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Treaty-ing Nepal right must be India's first priority

By Aasha Khosa
May 08, 2008 03:05 IST
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As a Maoist-led government gets set to assume power in Nepal, Indian authorities are reconciled to overhauling the 58-year-old controversial India-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty, which has been blamed for anti-India sentiment in Nepal in recent years.
Shyam Saran, the prime minister's envoy and former ambassador to Nepal, recently said that the government was open to reviewing the treaty, which has been evoking criticism from nationalist forces in Nepal and was reviewed in 1997.
That time, the foreign secretary-level talks had remained inconclusive. "In some ways, the treaty is totally lopsided in favour of Nepal,'' said Saran.
Saran is the first senior government functionary to react to Maoist leader Prachanda's recent statement that his government would scrap the treaty. However, in view of the 1997 experience, officials in New Delhi say this is easier said than done.
New Delhi's view is that the treaty has "served an important purpose for 58 years and scrapping or reviewing it should not be a problem in the changed geo-political situation".
The treaty was signed against the background of Communist China's surge to annex smaller states like Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan at a time when India was grappling with food shortages and was not on good terms with Beijing.
The treaty, apart from defining security relations between India and Nepal, also governs bilateral trade. India had sought to secure itself from China through the treaty, which states, "neither government shall tolerate any threat to the security of the other by a foreign aggressor." It also obligates both sides "to inform each other of any serious friction or misunderstanding with any neighbouring state likely to cause any breach in the friendly relations subsisting between the two governments."
In lieu, India granted unfettered transit rights and preferential economic treatment to landlocked Nepal and provided the Nepalese in India the same economic and educational opportunities as its own citizens.
Today, the 8-10 million Nepalese living and working in India have become an intrinsic link between the two countries, says Paul Soren of the Observer Research Foundation, a Delhi-based think-tank.
Soren said that although the treaty opened India for the people of Nepal, it dented its pride. "The Nepalese felt discriminated against as they saw Indian businesses making huge investments in Nepal while they did not have the resources to do the same in India". They rationalised this as India exploiting Nepal, said Soren
However, Deb Mukherjee, a former envoy who saw the rise of the Maoists' rebellion during his tenure in Kathmandu in 2000-2001, said: "We should have no hesitation in either scrapping, amending or reviewing the treaty". Mukherjee said that India-Nepal relations were too deep-rooted to be held hostage to a single treaty.
K V Rajan, another former envoy to Kathmandu, said: "India should magnanimously offer to replace the treaty with a much more comprehensive treaty." He said the new arrangement should include new threat perceptions like climate change, human trafficking, terrorism, drug trafficking, food insecurity, etc, to boost Nepal's confidence.

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Aasha Khosa