The issue of Kashmir has remained the most important geo-strategic issue of the region and because it challenges the regional peace and stability every nation of South Asia has its eyes over it. The notion of trespassing the nuclear threshold between the nuclear armed neighbors has increased its significance.
Nepalese having the same religious ties are also the followers of Kautaliya who coined that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Since 2015 Nepal has been working to improve its ties with Pakistan despite of facing consequential threats from the Indian side. Specially after the Abrogation of Article 370 and 35A Nepal’s foreign office has issued many statements which focused on the resolution of Kashmir dispute through talks. They also offered the role of a mediator to resolve this dispute between India and Pakistan.
The Indian attempt which parted the ways of both South Asian neighbours was building of Himalayan link road over a disputed area between the states. This forceful attempt by the Indians made Nepal realize that Indians are using them to achieve their strategic aims. Nepalese view this illegal construction as a stark example of bullying by its giant neighbour.
According to the online data available the views of Nepalese people over the issue of Kashmir is such that they want the local Kashmiris to come in the front and decide whatever they think suites them, as its their inherent right. To secure their strategic interests Nepal declared the event of revocation of article 370 and 35A as internal matter of India, but protests and demonstrations took place in Nepal against the Indian decision. Multiple talks have been held on diplomatic grounds between Nepal and Pakistan to discuss the issue of Kashmir and highlight the Indian atrocities in Kashmir.
Refraining from issuing an official statement Nepal has tried to bring neutrality in its relations with India and Pakistan. India-Nepal dispute on the territory of Kalapani has somehow added in diverging the ways between both the countries. The layman thinking in Nepal has been supportive towards Kashmir struggle. The population recognizes the Indian intent and their capacity to subjugate their individual rights. Nepal like every other state has its own interests which drive its foreign policy. The best options for them are not meant to be aligned with the Indians. Nepal has been vigilant throughout since their clash with India over the disputed territory. They have clearly conveyed to Indians that their autonomy is of foremost importance through official statements.
The issue of Kashmir has its relevance with the Nepalese as many of them are working in Kashmir and Ladakh with the tourism industry. There are many Nepalese serving in Indian army as well. It’s in the deep interest of Nepal that any war mongering attitudes over Kashmir should be given alarms, as God forbidden a war in Kashmir would be lethal for Nepal as well. The Indian move over Kashmir has worsened the already fraught relation between the two neighbors.
Another important factor to note here is the fact that if the Modi along with his team can change the special status of Kashmir it can also pursue a reversal attempt on Nepal’s secular constitution. BJP has outspokenly reiterated that Nepal should become a Hindu state and pushed it for reviving the Hindu monarchy again which was abolished in 2008. Nepal has adopted a secular constitution as a solution to its internal conflicts and evading any chance of instability. Indian intentions are clearly against the vision of autonomous and secular Nepal.
Supporting the issue of Kashmir could strengthen the trust of local people for Nepalese government. As it would depict that the Nepalese government Is against scratching the provincial autonomy. This move from the rulers of Kathmandu could help them enhance the people to government ties. All the aforementioned facts prove that Indian plans were maligned towards Nepal, and they wanted to hijack its autonomy for their strategic aims.
Nepal being a sovereign state should realize that a temporary economic assistance should not restrict them in taking decisions which have International Importance. Issue of Kashmir have ties with Nepal on both humanitarian as well as strategic grounds. Nepal was chairing SAARC when Indian government removed the special status of Kashmir. Considering Kashmir a vital issue for regional stability it was responsibility of Nepal having a responsible position in the regional co-operation regime which they tried to manage by maintaining equilibrium. The stance of the government officials was that after learning a lesson from Venezuela affair which led to ensuing diplomatic fallout with the United States of America.
While the government of Nepal was planning to issue a statement on the emerged situation Indians put diplomatic pressure on Nepal through communicating with the government officials and Nepal’s ambassador to India about the developments in Jammu and Kashmir. Though the offer of mediation was an overwhelming response from Nepal but being the chair of SAARC, they should have taken a more robust stance to preserve the rights of Kashmiris. Indian aim for an Akhand Bharat is shot across the bow for Nepalese. They need to analyze the emerging situations and pin themselves down towards the regional issues. Indian motives for greater India are a threat to every state in the South Asian region including Nepal. Nepal should learn from the past and try to formulate policy measures which suite their interest rather than being coherent with India.
A neutral stance in any regional issues is no doubt a good way to escape from any conflict but, an issue like Kashmir which has direct political and strategic affiliation with Nepal should be dealt with a broader approach. Nepal should strengthen its ties with states like Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh on equal terms. They need to get out of diplomatic influences if they want to enhance their power status in the region. Kashmir issue could be an opportunity for Nepal to abnegate Indian intransigence. They should come up with a step ahead than neutrality on Kashmir issue.
*Humais Sheikh has completed his Master’s in Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid-I-Azam University, Islamabad. He is an ambassador of Center for Global and Strategic Studies, Islamabad. He is ex-Vice President of Defence and Strategic Studies Student’s Society. He has Co-founded of organisation SAREP (Society for Animal Rescue and Environment Protection).