White paper needed on SPP – Editorial

The politics is heated in the past few days due to the State Partnership Program (SPP) of America. Facts and lies alike regarding the SPP have come to the fore.

Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka’s comments about the SPP in the House, the US Embassy’s briefing to journalists, the statement issued by the Nepal Army (NA) and speeches by politicians in accordance with their interests have created confusions instead of clarifying about SPP.

The US Embassy invited journalists and stated that no draft of SPP agreement has been submitted to the Government of Nepal. It also claimed that Nepal had applied to participate in SPP in 2015 and 2017, and the application was approved in 2019.

The then Nepal Army (NA) Chief Rajendra Chhetri had applied for partnership on both the occasions and the NA had copied both the applications to the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry of Nepal, according to the US Embassy.

The NA issued a statement Wednesday evening claiming that no agreement or understanding has been signed about the SPP. “The Nepal Army has not signed any agreement or understanding about the SPP with the US Army or government, and there is no process toward signing such agreement,” the NA statement says. “The Nepal Army is always clear about the objective fact about not doing military partnership in the future with anyone in a way that can adversely affect the non-aligned foreign policy adopted by Nepal and Nepal’s special geopolitical location and strategic sensitivities.”

The NA statement has mentioned that no agreement or understanding has been signed about the SPP but it has not spoken about the claims of the US Embassy that it had first applied for participation in 2015 and then again in 2017.

No agreement needs to be signed to participate in the SPP going by what the US Embassy says. Interested countries apply for participation and America accepts the application.

The Government of Nepal should now inform the House about all the facts related to SPP issuing a white paper. The issue will continue to create suspicions otherwise. It will become an issue for political one-upmanship and allegations and counter-allegations.

The NA must have copies of the applications submitted by the then NA Chief Chhetri in 2015 and 2017. The US Embassy’s claims that both the applications were also copied to the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry of Nepal hint that the two ministries also have copies of the applications. The letter that Chhetri had sent in 2015 when KP Sharma Oli was prime minister (PM) has been made public Thursday.

But the letter said to have been sent in 2017 has yet to be made public and what exactly was written in that letter has yet to be known. America has said that it allowed Nepal to join the SPP in 2019 on the basis of these two applications.

The Government of Nepal should seek answers from America if the intention of those two letters was not to become part of the SPP and ask for removal of Nepal’s name from its website.

The government and the NA cannot be irresponsible and just say that they have not signed any agreement when America has listed Nepal as a member country of the SPP.

What may actually have happened is the NA asked for help from the US Army in disaster management after the Gorkha Earthquake in 2015. It may have applied for the SPP after the US Army likely responded that such assistance can be provided after receiving application for the SPP. The NA may again have applied in 2017 for similar assistance.

We don’t believe that the NA or the government led by any politician will knowingly decide to enter a long-term military partnership with America. Nobody seems to be in a state to definitively say about all the aspects related to the SPP today. Politicians, be those inside the government or in the opposition, seem more confused. They, however, are resorting to allegations and counter-allegations against each other even in this confusion. They are spending the time they should invest on understanding the issue and unearth the facts in making allegations.

CPN-UML—which has been the loudest in raising questions about the SPP both inside the House and outside to try to show that it is the only nationalist party, and create doubts about patriotism of others—is in an awkward position after it has been revealed that the first application for participation in the SPP was sent when the party led the government.

CPN (Maoist Center) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal seems to be in haste to allege that Oli made the deal as he led the government when America accepted Nepal’s application in 2019.

This nature of our politicians to resort to inflammatory allegations and counter-allegations on sensitive national issues instead of displaying appropriate gravity and sensitivity is not new. The allegations that politicians knowingly or unknowingly have levelled against each other since 1951 about nationalism and foreign policy have made Nepal weak in the eyes of foreigners the most. Leaders and parties are unfortunately repeating the same irresponsibility and rhetoric even on the issue of SPP.

We believe the politicians who try to depict only themselves as nationalists and always attack on patriotism and integrity of others, and publicly slander others calling them brokers are fake nationalists.

The need of the hour is to find out truth and facts about the SPP, make them public and conclude the issue forging national unity. The SPP is not merely a program for the US Army to assist other countries in issues including disaster management as claimed by the US Embassy and Foreign Minister Khadka in the House. Those things are also part of the SPP but the SPP is more than that.

An article about the main objectives of the SPP by a former chief of the American National Guard that cooperates with armies of different countries clarifies how broad the SPP’s scope is and what its main objectives are.

This definitely does not mean that the NA should not establish any relations with the US Army. The NA has relations with the armies of India, China, US and other countries for years. The NA participates in joint exercises with the Indian and Chinese armies every year. It also holds joint drills with the US Army.

The US Army has been providing training to the NA on disaster management, search and rescue, counter-terrorism and other areas. NA officials go to American war colleges and other organizations for studies and training on a regular basis. This practice had been continuing even before Nepal applied for the SPP.

What necessitated Nepal’s application for the SPP in recent years? How can we be assured that this application incorporates only these areas of cooperation between the NA and the US Army? Who will give the assurance?

Nepal cannot, and must not, enter the wide spectrum of partnership between the two armies under the SPP. On the one hand, we have our geopolitical sensitivity, and we have our constitutional commitment and responsibility toward non-aligned foreign policy on the other. If we follow the simple formula of aligning with all world powers on matters of economy and development while remaining non-aligned on strategic matters, it will not only help us achieve economic gains but also protect us from strategic tensions and risks.

Are the common people expecting too much from the political parties if they want all political parties to consign their past invectives against each other to history and stand together. If not, let us first make public all the facts related to the SPP through a white paper in the sovereign parliament. After that, let all the major political parties reach an agreement on how to resolve the issue of SPP.

Let the series of abusing and doubting each other on the issue of nationalism and foreign policy be stopped. Let us make Nepal a mature country that does not harm anyone, strongly stand for her interests, participates with everyone economically but remain strategically non-aligned in the eyes of our neighbors and friendly countries.

Are the politicians ready for that?

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