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Nepal's Security Policy and South Asian Regionalism

Author(s): Lok Raj Baral


Source: Asian Survey, Vol. 26, No. 11 (Nov., 1986), pp. 1207-1219
Published by: University of California Press
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2644316
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NEPAL'S SECURITY POLICY AND
SOUTH ASIAN REGIONALISM

____________ Lok Raj Baral

There is no unified regional security policy in South


Asia. Nor do common perceptions of external threats bind together the
countries of the region. In the given context, the South Asian states do not
seem to be working toward a common strategy. In 1949-50, India had
sought to build a security community when it formulated a Southern
Himalayas policy that brought Bhutan, Nepal, and Sikkim under its secur-
ity umbrella. This was accomplished by concluding bilateral treaties with
these three Himalayan monarchies that abut the Chinese (Tibet) borders.
In fact, the new leaders of independent India were renewing an old British-
Indian policy, prompted by the People's Republic of China's presence in
Tibet in 1949 and an interest in insulating South Asia from Chinese com-
munist influence.
In succeeding years, however, even this miniature security system suf-
fered a setback when one of its components, Nepal-with whom the
Treaty of Peace and Friendship was concluded with India in 1950-devel-
oped its own security perspective on its contiguous border with China.
Nepali rulers were quick to comprehend the changed geopolitical universe
in which its big and radical neighbor to the north was now included. Ne-
pal not only deftly pursued its China policy in the 1950s but also suc-
ceeded in expanding and extending its relations with as many countries of
the world as possible. While Sikkim has been integrated into the Indian
Union (to the dismay of many of India's neighbors), Bhutan alone is for-
mally and practically tied to the Indian security system despite Bhutanese
aspirations for more independent foreign and defense policies. In 1979, for
instance, the King of Bhutan explicitly demanded the revision of Bhutan's
treaty with India. Many Indian leaders rebutted the King, some of them
quite aggressively, maintaining that a small country like Bhutan was bully-

Lok Raj Baral is Professor and Chairman of the Political Science


Subject Committee, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal.

? 1986 by The Regents of the University of California

1207

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1208 ASIAN SURVEY, VOL. XXVI, NO. 11, NOVEMBER 1986

ing India. Since no such rumblings were heard following the Congress
party victories in the 1980 and 1984 elections, it can be assumed that India
and Bhutan are satisfied with their treaty arrangement.
The Nepali case is different because Nepal has been able to diversify its
policy, notwithstanding the retention of the 1950 treaty. Judging by Ne-
pal's extensive external relations, and the fact that it has its own security
policy vis-A-vis China, its treaty obligations are in essence confined to the
letter rather than to the spirit of the treaty. In this article I will concen-
trate on this theme so that we can understand the nuances and practice of
Nepal's security policy. Why doesn't Nepal perceive a major external
threat from China? How can two such close neighbors, India and Nepal,
differ on vital security issues?

Security Through Policy Diversification


Nepalis in general feel that their country's security lies not in security trea-
ties or pacts, but in the improvement of general politico-economic condi-
tions supported by a good foreign policy. Nepal's relationship with China
has added both symbol and substance to Nepal's security. This has be-
come possible partly because of geographical and topographical features,
which keep the two countries at a considerable distance, and partly be-
cause of Indian miscalculations, for India opposed the burgeoning rela-
tions between Nepal and China following India's recognition of the
Chinese position in Tibet in 1954. Consequently, Nepal's political depen-
dence on India decreased, allowing it to be more flexible in handling its
foreign policy. However, because it is landlocked and has no substantial
economic and day-to-day contacts with China, Nepal is always closer to
India than China. More important, Nepal cannot play the big power card
in South Asia, nor can it risk its independence by becoming a surrogate of
any outside state. In the 1950s and 1960s, its maneuverability was high
because of Sino-Indian differences over their border conflict. At that time,
Nepal's awareness of its geostrategic limitations was evident. Indeed,
Nepali maneuverability is always relative to the Chinese and Indian power
equation. In the 1950s and 1960s, Indian performance in the economic
and military fields was less credible for its neighbors, whose security was to
be insured by India. In the 1970s, India could gain credibility in the eyes
of its neighbors, but this enhanced status has made them more conscious
of maintaining a balanced policy between China and India. This strategy
fits well into their nonaligned policies.
In viewing the security perspective of Nepal, three broad strategies seem
to be important: (1) a political balance between Nepal and its two immedi-
ate neighbors; (2) an adherence to the principles of the United Nations and

