast their weight on the foreign policy in the past.

The Revolution of 1951 marked a healthy reversal of this kind of foreign policy. Nepal started getting into the international world with open eyes and Nepal, which is situated between the People’s Republic of China and India, and which is determined to maintain as far as possible friendly relations with them has found that the policy of dynamic neutralism is the most appropriate one for her.

In Prof. Khanal’s opinion, instead of looking at everything from the point of view of the Cold War, the inclination to examine every question on its merit became more and more pronounced. In the United Nations, too, resolutions originated by neutral countries started winning acceptance more and more frequently.”

Nepal’s Nonaligned Foreign Policy:

While Nepal was admitted to the UN in December 1955, she became a founding member of the Movement for Nonalignment (NAM) in 1961.

The UN Charter became, for most part, a guiding principle for NAM to propound and uphold its principles safeguarding the right of each country to self-determination and independence, including economic and social rights.

Nepal has continued to play an active role not only in UN forums but also in all NAM summits at the highest political level. Each summit that lasted for 5 days covered the entire agenda discussed by the UN General Assembly at its 3-month regular annual session.

Nepal forcefully championed the cause of the least developed among developing countries (LDCs) and land-locked developing countries (LLDCs) at these summits.

It is argued that NAM has lost its relevance with the end of the Cold War in the eighties of the last century when the Warsaw Pact led by the then Soviet Union was dismantled followed by formal dissolution of the USSR in 1991.

Russian Federation that replaced the former Soviet Union was recognized instantly by all countries of the world, including Nepal and retained its seat in the UN Security Council as one of its permanent members.

Despite the non-existence of one of the two military blocs, NAM with more than 100 members has continued to justify its existence as an independent political force in international relations with a great deal of moral weight and influence on issues of global concern.

The pursuit of nonaligned foreign policy has enabled Nepal not only to balance its relations with its powerful neighbors but also to seek friendship with all and receive their generous assistance in development endeavors of the country.

It is true that the bipolar world has been replaced by a multipolar world diversifying power centers and confirming a paradigm shift in international relations.

Nepal as a nonaligned country has pursued an independent policy backed by a firm resolve to judge each international issue on its merit. Nepal persistently raised its voice in the UN for China’s rightful place in the world body. China which was finally admitted to the UN, including the Security Council as a permanent member has continued to appreciate Nepal’s support for its legitimate place in the United Nations. During the 1962 war between India and China, Nepal remained neutral, a position dictated by its geostrategic location.

Geostrategic Location and Nepal’s Foreign Policy:

Two thought provoking articles, one by Gopal Khanal, an expert on geopolitics, and the other by Surendra Singh Rawal, a foreign policy expert with military background, published in the Kantipur, a vernacular daily on January 11 this year provide us ample food for analysis and review of Nepal’s foreign policy from different perspectives but focused on Nepal’s unique geostrategic location.

Gopal Khanal, in his article “How long should Nepal get embroiled in unification debate?’ argues with reason that the unification campaign launched by Prithvinarayan Shah was aimed at preventing the British Empire which had already colonized the Indian sub-continent in our neighborhood from invading Nepal as a colonizer.

Dibyopadesh, according to Khanal, is significant in the sense that Prithvinarayan Shah prescribes two different approaches to the rulers of British India and China rulers and emphasizes the need for careful balance between the two neighbors enough to substantiate Nepal’s geo-strategic location.

Khanal further argues that the main issue is not so much how we understand PN Shah as how to facilitate Nepal’s emergence as a developed country by maintaining balanced’ relations with both neighbors.

In the emerging geo-political context, Nepal is required to formulate a policy designed to safeguard its sovereignty and protect its independence.

While Nepal’s geostrategic location between India and China remains unchanged, a major development in Nepal’s neighborhood in recent years and decades is the emergence of two powerful countries with their own strategic thinking in the region.

