Nepal’s constitutional crisis in the winter of 2015 and spring of 2016 prompted protesting parties to enforce an economic blockade in the Terai region on the Nepali-Indian border. Protesting Nepali groups included ethnic minorities that feel underrepresented in the new federalist system. Unofficial political support from India enabled the protests to last four-and-a-half months, debilitating the already weakened Nepali economy and creating a humanitarian crisis. Citing Indian government complicity in the embargo, Nepali Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli reached out to Beijing for help, prompting cries of a Nepali pivot to China. While some shifting towards China does seem to be underway, Nepal will always require good relations with its longtime partner India. The real story in Nepal is a possible internal security disaster that would go against Nepali, Indian, and Chinese interests.
Between Two Giants
A fresh outbreak of protests this week highlights the urgency of Nepal’s ongoing constitutional crisis. A resurgence of violence in the next year is possible, perhaps at a greater scale than the episodes of police and protester violence during the blockade that resulted in over 50 deaths. This would be devastating for a country still reeling from a 2015 earthquake that killed close to 9,000 people, followed by a crippling economic blockade and rising ethnic tensions.
On the subcontinent, India and China vie for influence, while lesser powers like Nepal navigate geopolitics by currying favor with their great state neighbors. A rapid uptick in China-Nepal relations threatens to shake up foreign relations in South Asia. Ultimately, though, both Indian and Chinese goals for the region are served best by promoting political stability and economic growth in Nepal. Emerging from this constitutional crisis intact will require Nepal’s leaders to walk a tightrope between two giants.
Read the full article here.