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LOK RAJ BARAL 1209

nonalignment; and (3) an effective use of its extraregional links. These


three strategies are primarily state-centric and have nothing to do with a
regional cooperative strategy or a "system-centered" strategy.' In addi-
tion, there are other important factors related to national security.

Political Balance
India and China are the real guarantors of Nepali security. This crucial
aspect can be neither underplayed nor wished away. Since Nepal has gone
ahead with the policy of diversification, it cannot be aligned with either
neighbor, despite its extensive relations with India. Sometimes Nepali
power elites become overly preoccupied with the China factor, reassuring
China, more often than not, that the parameters of Nepal's foreign policy,
which were set by King Prithvi Narayan Shah following the unification of
Nepal in 1768, remain the same. He had said that Nepal should not be too
close to any neighbor. This policy was concerned with maintaining "re-
gional balance" and hence did not encompass the role of a small country in
contemporary international politics.
In 1961, China and Nepal agreed to construct a 104-kilometer road
from Kathmandu to Kodari on the China-Nepal border, with Nepal pay-
ing no attention to the Indian criticism that the Himalayas were the natu-
ral security barrier to outside forces. King Mahendra not only snapped at
domestic critics and India but also ridiculed those who interpreted the
road as a conduit for prospective Chinese activities in South Asia. Strate-
gically, the road, which was completed in 1967, could in fact provide ac-
cess for the Chinese. And this road is a plus factor in China's strategic
considerations vis-A-vis India. This geostrategic change is still unaccept-
able to Indian policy makers, who stick to the old security doctrine enunci-
ated by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India.
The 1950 Indo-Nepal treaty is a part of that doctrine, and today it is as
lively an issue in Indo-Nepal relations as it was in the 1950s. Surprisingly,
however, policy makers in both India and Nepal are wary of presenting
their own security scenarios, with India emphasizing the continued Chi-
nese threat to the countries that border it, and Nepal rejecting such a

1 Many scholars maintain that knowledge of nonstate actors is unimportant to under-


standing and explaining world political behavior, so they rely heavily on "state," which is the
central theme of their studies. For an introduction to the concept of the state-centric model,
see Richard W. Mansback, Yale H. Ferguson, and Donald E. Lampert, The Web of World
Politics: Non-State Actors in the Global System (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall,
1976), p. 25. See also Phillip Taylor, Nonstate Actors in International Politics: From Transre-
gional to Substate Organizations (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1984), p. 4.

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1210 ASIAN SURVEY, VOL. XXVI, NO. 11, NOVEMBER 1986

