Nepali Times
Guest Column


While we were busy with our endless PM electioneering, an Indian journalist was paying attention to the Chinese decision to invest $200 million to upgrade a dry port in Gyirong, a Tibetan town not far from the central part of Nepal's northern border. Calling Nepal a basket case incapacitated by political infighting, this Times of India journalist chastised his own government for not paying attention to these huge opportunities in the north.

Nepalis are well aware of the rising economic prowess of China and India on the world stage, and we love to talk about our strategic location. But to translate our rhetoric into reality, we need to have a strategic vision, followed by a set of doable policies.

For such a vision, we need to make sure our regional politics are tied to our economic development strategies, and that we can promote interests that are mutually beneficial for all parties involved. To that end, Nepal needs to persuade its two neighbours to sign a tri-lateral agreement Ė Trans-Himalayan Economic Cooperative Agreement (THECA).

With rising economic trade between China and India to the tune of $60 billion per annum (more than Indian trade with SAARC countries combined), a peaceful trade corridor in the middle would be a welcome relief for the two aspiring superpowers. Numerous Indian banks are already operating in China; English-speaking Indian MBAs and engineers are penetrating Chinese markets in an unprecedented way. And the idea of a trans-Himalayan highway is not confined to romantic, visionary rhetoric, more than 80 per cent of goods in the US are transported over land after all. Such an arrangement will be a necessity within a decade or two for the two Asian giants.

Also, the Chinese decision to move south-westward through the Tibetan plateau is highly strategic. In addition to having an eye on the southern Asian market, China is interested in integrating Tibet and its vast western front, Xinjiang, with the east coast. In particular, the sparsely populated but resource-laden Tibet Autonomous Region, the size of the Western Europe landmass, can play a vital role in China's continuous economic drive.

China plans to build 100 dams on the Tibetan plateau. It has also built a network of 25,000km of highways in Tibet, a spectacular 4000km railway line linking Beijing to Lhasa, a 1,000km oil pipeline, and there's more to come. This infrastructural development in Tibet also holds strategic value for India.

So what should Nepal do? First, our politicians need to drop the China versus India rhetoric from their political vocabulary and begin a fresh dialogue to design a new strategic vision for Nepal. We already know of our potential in cash crops (coffee, spices, tea, herbs, biofuel), tourism, manpower, and the importance of our Himalayan water towers. By investing in fiber optics and IT parks equipped with water, electricity and tax breaks, we can also attract outsourcing ventures from India and China. The THECA doctrine should spell out these collaborative ventures. Our thousands of MBAs and IT engineers will find well paying jobs and will learn entrepreneurial skills from Indian and Chinese partners. Multi-lane highways and railway lines through the Himalayas could link the two economic giants. Our banking sector is already poised to be a regional financial capital, and our private colleges will be reinvigorated by linkages with educational institutions north and south of the border.

In return for these economic opportunities and infrastructure development in Nepal, and as an integral part of the THECA doctrine, Nepal should not hesitate to offer some peace of mind to China and India. Growing anti-China political activities in Nepal are cause for concern for Beijing. Peaceful demonstrations in some designated areas should be tolerable to the Chinese, whereas the Nepal government should also make sure that the monasteries in Nepal do not violate their spiritual sanctity by being centres of political activism.

Likewise, Nepal should assure India that its land and government apparatus will not be used to aid and incite Maoist unrest on Indian territory. A similar assurance will have to be extracted from the Indian side.

Of course, in order to get Nepal on track for economic prosperity, the Maoists must be completely assimilated into our political spectrum. Given the way things are going at present, this will require some more time. But while the politicians are distracted, the groundwork for the THECA doctrine should begin.

A longer version of this article appeared in

Good guys and bad guys, PUBLISHER'S NOTE
Patronising behaviour, PRASHANT JHA
A season to write, RABI THAPA
Changing inheritance laws, ARTHA BEED

1. suman
Given the 24/7 messy situation in the country, a three-country agreement will help reduce domestic tension also. But, the larger question is: will India see enough benefit (economic and geo-political) to welcome such a move?  Even bigger question, who in our political leadership will have guts (in a more sensible way) to propose such an idea...  It will be interesting to see how China and India will react to such a proposal. 

