Analysts: India’s Resumption of Arms to Nepal Not Due to China

NEW DELHI – India’s plan to resume military assistance to Nepal, suspended after the Feb. 1 "royal coup" has nothing to do with China’s offer of support to the regime of King Gyanendra, beleaguered by a nine-year Maoist insurgency, say security experts.

“India and China are no longer competing in Nepal or elsewhere,” C.V. Ranganathan, who served as India’s ambassador in Beijing from 1987 to 1991, told IPS in an interview.

Ranganathan who is currently on the executive committee of the independent, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) said that not competing with India for influence in the neighborhood has in fact been a “feature of Chinese policy for some years now and is not likely to recur in the near future.”

Meeting on the sidelines of the Asian-African summit in Jakarta on Saturday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had apparently told the Nepali ruler that the resumption of arms supplies would continue drawing sharp reactions back home, including strong criticisms from close allies of the ruling Congress party.

Most importantly, India’s two main communist parties that provide critical outside support to the minority, Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition issued warnings against “resuming arms supplies to a despotic king who suppresses the elementary democratic rights of the people.”

“The UPA government must realize that the appreciation and goodwill it earned with its firm stand in defense of democracy and popular government in Nepal will disappear and it will be held responsible for abetting the king’s authoritarianism,” the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said in a statement released on Sunday.

“India should refrain from doing anything that gives legitimacy to the present regime – already the pressure from India has shown results and if this continues there is a chance for the restoration of democracy in Nepal,” said A.B. Bardhan, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI).

But denial of arms to Nepal carries with it the danger of allowing the Maoists to overrun the country and there are signs that Pakistan or China would step in to provide Kathmandu weapons, if India failed to do so.

“A Maoist takeover of the capital Kathmandu is, of course unacceptable, and the worst case scenario,” said Ashok Metha, a retired Indian army major-general.

New Delhi’s extreme displeasure at the Feb. 1 takeover by the king and the sacking of the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba government prompted Singh to cancel his attendance at the annual summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) scheduled in Dhaka on Feb. 6.

Since then, India has been playing it cautiously and despite its almost overwhelming influence over the “last Hindu kingdom in the world,” has preferred to coordinate action designed to get the regime in Kathmandu to speedily restore democracy with the help of Britain and the United States – Nepal’s major donor countries.

“It [the resumption of arms supplies] had to happen sooner than later,” Mehta told reporters. “We could not have kept the supplies blocked indefinitely; having undertaken to modernize the Royal Nepalese Army we could not back out.”

Without a doubt, Nepal is probably the deadliest conflict in Asia, with an estimated 10 killings a day. So far over 11,000 Nepalis have died in the insurgency that began in 1996, with the Maoists showing no reluctance in backing down from their battle to set up a kingless communist republic in the desperately poor country.

However, the geopolitics in this area is intricate, with Nepal surrounded by India, China, and Pakistan.

Nonetheless, India has been playing the diplomatic game adroitly with both China and Pakistan.

This month saw high-profile visits to New Delhi by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao followed by Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Both leaders indicated that they were prepared to put long-standing territorial issues with India on the back-burner and instead work for the development and prosperity of their respective people through cooperation with the Manmohan Singh government.

Immediately before Wen’s visit to India, Nepali groups-including including the Pravasi Nepali Sangh, Mool Prabha Akhil Bharat Nepali Ekta Samaj, and Nepali Jan Sampark Samiti – submitted a joint memorandum to the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu expressing concern over reports that Beijing planned to provide military and logistical support for the king.

“We are concerned about reports on the extension of full diplomatic support by China to the unconstitutional move of the king [to seize power in a coup],” the joint-memorandum said.

The memorandum also urged Beijing to “support the democratic aspirations of the people of Nepal for sustained cordial and friendly relations between the peoples of the two countries and not to recognize the royal government.”

But Wen’s extremely cordial visit left little room for doubt that Beijing intended to interfere in Nepal, and this has given India a chance to deal with the king on its terms.

“It is important that the king has been told [by Manmohan Singh] what is expected of him,” said Ranganathan.

Indian television channel NDTV24x7 managed to interview Gyanendra in Jakarta at the sidelines of the Asia-Africa summit.

“We have agreed on certain things and we have got assurances that they [military supplies] will continue,” the king told the TV channel, after his meeting with Manmohan Singh and Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh.

Harsh realities remain. India is obliged to supply arms to Nepal under a 1965 treaty and also it has open borders with the Himalayan kingdom, which has allowed at least 10 million Nepalese to cross over to India and take up employment and residence in this country.

Analysts like Raghavan and his colleague at the IPCS, Dipankar Banerjee, a retired army general, believe that India is caught between a rock and a hard place on Nepal and would naturally be encouraged by any sign from Gyanendra that he was prepared to restore multiparty democracy in his kingdom.

Said Suhas Chakma, director of New Delhi-based Asian Center for Human Rights, “India’s greatest fear is having a failed state in its neighborhood, and it is in India’s interest to intervene in a constructive way.”

India also faces a Maoist insurgency in several of its own states, especially in southern Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and in eastern Orissa, Jharkhand, and Bihar. But New Delhi prefers to regard this as development issue and has refrained from unleashing its army on extreme left-wing groups.

“In the absence of a democratic, multiparty alternative in Nepal, a Maoist takeover is likely and this is not something that the international community including India will like,” said Ravi Nair, director of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center.