threat. Observers noted that one could see that "changes occurred much
more rapidly than either the Indians or Nepalis expected."2
India's political leverage in Nepal was also challenged by the new forces
unleashed by Nepal's 1950 revolution.3 A good many political groupings
with different ideological and extraneous orientations came to openly ques-
tion India's policy toward the Himalayan kingdom. These forces not only
created problems for the continuation of the old security arrangement as
contrived by New Delhi, but also assailed India for its alleged interference
in Nepal's internal affairs. Since many of these forces were ignored by
India while it was negotiating with the Rana family government in Kath-
mandu to establish democratic rule in Nepal, the Nepali Congress, which
spearheaded the anti-Rana 1950 revolution, and India were the obvious
targets of their attack. Even the hard-core revolutionaries represented by
the Nepali Congress party subsequently became critics of the Indian role
in Nepal. As a consequence, the objective of the revolution-the establish-
ment of full-fledged democracy-became as elusive as before the revolu-
tion. New Delhi, for its part, gave short shrift to the institutionalization of
democratic gains when its influence was at a peak. Thus one finds that all
of the participants in the 1950 revolution-the King, the democratic par-
ties, and India-showed general unconcern about promoting democracy in
accordance with the spirit of the revolution.
On the diplomatic front, however, domestic political uncertainty did not
distract Nepal from developing relations with other countries. In 1955
Nepal's foreign policy initiative gained momentum with the formalization
of its relationship with China. Its China policy was significant in two im-
portant respects: first, it considerably reduced India's political influence in
Nepal's domestic and foreign policies; and second, it created an awareness
in Nepal that it should not go too far in exploiting the differences between
China and India because such an expedient policy might backfire if there
was a "slight error of judgment." Yet King Mahendra, who ascended the
throne in 1955, was adroit at turning the external situation to his advan-
tage and he consolidated his power by means of a political order he cre-

2. See Leo E. Rose, Nepal: Strategy for Survival (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1971), p. 187.
3. India played a "middle-way" policy between the Rana rulers, the King, and the Nepali
Congress in order to introduce democracy in Nepal. The armed insurrection that was
launched by the Congress was suddenly stopped, despite their resolve to fight to the finish.
Other groups were not included in the negotiations and hence were dissatisfied. For details,
see Bhuwan Lal Joshi and Leo E. Rose, Democratic Innovations in Nepal. A Case Study of
Political Acculturation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966); Anirudha Gupta,
Politics In Nepal (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1964); Lok Raj Baral, Oppositional Politics in
Nepal (New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1977), Chap. II.

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LOK RAJ BARAL 1211

ated. In the opinion of one Indian analyst, "Nepal's regional balance of


power had three dominant features: (1) the extension and maintenance of
friendship based on mutual respect and goodwill with every one of the
neighbors; (2) the exploitation of regional differences-between the neigh-
bors-to further self-interest; and (3) the declared stand of neutrality in
the disputes between neighbors."4
King Mahendra's action of dissolving the elected government in 1960
without caring about the hostile Indian reaction was an indication of how
Nepal's China card could produce results. Though the royal move was
controversial within the country, dividing the people into supporting and
opposing camps, this linkage between domestic and foreign policy was to
have a long-term effect on Nepali politics. In the early 1960s, the China
factor became active when China helped the beleaguered royal regime re-
sist Indian government pressures to come to terms with the dissident
Nepali Congress emigres. The Chinese foreign minister warned that "in
case any foreign army makes a foolhardy attempt to attack Nepal . . .
China will side with the Nepalese people."5 Thus for the first time China
came out openly against India on behalf of Nepal and became an interven-
ing variable in the working of Nepal's domestic political equilibrium.
Later developments showed that such Chinese gestures were more impor-
tant than the actual content of Chinese actions.
This situation was altered during the Bangladesh liberation movement
in 1971, necessitating increased circumspection of the rather overly depen-
dent Nepal. Nepali power elites were realistic enough to see the changing
political landscape: India was going to emerge as the power in South Asia.
India's determined bid to create Bangladesh in the face of Chinese support
for Pakistan led Nepal to change its policy toward the problem of East
Pakistan. In the beginning, Nepal considered it an internal affair of Paki-
stan, a position very similar to the positions of the U.S. and China. Never-
theless, knowing that a new republic (Bangladesh) was inevitable in
Nepal's neighborhood, and acknowledging India's rise as a preponderant
power in South Asia after the breakup of Pakistan, Nepal's volte face was
understandable. In a dramatic manner, Nepal did not join other U.N.
members to call upon India for an immediate ceasefire along the Indo-
Pakistan borders. Justifying Nepal's last hour decision to abstain from the
U.N. General Assembly voting, Nepal's Permanent Representative to the

4. S. D. Muni, Foreign Policy of Nepal (Delhi: National Publishing House, 1978), p. 98.
5. New China News Agency, October 6, 1962. For further details, see Satish Kumar, "Ne-
pal and China," The Indian Journal of Political Science (Delhi), Vol. 24, 1963, pp. 79-93;
Ramakant, "Nepal's Foreign Policy and China," India Quarterly (Delhi), Vol. 27, 1971, p.
210.

