19-25 August 2016 #822

Fancy footwork

Om Astha Rai

Diwakar Chettri

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has deployed his two deputies on twin errands to the north and south to forge equidistance between Nepal’s two big neighbours. But his diplomatic dealings are fraught with uncertainty, and could further strain Kathmandu’s relations with New Delhi and Beijing.

A day before Deputy PM and Finance Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara’s return from Beijing, Deputy PM and Home Minister Bimalendra Nidhi jetted off to New Delhi on Thursday. While Mahara was in Beijing to invite Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit Kathmandu, Nidhi is inviting Indian President Pranab Mukherjee to do the same.   

Dahal is only too aware — from his first tenure in 2008 — that playing India off against China comes at a political cost. This time, he is trying to be more careful, but foreign affairs experts say the strategy may be a liability.

“Dahal talks of equidistance, but he does not know what it actually means,” says Rajan Bhattarai of the Nepal-India Eminent Persons Group tasked with reviewing the 1950 treaty. “Maintaining equidistance is to manage the dynamics of ties with India and China, not increasing their influence in Nepal.”

Leaders in Dahal’s coalition partner, the Nepali Congress, are also critical of sending Mahara north and Nidhi south. Asks the NC’s Narayan Khadka: “Is it to show that the NC is closer to India and the Maoists are closer to China?”

Nidhi is indeed being seen to be doing New Delhi’s bidding, particularly after overtly backing an Indian company to build the Kathmandu-Tarai fast-track highway. Mahara, for his part, was caught in a telephone tap asking the Chinese for money to buy off CA members in 2010.  

Says Khadka: “Instead of sending an NC leader to India and a Maoist leader to China, he should have sent his Foreign Affairs Minister to the two countries. Dahal is trying to please New Delhi and Beijing, but he might end up irritating both.”

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