Halfway through his five-year term, Nepal’s Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli seems to have suffered several setbacks on foreign policy issues, believe analysts.
The inability of trans-Himalayan railway project connecting Kathmandu with the Tibetan region of China to take off due to disagreements over the financing mode, and stalling of $500 million US grant to build road and transmission lines, coupled with plummeting relations with India have haunted Oli’s tenure and added to his headaches.
Cashing in on anti-India sentiments during the 2017 elections, he had projected himself a nationalist, confident leader and promised to raise the international profile of the Himalayan nation.
Oli, who had earlier served as foreign minister, begun by working to build connectivity with China and to improve ties with India.
“Even though he was off to a good start in his first year in the office, Oli has failed to understand the global power dynamics,” said Lekhnath Paudel, a Kathmandu-based strategic affairs expert and analyst.
He said that despite a good start, Oli’s government failed to strike a balanced foreign policy.
“In the first year of his tenure, he wanted India to be on board. But now he has lost that balancing act,” he said.
After including a disputed territory in its new political map, Kathmandu’s relations with New Delhi plunged to new depths.
Moreover, his comments that Hindu deity Lord Ram was born in the south-central region of Nepal further riled India. India’s Hindu nationalists, who are in power claim that Lord Ram was born in the Indian city of Ayodhya.
Oli’s remarks came weeks before the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid a foundation stone for the construction of grand Ram Temple, at the place of demolished historic Babri Mosque, on Aug. 5.
– Relations with China yet to take off
Even as relations with India have deteriorated, they have not taken off with China either. The proposed Chinese trans-Himalayan railway project connecting Kathmandu with the Tibetan region has not started.
Despite Nepal signing a trade and transit agreement with China, in a bid to reduce its dependence on India, road links between the two countries have not been upgraded.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Paudel said Oli had banked on the Chinese for big-ticket infrastructure projects, but to his misfortune, they are moving at snail’s pace.
“He [Oli] hoped that the Chinese money would help him realize his election pledge of economic growth and infrastructure building. He played along with the image that he enjoys good relations with the Chinese,” he said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Nepal in October 2019, but contrary to the expectation, he did not announce any major project during his two-day tour.
Tika Dhakal, a Kathmandu-based political commentator, said while the government’s efforts to diversify trade and transit were perfect, the bureaucracy was slow to materialize them into action.
“There’s lack of follow up and planning,” he told Anadolu Agency.
– Rivals within ruling party stall US grant
The failures apart, over the past six months, the top leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, which came into being after a merger of former Maoist rebels and Unified Marxist-Leninist, have shown dissensions over power-sharing.
Oli’s rivals in the party protested at $500 million US grant to build road and transmission lines, claiming it is part of American’s Indo-Pacific Strategy. The government failed to get the nod of parliament to get the grant, thus fraying relations with Washington as well.
In June, Prime Minister Oli accused his rivals of trying to remove him from power at the behest of New Delhi. He said plots were being hatched to remove him from power for issuing the new political map of the country.
Recent developments have, however, signaled that Nepalese premier is now willing to mend fences with India.
After a four-month hiatus, on Aug. 15, Oli spoke to Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, greeting him on India’s 74th Independence Day.
Two days later via video conference, Indian and Nepalese officials reviewed the progress of India-funded projects in Nepal.
Dhakal said recent exchanges could help rebuild bilateral relations between the two countries.
“Our diplomacy still functions traditionally. There is no consensus about the country’s foreign policy. We need to move forward from the summit diplomacy to the one that delivers results,” he said.
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