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1212 ASIAN SURVEY, VOL. XXVI, NO. 11, NOVEMBER 1986

U.N. said that his country, surrounded by bigger and more powerful
neighbors, was "incapable either of defending itself alone from external
attack or of imposing her will on others by means of the use or threat of
force. "6
Two considerations seemed to influence this decision. First, the domes-
tic political opposition, enamored by the Bangladesh developments, was
apparently trying to mount an anti-system movement. To the extent that
their support was becoming spontaneous and unanimous, with the excep-
tion of a tiny pro-Beijing Communist faction, the government's position on
the issue was becoming unpopular. The opposition leaders also warned
the King that Nepal would have to deal with a new republic whose friend-
ship and cooperation was necessary for Nepal's much desired "third coun-
try" trade. Since Indian port and transit facilities were inadequate for
such overseas trade, Bangladesh was the obvious choice for trade diversifi-
cation in the future. Second, the late King Mahendra seemed to have un-
derstood the requirements of maneuverability in foreign policy.
Particularly pertinent was the unfolding geopolitical situation in which
Chinese influence was to a great extent matched by India's refurbished
status and power. In the past, the Nepali King had been successful in
counterbalancing China and India at the government-to-government level.
He was now equally clever in containing his domestic political oppositions
at the people-to-people level. All in all, Nepali security perceptions were
once again shaped by the emergent situation in South Asia.
China, despite its overt and covert hostility toward India, could not pre-
vent Nepal from adjusting its policy in favor of Bangladesh. Nepal is
therefore always alert not to be dragged into any kind of recurring regional
conflict between China and India. On the contrary, these conflictual issues
are to be judged on the basis of their possible effects on Nepal's security. If
India's present power potential attenuates, leaving the balance in favor of
China, Nepali power elites would have to adjust accordingly. But if India
continues to consolidate its dominant position in South Asia, Nepali policy
toward its two neighbors would be characterized by modesty and neutral-
ity. It is also interesting to note that, despite Nepali assertiveness in its
India policy in the past decades, Indo-Nepali traditional ties (including the
formally retained security treaty) continue.

6. GAOR, Session 26, Provisional Verbatim Records, December 7, 1971, p. 111. It has been
learned from an authoritative source that King Mahendra made a !ast hour decision to in-
struct the Permanent Representative to abstain from voting, keeping in view the eventual
emergence of Bangladesh as well as the threat posed by his opponents at home. See Baral,
Oppositional Politics In Nepal, pp. 185-191.