2. BB
King Gyanendra had already proposed this idea in 2005. Nepal as peaceful corridor between the two economic powerhouses could have come close to reality by now if Gyanendra had continued. For all his mistakes, King G had much more vision and potential than any of these louts promising "new Nepal" and all that crap!

3. BR
These things cannot be accomplished overnight.  China opening by Nixon was an important turning point for the US foreign policy, and Ronald Reagan challenged Gorvachav to tear down the Berlin wall.  Both actions became an integral part of US foreign policy regardless who controlled the White House.  Both moves by these anti-communist  republican presidents have helped the reshape the world.  The question for us is: will it help our economic standing?  Will it reduce game  playing in the country? Does it have a long-term implication for the well-being of Nepal?  At a minimum, it is worth the debate...

4. DG
Alok Bohora, why do you stay in Albuquerche and  not return to Nepal? We need visionaries like you.In the last 15 years if  we have achieved something good is a string of well educated , forward looking band of young men, but the tragedy is that we are loosing them for the benefit of the first world.
Our loss is their gain. Why the fools of Nepal promise them Dual Citizenship and then don't keep up their words. Nepalese living in India don't need it. So  initially Nepal can be selective and as a trial, make it available to select countries like USA, Canada, GB, France, Germany ,Scandinavia, Switzerland,Japan ,Australia, New Zealand only. In this way we can create a link for thenext three generation of Nepalese diasphora and  call upon their talent. At the same time we create a robust democratic Nepalese community pool. Even china has Overseas Chinese's representation in their people's congress.
We should make way for persons like Alokto join our bandwagon now. We are in short  supply in our leadership category.  Come Alokites come.   Farkahai farka Nepali, timi lai dakchha Himali.
 We senior citizens have lost our eye sights. But when these  mediocre snobs  are in the saddle , we feel it is good that we have lost our eye sights.
 What will be the future of a country that is loosing its educated and working man power? Only the old and childrens will be left now in the country. What is the use of parties that can not help in creating jobs and disposable income to the populace.

5. Rajan Kafle
A good vision, but won√Į¬Ņ¬Ĺt be realized until the next few decades. Not in our life time. As much as the urban India is developing, the economic divide within the country is almost as bad as it was ever before. Unless reciprocation of sorts is achieved all across India, their attitude towards us will remain the same. And we and our politicians are also never likely to change.
If I were Dr Bohora, I would focus on the little things we can change instead of chipping in big dreams.  Educated or not, living in or out, we need to change our mindset big time. As a Nepali, I need to change the way I think, the way I live, the way I treat others, the way I get things done, the way I define success, yada yada yada.

6. Ananda

The idea is good and valuable. If we forget about our present state of politico-social condition and assume that we can play some role for such tripartite agreement, we have even bigger questions to solve. Why would India and China use Nepali land/route for trade among them? Does the benefit offered by geographical proximity of Nepal offsets the possible risks (for example increased cost of trade due to issues related with additional costs of cross-border trade through Nepal)? Why would China and India care about having such tripartite agreement in the first place? Why would the Asian economic giants care about not-so-significant-economy (Nepal) who can not offer more than a billion dollar business from its customers? Isn't it easier and more logical to have Regional Trade Agreement (RTA) among China-India themselves instead of giving undue 'recognition' to a stagnant economy? 

Searching answers to these questions would be very important to have any significant progress on this discourse. The popular trend for responding to these questions have been focused on so called 'strategic position' of Nepal. But, in my view, this is cynicism. These days international business rests on different dimensions - not only political and strategic interests. The opening of new infrastructure in Tibet-Sikkim border region years ago proves that these economic giants wouldn't wait for Nepal. This also proves they don't need Nepal to do business among them. This case raises good enough question to the writer's arguments. It would have been better if Mr. Bohara could have answered these questions or tried to look the issue from the outsiders' perspective.

