Nepali Times
Guest Column
Biggish brother


When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a pre-SAARC press conference in New Delhi that there were "failing states" in India's neighbourhood, he might have delved into India's role in facilitating their fragility.

Despite its supposed commitment to human rights, democracy and peace, New Delhi openly supports a despotic Bhutani regime and an oppressive Burmese military junta. Its bizarre intervention in Sri Lanka's civil war and role in Kashmir's protracted agony are just some further examples. The Indian
establishment's fetish for military approaches to maintain territorial integrity has harmed human security and human rights in South Asia and beyond.

Indian ministers have frequently said one thing about foreign policy and done something completely different. Moreover, they have played on and exacerbated Islamophobic prejudices among sections of the Indian public to suit their own agenda vis-?-vis Pakistan. Sadly, mainstream Indian civil society is largely uncritical of their government's claim to be driven by high moral standards, particularly in relations with neighbours.
Nepal's rulers bear the greatest responsibility for their country's problems, but ever since the asymmetric 1950 Treaty, India has also been playing a negative role here. Successive Indian governments have ruthlessly
pursued economic and political goals without consideration for the consequences on Nepal's people. In the past decade this is most notable in relation to Nepal's insurgency.

India has adopted a narrow and contradictory view of the conflict, publicly blaming the Maoists for everything, and then allowing Maoist leaders to hold talks with Nepali political parties on Indian soil. India all along advocated a military solution to the conflict, and until recently was the largest supplier of arms to the Royal Nepali Army, despite reports of grave human rights violations. But New Delhi was not doing nearly enough to stop the flow of arms from India that ended up in Maoist hands. And just because India feels that UN mediation would set a precedence for Kashmir, it rejects it for Nepal as well.

Remarkably, some relatively progressive officials in India's UPA government and Ministry of External Affairs appear to have understood how damaging the chaos in Nepal is, not only to India, but also for Nepalis themselves. It is because of their pressure that New Delhi has maintained its critical stance on democratic reversals since the royal takeover on 1 February.

India stopped all military assistance to Nepal, although some 'non-lethal' assistance was subsequently allowed. Some senior Indian army officials want a resumption of arms transfers, but the government is holding firm. New Delhi also seems to have finally recognised that dialogue and reconciliation are the only way to resolve Nepal's problems.

The Nepali government and state-owned media continue to whine about India unduly interfering in Nepal's affairs. It is deeply frustrating that Nepal's rulers can't seem to grasp the (surely not so complicated) idea that human rights are universal and interdependent. India, like any state, does not have the right to interfere in another state to the detriment of human rights. But, like all states, it has a duty to promote human rights in other states.

Like its former colonial master, India's recent foreign policy has largely been cynical, selfish and unethical. Yet with regards to Nepal since 1 February, India has, for once, done the right thing. Indians and Nepalis alike should encourage the Indian government to continue with this policy.

In Dhaka this week, Manmohan Singh reiterated what he told King Gyanendra in May in Jakarta: that he should reach out to the political parties. Singh said he was looking for concrete steps towards multiparty democracy, obviously aware that concrete steps are being taken in the opposite direction.

Does this amount to a reversal of Indian foreign policy towards Nepal? It is true that for the first time in a long time India's views have coincided with wishes of the vast majority of Nepalis, but New Delhi doesn't appear to have a clear long-term strategy.

India would do well to halt all 'non-lethal' military assistance to Nepal, pressure Nepali political parties to improve governance in order to further strengthen the legitimacy of their movement, adopt a more balanced view of
the Maoist insurgency and better coordinate with the international community. Above all, it should put the human rights of the Nepali people at the centre of its Nepal strategy.

Sunit Bagree works in the field of international development, specialising in conflict and governance.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)