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LOK RAJ BARAL 1213

Peace Zone: A Nepal-Specific Doctrine


About 70 countries including the United States, Great Britain, France, and
China have endorsed King Birendra's eleven-year-old proposal that Nepal
be declared a Zone of Peace, which he first declared on February 25, 1975,
when addressing the royal guests then visiting Nepal to attend his corona-
tion. In King Birendra's view, the Zone of Peace was needed for Nepal's
security, independence, and development. Although no clarification or
elaboration on the peace plan was forthcoming, except for rhetorical state-
ments glorifying the royal plan, it became a top agenda item in Nepal's
foreign policy. Every opportunity, formal and informal, was used to drum
up support for this incipient scheme. India was loath to this plan and did
not join the four South Asian states-Bangladesh, Maldives, Pakistan, and
Sri Lanka-that endorsed it; Bhutan followed the Indian line.
For several years after its declaration, Indian leaders evaded the peace
zone idea, which, as King Birendra said, "was not prompted out of fear or
threat from any quarter." The Indian position was nonetheless negative,
since the proposal was seen to hold grave implications for India's security
structure.7 Most interpretations seemed to point to the China factor,
which India could hardly ignore. India's skepticism about the peace zone
was apparently aroused by the promptness with which its two adversa-
ries-China and Pakistan-endorsed the idea soon after it was declared.
This apprehension still dominates India's view on this issue.
The latest Indian position on Nepal's peace zone proposal is neither to
endorse it nor to reject it since Indian government leaders, including Prime
Minister Rajiv Gandhi, have, as usual, reiterated that they are still study-
ing the implications of Nepal's peace zone for India's security. Mean-
while, a new Indian interpretation has been added following the Nepali
decision to include the peace zone proposal in the Constitution of Nepal
(1980), thereby making it one of the objectives of the foreign policy of the
Panchayat System. Such a constitutional provision, as the Indian argu-
ments go, is now an internal affair of Nepal and hence Indian reservations
are justified.
Some obligations associated with the peace zone concept that were ad-
ded seven years after it was announced are being criticized by the domestic

7. A change of governments in New Delhi did not result in any fundamental difference in
policy toward the peace zone. Both the Congress (Indira) government and the Janata govern-
ment, which came to power in 1977 following the defeat of the Congress, were identical in
interpreting Nepal's peace zone proposal. Both maintained that "peace in parts" could not
be relevant to the South Asian region unless the entire region including the Indian Ocean area
was declared a zone of peace.

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1214 ASIAN SURVEY, VOL. XXVI, NO. 11, NOVEMBER 1986

opposition.8 Article (5) in particular lays down that "no states endorsing
the peace zone should permit any hostile activity on their soil." In reci-
procity, Nepal would also do the same, prohibiting such activities against
states supporting Nepal as a peace zone. Nepali dissidents, ranging from
extreme leftists to moderate democrats, oppose this clause on the grounds
that it amounts to restricting anti-regime political activities that they
might conduct from their sanctuary in India. Still further, since India has
always been a refuge for them, it would be disastrous if New Delhi were to
accept this obligation. From a practical point of view also, India, accord-
ing to their arguments, cannot provide any guarantee that could be applied
given the open borders between Nepal and India and the extensive con-
tacts between the two peoples. As one Indian observer states: "A firm
national consensus in its favor [peace zone] within Nepal rather than seek
external endorsement is essential. If such consensus is achieved, the King
may not even need this proposal."9 Since India has its own powerful lobby
within Nepal, its influence on any future Indian decision is likely to be
significant.
What other considerations make India apprehensive of this idea? The
answer is centered on the 1950 treaty that binds, if not functionally, the
two neighbors together. Interpretations as to the erosion of this treaty
were advanced immediately after the royal declaration. Many were unani-
mous in their concern over the possible impacts of the peace zone on the
security treaty if India were to accept it.
But I have a different perspective on this issue. Judging by the spirit of
the peace plan, and even if India endorses it, the geographical constraints
on Nepal remain the same. Nepali power elites seem to be guided more by
the symbol than the substance of national security and independence. The
situation provides Nepal with limited scope for insulating itself from devel-
opments immediately adjacent to India. This constraint can be well
summed up by the behavior of the pro-Chinese Nepali communists who,
along with pro-Indian elements, oppose the peace zone proposal. In fact,
they could have gladly supported it just like many of them supported King
Mahendra's India policy in the 1960s because it aims at "independence,"
"security," and "development," a euphemism for a more equidistant pol-

8. In 1982, Nepali Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa officially declared a seven-point
list of obligations for countries supporting the peace zone proposal.
9. S. D. Muni, "Nepal as a Zone of Peace," Strategic Analysis (New Delhi), 7:10, January
1984, p. 972. A former Nepali diplomat, Yadu Nath Khanal, also points out that Nepal's
feeling of insecurity lies not in the external situation, but in internal conditions. See Yadu
Nath Khanal, "Nepal's Foreign Policy: Some Reflections," The Realm (Kathmandu), 1:3,
1984, p. 20.