7. Sargam

The day Nepalese will assimilate and swallow the chunk that economics of a country is far more important than politics, Nepal will come out of her ashes as a phoenix to revive this country's importance as a performing entity in the Regional Trans-Himalayan Economy.

The author of this write-up is indulgent skimming off some of those possibilities without depth-in insights to give Nepal seemingly a vital role to play in the region of the Trans-Himalayan belt. But he is already one train behind the schedule. Many things have already transformed the region into a promising hub of international business transactions amongst the proponents of this area beginning with Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kirghistan, Uzbekistan, Xinjiang and Tibet of China, India, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos etc. Only Nepal is missing because of her involvement in the Maoists' shenanigan.

For starters, it is of vital importance to mention over here the fact that already China and India are way ahead to downplay the old enmity and to focus only on their mutual understanding and economic benefits to hype commercial aspects of the issue because politics is never a science of exactitude but of intricacies and fallout.. Whereas, economics is concrete and vibrant to invigorating a region of the world like Nepal where the protagonists of different factions are trying to shore up democracy to give birth to a more egalitarian society.

The keystones to all development need to resuscitating the rise of awareness and inspire change to be both inspirational and hands-on practical near the young hopefuls who shall come onto the future making of the region. For all that what political road map do we find at our disposal?

Case in point is envisaging to build the Trans-Himalayan Highways for by-road business transactions between India and China through Nepal in the middle as if it never existed already. First off there is the Karakorum Highway linking Pakistan territory to the west part of China such as Xinjiang. Then comes the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh Highway which northward extends toward the Tibetan plateau and prolongs southward way down to Manali in Himachal Pradesh by surpassing the pass of Rohtang la where a tunnel of about 8 km is already underway of realization since the month of June 2010.

In the eastern part of India as Arunanchal Pradesh has been the bone of contention between India and China not very many roadways could be constructed but one that prolongs from Shillong to Tejpur and beyond is already quite useful for the Indian government to meet the needs of the borderline patrolling of the military troops.

But most significantly, India has leveled up the dearth in the ancient silk road between Nathu la and Jalep la passes heading to Kalimpong in West Bengal. For now, trucks and trucks of exchanges between China and India are made through this highway which penetrates into the eastern part of Sikkim only one day journey to the borderlines from Kalimpong. The other highway bifurcate from Tiesta heading to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, and from Gangtok half a day drive to the Nathu la pass. The lorries drive all the way to Lhasa via Yatung. It is said that the ancient silk road between Amritsar and Lhasa via Leh will be established in time to come.

As far as Nepal is concerned, right from Raxaul in the Indian borderline, a Highway leading to Kathmandu is already available and as per the recent promise of the now government to renewing this Tribhuvan Highway by constructing a tunnel underneath the Shivalik Parbat linking Kathmandu via Dakchhinkali will take hardly 90 minutes from Kathmandu to the border-town Birganj when this famous project will be ended. And the Arniko Highway if the potholes were well repaired could be highly useful to drive up to Lhasa via Barabisse.

Evidently, it is Nepal which is missing not our neighbors of the south and the north. Because China is equally very busy with new projects on the northern slope of the Himalaya by constructing several dams on Brahmaputra river so as to deviate water to the north basin of China where industrialization has created lots of needs in the utility of water.

We should only hope that wouldn't create a conflict between China and India in the long run as the whole eastern part of India is dependent of Brahmaputra river which originates from Tibet, albeit Bangladesh and the lower basin of Assam are often hit by monsoon's water overflowing both Brahmaputra and Ganges.

8. DG
#7 Sargam 
Sorry, this existing road cannot be a link road between two giant countries like China and India. The High-way now being built between Airport and Bhadgoan is the only Highway to be calle3d highway. So one high-way like this one must be built soon if we are to take advantage of this opportunity before they build on another point.
 At yhis stage the government that exist now is a caricature only; it has not even been able to conduct VDC's election for the last decades, where no services have been delivered. Don't expect any new development  projects until a new constitution is promulgated and elected government comes into being, friends.