Khanal rightly states that Nepal’s relations with both China and India are governed by our permanent interests as a LDC and a LLDC. No foreign power can be allowed to minimize and underestimate our cherished national goals and interest. While cautioning our neighbors against any interference in our internal affairs, Nepal should encourage its two neighbors to invest, without any threat of insecurity, in our development projects.

The first priority before Nepal’s ruling coalition partners today is to evolve a national consensus and a common position on the agenda of national concern and interest. While building a national consensus, it is essential to win the confidence of the opposition.

Khanal concludes by saying that while PN Shah gave us geography and our national identity, the rest lies with our leaders to lead and develop the country in a coherent and coordinated manner.

An equally enlightening article in the same daily is Surendra Singh Rawal’s ‘Foreign Policy enmeshed in a yam between two boulders.’ Rawal begins his article by referring to Dibyopadesh in which P. N Shah calls for good relations with both emperors of China and India, but he cautions the people against the shrewd ruler of the South.

India became independent after the British left in 1947. While India continues to cooperate with Nepal in its development endeavors and this is gratefully acknowledged by the people and government of this country, the old imperial mindset of the Indian bureaucracy, however, remains unchanged.

This is evidenced by recent instances of Indian blockade, and its encroachment on Nepali territory. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing an election rally on December 30 last year stated that an all weather road from Tanakpur to Pithoragadh had been built and that there was a road extension up to Lipulekh which is Nepal’s territory.

Several opposition parties, including the ruling party Nepali Congress have reacted furiously against Indian encroachment without Nepal’s consent. The political parties have called for withdrawal of the Indian army deployed at Kalapani formany years and also urgent action on a new map released by the government of Nepal on Jestha 7, BS 2077 showing Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura in Nepali territory, Rawal opines that foreign relations are dynamic, not static.

Like Khanal, he, too emphasizes the need for Nepal’s balancing role or strategy between the two neighbor and moving ahead with cautious optimism. Rawal thinks that while Indian threat loom large, Chinese interference is not explicit.

Because of rivalry between India and China Nepal finds itself in an uncertain strategic situation.

It may be recalled that India and China enjoyed excellent relations in the fifties and both subscribed to the principles peaceful co-existence or Panchasheel endorsed at the historic Bandung Conference 1955.

China is, no doubt, a powerful rising nation in Asia. Precisely speaking, balance of power between India and China should be Nepal’s strategic goal.

Conclusions:

Judging from various opinions and comments on Nepal’s geostrategic location, most commentators would not prefer to see Nepal tilt to either side of its immediate neighbors Nepal’s interdependence between India and China is a geographical imperative and fact of life.

In this context, continuity and change in the conduct of foreign policy is pragmatic approach for Nepal.

She is also advised to play a proactive role in promoting her national interest in regional and international forums like the UN, SAARC and BIMSTEC.

While geography remains unchanged, attitudes, mindsets and perceptions change.

There is no denying the fact that late King P. N Shah’s strategic thinking relevant even today so far as his judgment on Nepal’s geostrategic location is concerned.

References:

Dahal, M. K. et. al (2008). Nepal: A Generic Guideline for Development through
Economic Diplomacy. Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA): Kathmandu.

Khanal, Y. N. (2000): Nepal’s Non-Isolationist Foreign Policy. Satyal Publication
Kathmandu.

Khanal, G. (2022). “How long should we get embroiled in unification debate?”. Kantipur Daily: Kathmandu.

Rawal, S. S. (2022). “Foreign Policy enmeshed in a yam between two builders
Kantipur Daily: Kathmandu.

Lohani, M. (2009). “China’s Foreign Policy: An Overview”, Friendship, Special Issue
to Commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Founding of People’s Republic of China. China Study Center: Kathmandu.

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Text courtesy: Annual Journal (2022) of Nepal Council of World Affairs (NCWA).
#Thanks the distinguished Professor Lohani and the NCWA: Ed. N. P. Upadhyaya.
Journal received through the kind courtesy of Buddhi Narayan Shrestha-the Vice President of the NCWA.
# our contact email address is: [email protected]

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