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LOK RAJ BARAL 1215

icy between India and China. Contrary to other arguments for an


this proposal, Nepali authorities still feel that the symbol is also si
in projecting Nepal's independence. How it is going to reduce the depen-
dency ratio is another matter.
India ignored Nepal's peace plan for several years. However, in 1983
the late Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, casually remarked it was not
"clear as to which country posed a threat to Nepal's security."10 Nepal,
on the other hand, has been taking pains to assure India that the peace
zone idea would not undercut Indian security interests. Instead, Nepal
would honor "all existing treaties which it has concluded with other coun-
tries as long as they remain valid." Apparently, the special security ar-
rangement between India and Nepal is not to be disturbed, but the
underlying spirit of the Zone of Peace plan does undermine the Indo-
Nepali treaty. Viewed from this perspective, Nepali policy seems to be
contradictory (at least in formal-legal terms) since the policy makers want
to continue the existing treaty relationship with India but at the same time
are preoccupied with preserving national independence through a peace
zone strategy.
What is lacking in Nepal's initiative is that it could have sounded out
India for a modification of the security treaty, which is very old and con-
trary to the spirit of Nepal's nonaligned foreign policy, and then have
asked for a joint declaration by India and China supporting the peace zone
plan. Nepal's peace zone proposal becomes real only when the two neigh-
bors, China and India, work as guarantors. It does not mean that Nepal
can reduce its extensive relations with India. Its only purpose is to demon-
strate that any kind of special security arrangement between Nepal and
either of its two neighbors is counterproductive if one of them harbors
mistrust toward Nepal. Nepal's peace zone scheme accepts the balance of
power as its key to security, and therefore needs a new idiom and justifica-
tion. Nepali power elites might think that this strategy accords Nepal free-
dom to maneuver. This thinking can be contested on the basis of its
geopolitical reality, and India's overwhelming leverage on Nepal. Unless
India accepts Nepal's peace plan, its relevance to Nepali security is ques-
tionable.11 President Ronald Reagan took note of this situation in 1983

10. Rising Nepal, February 12, 1983.


11. In contrast to this view, a Nepali commentator is of the opinion that Nepal's peace
zone proposal does not require Indian recognition because of its endorsement by both a
global power, the U.S., and a regional power, China, along with more than seventy other
nations. Such a recognition has favored the Nepali proposal despite Indian reservations. It is
also said that the environment surrounding the country (Nepal) is not as hostile as the situa-
tion facing the Southeast Asian nations. Second, since India is committed both politically
and economically to cooperating with Nepal, the Indian reservations do not make much dif-

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1216 ASIAN SURVEY, VOL. XXVI, NO. 11, NOVEMBER 1986

