Warming ties

A series of important decisions taken during Nepalese Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s visit to India are expected to reshape and strengthen relations between the two countries. Most important of these decisions is the need to review the 1950 India-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty. This treaty, which provides for extensive consultation and collaboration between the two countries on foreign and defence affairs, among other things, is seen by sections in Nepal as circumscribing that country’s sovereignty. Calls for scrapping this treaty have grown in Nepal in recent years. India too has been considering reviewing this pact, especially after it revised a similar treaty with Bhutan. Reviewing the treaty in a way which will put the Indo-Nepal relationship on a more equal footing and will go a long way in removing an issue that has the potential of stirring deep anti-India sentiments in Nepal. An unequal treaty between two neighbours is an obstacle to meaningful interaction and India must act to remove this long-standing hurdle in Indo-Nepal relations.

During Prime Minister Nepal’s visit, the two countries also initialled a revised trade agreement that will allow Nepalese goods duty-free access to India. This is expected to double bilateral trade in the next few years. Agreement on the issue of reciprocity of re-export facility continues to be elusive with India remaining apprehensive that Nepal will become a transit point for export of Chinese goods to India. New Delhi has done well to allow landlocked Nepal use of the Visakhapatnam and Kolkata ports.

Unlike his predecessor, Maoist leader Pushpa Kumar Dahal ‘Prachanda’, who visited China first rather than India soon after becoming prime pinister, Nepal made India his first port of call. This was interpreted in Delhi as a correction of the tilt toward China that marked Prachanda’s short stint at the helm. However, how long Nepal’s fragile coalition government will hold together remains to be seen. The persisting political instability and uncertainty in Nepal is worrying. India has made several grave errors in the positions it has taken on developments in Nepal in recent years. It must tread carefully in the coming weeks and avoid being seen to be propping up any leader, faction or party.

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