The lives of millions of people in Nepal, crippled already by the April earthquake and subsequent aftershocks, have now been further devastated by almost two months of undeclared economic-trade blockade by India. Things, moreover, could yet get a lot worse. What is happening? People are puzzled, not knowing what to expect next. They are unable to travel because there is no gasoline at the pumps. They cannot cook for themselves because there is no gas available. Soon the food, water, medicine and other essentials for daily life will run out in the stores. People experienced a miserable Dashain and another festival is just around the corner. Until when should the people wait? Who is responsible for this? Many questions must be asked on this issue: What is our so-called government doing to address the present crisis? Are they trying properly, and sincerely to solve the turmoil? Where even is the presence of our government?
War by other means
The so-called undeclared trade blockade by India against Nepal, without doubt, amounts to a declared war against the people of Nepal. In the eyes of international law, an undeclared trade blockade is seen as being a declared war. In a true sense, it is a war situation, a form of war against our sovereignty. However, it indicates many more things. First, it is illegal: it is completely against all international laws, internationally established traditions, customs and decent behaviour among states. It is also against the Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty, international trade rules such as the WTO, and, most importantly, it is against the established norms and values of SAARC itself.
Second, the ill-conceived action of India against our country is a crime against humanity and an outrage against the dignity of the people of Nepal. Where is that respect for the dignity of a landlocked country and population? The domineering action by India against Nepal violates all kinds of people’s rights – economic, social and cultural plus civil and political. Most importantly, it violates the rights of the people of Nepal to live in dignity in the fullest sense. It is a disgrace that the so-called largest democracy in the world can run away from its extra-territorial human rights obligations and responsibilities as required by the norms and values of international human rights documents towards other nations and their people. Moreover, the move by India is extremely immoral, inhumane and an extreme act of cruelty. It is an act that is more than just illegal: it is against common sense and human conscience. I am left to wonder how this could possibly happen in this world of the twenty-first century?
Find viable solutions
What is next for us is the big question – both as a nation and as a sovereign people. The primary duty of a state or government is to protect, promote and fulfill the needs of its people. Because of the unexpected blockade, people have been suffering so much for nearly two months already and the government seems helpless. For the latter there is no excuse. The government must act faster to fulfill the needs of the people and to end the crisis. It must find options and solutions. There is no escape. The people deserve answers and explanations. Otherwise they have every right to revolt against the present government.
Firstly, the largest problem that we have is that we are totally reliant upon imports from India, including much of our food, consumer goods, and 100 percent of our fuel – aviation fuel, petrol, diesel and cooking gas. It is the major cause and consequence of past and present fuel crises. We must learn lessons and prepare for the future. The monopoly of India must be halted. We must start to approach other countries for the import of fuels. For this proper homework and a pragmatic mechanism are required. The recent agreement, signed by Nepal Oil Corp and Petro China in Beijing just a few days ago could be the new, fresh beginning that is much needed. We must establish this fresh agreement and build on it in a permanent and pragmatic way. The agreement and any subsequent agreements between the two nations must be based on mutual co-operation. They must be transparent and inclusive but, most importantly, be based on equality. It must be a win-win situation for both sides. Finding a permanent solution to the enduring fuel problem is more vital than ever before.
Secondly, today’s is not the first blockade that has been imposed by our neighbour. We must learn from the past. We must be prepared. For that we must invest to produce energy by ourselves. We have resources such as water. Focus must be given to producing power and electricity. As various studies have demonstrated, there are yet chances of finding petrol in our own country. A proper and effective investigation must go ahead. Pragmatic mechanisms and strategies must be established to do that sooner than later. Promulgating proper dynamic laws, programmes and policies to address the issue will be an important step forward aimed at becoming a self-reliant country for energy within a few decades.
Finally, why is our government unable to declare the Indian move to be a deliberate blockade? What are the reasons? People need an explanation. In a free society, people must be informed. We cannot delay any longer moves to internationalize the illegal and undeclared trade blockade. As we are an independent, sovereign nation and one of the oldest members of the UN itself, I wonder what stops us simply doing that? We are also responsible members of the international political community. Nepal, as a nation and as a state, has dignity and respect – and of course claim rights as a landlocked nation in accordance with the various international laws, treaties and traditions. We must use our diplomatic channels properly – and the UN as well – to do that. At the same time we must continue a high-level political dialogue with our Indian counterparts to end the crisis. Bilateral political talks, cooperation and convincing each other can alone achieve a viable and permanent solution.
I strongly suggest establishing an open and inclusive diplomacy with India based on equal sovereignty and dignity: without that the present problem will not be solved permanently. To do this, many old unequal treaties on various issues between the two countries might have to be changed or rewritten. Openness, respect and mutual co-operation will decide the course of future relations between two neighbours. In the meantime, just removing the blockade by South alone will not be enough. Nothing can soothe the pains and suffering that the people of Nepal are going through as a result of the blockade, and nothing can fill the huge hole created by it. However, a sincere apology from our Indian counterparts towards the people of Nepal for their wrong doing can at least go part way towards healing the wounds of our people.