and added that "Nepal should work closely with her neighbors to make
the peace zone proposal a reality."12 The U.S. endorsement itself came
eight years after the announcement of the plan because by doing this, the
U.S. made no commitment to the "Indian Ocean as a zone of peace" plan
to which the littoral states are theoretically committed.
The U.S. has reservations about the latter plan since it would be disad-
vantageous to its naval mobility, particularly at a time when the superpow-
ers are in competition in Southwest Asia. The U.S. is hardly likely to
abandon its Diego Garcia base in the Indian Ocean. So by endorsing Ne-
pal as a zone of peace, the U.S. was simply affirming Nepal's nonaligned
policy as well as obliging King Birendra, whose commitment to the peace
zone proposal is strong. Despite the great importance attached to the
American acceptance, however, Nepal's security future is not bound up
with that of the U.S. or other powers-except China and India.
From the regional perspective, Nepal's peace zone proposal could be
accepted if the countries of the region reach a consensus on signing an
intraregional security doctrine, building on the emerging South Asian As-
sociation for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) structure. Such an intra-
regional security relationship not only frees India and Pakistan from their
traditional threat perceptions but also helps promote a feeling of regional
community. Second, a similar nonaggression pact or a treaty of peace,
friendship, and cooperation between India and China would significantly
affect Indian security perceptions of China. These two approaches appear
as difficult propositions in view of the triangular conflicts between India,
Pakistan, and China. Yet perceptible positive trends are also underway in
Indo-Pakistan and Sino-Indian relations. India and Pakistan have been
able to continue their dialogues in spite of the highly inflammable political
environments in both the countries. To the extent that they are becoming
vulnerable to both external and internal divisive forces, they have no other
alternatives but to come closer. Their deteriorating internal political situa-
tions may prompt them to mend their fences so that their fragile domestic
political balances might not be exploited by either of them.
An improvement in the Sino-Indian relationship and their shared poli-
cies toward Nepal can be a milestone for Nepal's security policy. How
China is going to behave in the future is therefore crucial for Nepal. In
fact, too much attention is given to Indo-Nepali relations insofar as their
security aspects are concerned. China, by contrast, is considered a reliable
friend in Nepali policy-making circles. Since it does not figure in day-to-

ference. See Sridhar K. Khatri, "The Concept of Peace In International Relations: An Im-
pressionistic Account" (paper presented at a seminar in Kathmandu on July 7, 1986).
12. Rising Nepal, December 9, 1983.

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LOK RAJ BARAL 1217

day mundane affairs as India does, its behavior does not attract the imme-
diate attention of the Nepalis. Its "impeccable" relationship is thus com-
pared with India, whose extensive relations with Nepal are always
characterized by cooperation and conflict. But Nepal can no longer be
supine without caring about the actual motivations of neighbors. Is China
interested in exploiting the Indo-Nepal differences as it did in the 1960s, or
is it now serious in promoting both bilateral and regional understanding
between India and its neighbors?
But if the SAARC approach gains momentum, the China factor is likely
to be relegated to the South Asian backwaters. Conversely, if Sino-Indian
friendship improves, Indian policy toward its neighbors might undergo a
change. Beijing's positive reaction to SAARC and Chinese acceptance of
India as a "fairly advanced developing country which is playing an in-
creasingly important economic and technical role in the development of
Third World countries" can be taken as positive developments for South
Asia.13 On the contrary, if the South Asian states are tempted to exploit
Sino-Indian differences, their efforts at regional cooperation would be fu-
tile.

Regional Context of Security


The regional aspects of Nepal's security are basically centered on the eco-
nomic aid doled out by its friends and international financial institutions.
Nepali official circles attach much value to the Nepal-U.S. relationship
however symbolic it might be. In fact, U.S. policy in South Asia is per-
ceived by Kathmandu as encouraging to the smaller states who are making
efforts for greater interdependence between India and themselves. This
perception has been beneficial to the United States. Most South Asian
states (except India and Bhutan) are closer to the U.S. than to the Soviet
Union.
All smaller states including Pakistan are anxious to enhance their secur-
ity through their extraregional options. This is even clearer since the So-
viet intervention in Afghanistan, which they viewed with great concern
and which prompted them to be more assertive and vocal in condemning
the Soviet Union on this issue. Nepal has apparently followed a low-key
policy toward the Soviet Union since the 1970s. Although the intensified
Soviet activities in Nepal are often reported and discussed, it is still prema-
ture to jump to the conclusion that the Soviet Union can fan troubles in a
country whose political forces and establishmentarian elites are hostile to
its role. The two principal neighbors-India and China-are also not