9. DG
Chinese are investing $200 millions in Kerung. Nepal announced ,she is acquiring 100 ropanis of land to build dry port in our side. This is mountainous land, but look at the sense of proportion and scale and dimensions we have. Our workings are symbolic,no proportion. We are used to see a picture of   BhudeGanesh,being carried by a small mouse. Plan big  if you are going  tango with a Chinese.
We have to straddle between two giants .
Young man think big.

10. Sargam
#9 DG,
 Duh, you are well short of the truth! Before peddling such complaints you should have verified about the recent advancement of works done by the national Army since the fast track Highway was inaugurated last year in November 2009, albeit Makune didn't take pain to participate in this august event initiated by the NC CA members.

Not long time ago THT had made a fine reportage on this said fast track road by giving some details with its long time consequences in economic development thanks to the coming new international hub airport at Nijgar which will be linked to Kathmandu with a shuttle.

The Finance Minister Pandey is giving priority to this project by allocating  2 billion Rupees right away so that the undertaken works wouldn't stop.

11. kamala
True that Nepal is trying its best to undertake some road building plans and development projects that are far overdue and are 50 years behind on our trajectory. There are good efforts nevertheless.  But, thinking big will require "can do approach" that many other countries are embarking on with much vigor.  We Nepalis generally tend to be either down on ourselves with usual India-fear phobia --India will not allow this and India will not allow that  or we are so small that our efforts are meaningless. We then dream of China coming and saving us.  Along the way, we also tend to pull eachother's leg.  One comes with a Singapore hallucination only to see it ridiculed by Jhingapur comedy.  We Nepalis love to live in these kinds of state of mind.  Pashupati save us all.  

12. Bimala
DG: I agree with you, and I like your can-do spirit. If we were to sit just on our behind and concede defeat to Indian colleges as the only source of excellent education in the region for our students, we would not be seeing hundreds of colleges (medical, management, engineering and a lot of others) in Nepal competing with them. I don't know if you know or not, Nepal is gaining ground to be a outsourcing destination in some digital technologies (web designing, some other multi media --animation).  Look at those highrises in the valley: it shows we can do it.  Then look at those high rises in the Gulf,; we can be a strong manpower pool too.  Being smart is important, but having a defeat mentality --India has already done this, and India already has that, they already have all that built here, built there --  we would be stuck in the pre-2007 rut... So what if someone has already made a move. Nations can come from behind, catch up, do better with some smartness and ingenuity, and sprint ahead.  Korea is an excellent example; they now have better broadband than the US.  Singapore has capured just about every maritime traffic in the region including from Japan.   Let the competition begin, and let the Nepali spirit rise to new 21st challenges.. .   I agree: "Think big baby, think big." 

13. DG
#10 Sargam

Fast Track will just be a dual carriage way.

Build a railway;

Or wait , no worry mate; we will lay railway  line over this track; and make it more useful.  Thirty minutes from international airport to Kathmandu Metro.

14. Sargam
#13 DG,
Why wait, hurry up buddy!

A shuttle as far as I know is a railway line or a plane service. While we are on it why not fabricate some flying saucers conceived by the topnotch engineers, the fresh products of Ms. Bimala's world class colleges?

Nothing prevents us from building castles in Spain while folks are plagued by the virus of Maoists' madness.

15. Bimala
No we don't have any world class colleges. But we are producing hundreds of graduates in medical sciences, engineering, and business.  That should be enough to get things going both at home and abroad.  About fabricating flying saucers, I think we should start with some robotics, and some select engineering colleges in Kathmandu are doing pretty good in that department too.   Some even have started running some solar powered cars on the streets of Kathmandu.  Oh, by the way, an Indian IT student went back home (1980 or so) with a computer  and started building Infosys "castle" with an investment of Rs10,000.  Now it is a multi-billion dollar industry that employs more than 100,000 employees in 30 countries.  So choice is ours: act like a tired and bitter government burnout bureaucrat who spends time looking for 100 excuses or opens the closed door and start to nurture a can-do attitude and even says: "think big baby, think big".  (I confess to #14 that the political visus plaguing our mindsets needs some serious anti-biotic.)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)