The Chief of the Indian Army General VK Singh visited Nepal in December 2010 and was granted the honorary rank of General of the Nepal Army, which is a reciprocal arrangement between the two nations. Three months later the Chief of China ’s People Liberation Army concludes a three days visit and signed a memorandum worth $19.9 million dollars. So far, so good. But, what with Chinese arms exports to China increasing, especially after the suspension of arms supplies from India since 2005, India could be in for trouble. This, when 70 per cent of weapons in the Nepal Army’s inventory are of Indian origin.
Where will such a policy take India? Nepal has been requesting for arms for some time now, but most of the requests have been falling on deaf ears. Which of the two approaches is better, a soft approach where two uniformed soldiers support one another or a compartmental approach that foreign policy is not the domain of the soldier? Yet, maintaining the de jure sovereignty of the nation against a foreign threat is the prime responsibility of the Army.
The Chinese have played their military card with great finesse. They have shown unity of purpose and have synchronised all elements of the state to get the desired results. The Chinese realise that the only institution which is binding Nepal together is the Nepalese Army. The soldier leading a 15-member Chinese delegation promised a 160 million yuan modernisation of the military hospital and assistance to construct it.
Skeptics may say that India pays huge sums of money to Nepalese ex-servicemen and the Indian Chief did enquire after their welfare during his visit. But pension is just a salary for services rendered. On the other hand, the Chinese are doing some thing out of the ordinary, by providing for the upgrading of the Nepalese army.
The visit therefore, has great strategic relevance and China has bigger designs in our own backyard, especially of one were to analyse the violent reaction by the Chinese to the US Navy conducting naval exercises in the South China sea. This firmly established that the Chinese follow an area denial policy and also are expanding their footprints too close to India for our comfort.
A warming. India is gradually being driven out of the loop in Nepal and the anti-India feeling is gaining momentum. The Chinese are systemically tackling our cultural, religious and historical advantages with includes the 55,000-strong Gurkha soldiers serving in our regiments. On the other hand, a direct one to one deal, between China and Nepal affects India strategically. The manner of conduct was par excellence and the Chinese Army delegation did not meet the Communists of Nepal although they are very sensitive to the United Communist Party of Nepal Maoist (UCPN-M). The meeting was kept to the constitutional heads of states and the Nepal Army.
Where does all this lead India too? The policy of Nepal to treat both China and India as equals is not in India’s favour. The Nepal Army is the only institution that binds the nation today and a assertive China knocking at India’s border in the plains sector of the Terai will be a strategic nightmare for the Indian strategic affairs community. Indian foreign policy today stands badly discredited except for Bangladesh and Bhutan. Our relations are best described as sour with our neighbours. India needs to seriously consider its foreign policy in the SAARC region in view of an assertive Chinese and Pakistan joint convergent foreign policy aims. The visit therefore, if seen in this light and the soft policy with liberal aid and an assertion regarding Tibet which is in Chinas extreme boundary and Nepal which is outside Chinas area of influence and inside India core greatly imbalance India for which there are no easy answers in the current dispensation. The Indian policy planner will have to think out of the box and one manner may be to use the leverage of the institution called Indian Army.
The fact of the matter is irrespective of the turmoil in Nepal, China is in all probability will be seen as a savior, especially the position they are placing themselves in by giving a thumbs up for Nepal’s sovereignty. India on the other hand is being blamed for all the ills though most of the faults may lie closer home, just as a couple of decades ago, the foreign hand was the cause for all ills in India. Its time for the policy makers to wake up from their slumber and search for an out of the box solution and using the institution of the army for an unprecedented foreign policy aim may be one of the many solutions.
Brig CS Thapa (Retd) is an advisor to the Pioneer Dehradun and writes a column, 'Mount View' for its Dehradun and Chandigarh editions.
(The views expressed in the article are that of the author and do not represent the views of the editorial committee or the centre for land warfare studies).