13. Ibid.

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1218 ASIAN SURVEY, VOL. XXVI, NO. 11, NOVEMBER 1986

favorable to the Soviets. The Chinese have their own strategic interests,
while India cannot become a conduit for the Soviets in view of its own
national and regional considerations. Were India to allow the Soviets to
expand their activities in Nepal, India's own security would be in jeopardy.
Moreover, this situation is out of context inasmuch as it would imply the
collapse of the Indian security structure. Thus, since both India and
China are concerned about Soviet penetration into the area, both might be
able to develop a similar security scenario exclusively related to the area
south of the Himalayas. Under the circumstances, both can be benefactors
if they move toward Sino-Indian entente. Nepal's external maneuverabil-
ity would probably be circumscribed because a small country's flexibility
in foreign policy is generally greater if its neighbors follow contradictory
policies. But all this depends upon the future relationship between China
and India. China's Pakistan policy, particularly on nuclear collaboration,
will have a great bearing on Sino-Indian relations and on the prospective
course of SAARC.
The emerging trend in Indo-U.S. relations is also an important factor in
regional cooperation in South Asia. India is, in effect, intimately and in-
creasingly connected to the U.S. for a number of reasons, among which is
the wide ranging interaction at the popular level. It is believed that as
many as half a million Indians are in the United States. Since both states
are democracies, and since most educated intellectuals have Western ori-
entations and contacts, the chances of India being converted into a Soviet
surrogate are remote. Nevertheless, strategic perceptions and compulsions
can pull the U.S. and India apart. If India is hard pressed because of the
endless Indo-Pakistan and Sino-Indian conflicts, aided and abetted by the
U.S. strategic connections with both these adversaries of India, the scope
for improvement in Indo-U.S. relations is limited. Moreover, the Soviet
Union is a proximate power, and whatever it does in West Asia has its
impact on the regional balance of power. The regional states on their side
should pursue a correct policy toward the superpowers and should avoid
strong denunciatory statements provoking them.

Conclusion
Nepali security policy hinges on three areas: a modest and correct Indo-
Nepal and Sino-Nepal relationship, internal cohesion, and the successful
handling of extraregional and regional policies for maximizing economic
benefits. Nepal's assertive foreign policy of the 1950s and 1960s has shown
its limits in the past decade or so and is highly unlikely to produce any
result. Even if Sino-Indian relations continue to be competitive, if not
characterized by intense hostility, Nepal has to deal with the two immedi-

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LOK RAJ BARAL 1219

ate neighbors with great restraint and dexterity. A relationship marked by


civility may enhance the prospects of national security better than a policy
of expediency. Moreover, Nepal should also be careful that no external
forces play active roles on its domestic front. If Nepali power elites be-
come too enthusiastic about averting domestic crises through their exter-
nal policies without giving any consideration to their roots, the external
forces may be inclined to capitalize on the situation in their own favor.
Nepal's security relations with India do not remain the same no matter
what India perceives or does. India's dogmatic approach to the bilateral
relationship is not followed by Nepal. Since India has accepted Nepal's
friendly relationship with China even though Kathmandu and New Delhi
had concluded the 1950 treaty directed against the Chinese, its insistence
on continuing the old formal arrangement is only intriguing for Nepal.
India's de facto leverage on Nepal continues as long as geography dic-
tates the relationship pattern, and in no significant way jeopardizes the
security interests of India. Because China has already become a significant
factor in Nepal's foreign security policy, India's unchanged policy toward
the 1950 treaty does not have much meaning. Unless the two traditional
neighbors-India and Nepal-who have so much in common can assess
their relationship in their entirety and with equanimity, their perceptual
differences will persist. Furthermore, Nepal's security cannot be separated
from its internal situation. Faced by the dilemma of modernization and
change, Nepal's performance, in certain crucial areas, particularly eco-
nomic, are not as promising as many political elites tend to plead. Their
remedies lie more in internal determination and commitment rather than
in external strategies. What is more pertinent here is that Nepal has to
cope with the spillover effects of changes underway in both China and
India. Unless it is internally capable of managing crises, diplomacy as a
tool of statecraft can do very little to extricate the country from its deep-
rooted malaise. Above all, the security of a country like Nepal lies in the
hearts of the people, not entirely in foreign and security policies.

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