NOV 02 - Suhas Chakma , Director of the Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights ( ACHR ), has long been a keen observer of human rights situations and the politics of the Asian region. He has also been closely following Nepal’s peace process ever since its inception in 2006. Aditya Adhikari spoke to him about the existing tensions between India and China, implications on Nepal and the obstacles to Nepal’s peace process.
Q: What are the causes for the tensions between India and China?
Chakma: The relations between India and China are very complex. They have been mutually suspicious of each other since 1962. And it’s the economic needs that have moved the relationship between the two countries forward. The political leadership of the two countries does not necessarily have the faith and the trust. That is why many critical issues, including the boundary issues, have not been resolved.
But the current spate of increasing tensions is possibly the result of the establishment of a Liaison Office of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in Dharamsala which the Chinese construe as de jure recognition of the Tibetan government in exile. That is why the Chinese have been fingering India by issuing separate visas for the people from Jammu and Kashmir in loose sheets instead of the passports or depicting Kashmir as a separate country.
I would say both India and China will have to take each other’s sensitivities into account, rather than fingering at each other, as they have been doing in recent past. The human rights implications of increasing hostilities between the two giants are too serious to be ignored. The Himalayas and its foothills from Jammu and Kashmir, Nepal, Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, etc, will be affected.
Q: Why would opening a liaison office of MEA in Dharamsala be so sensitive for the Chinese?
Chakma: The Chinese term His Holiness the Dalai Lama as splitist . The Dalai Lama regularly reiterates that he wants autonomy which under international human rights law means internal self-determination. In common parlance, liaison office means liaisoning with some recognized representative, and certainly different from a branch office of the MEA in, for example, Hyderabad, Kolkata or Guwahati.
Q: Did the Indians do this deliberately to provoke the Chinese?
Chakma: Not necessarily. The Indians have been dealing with the Dalai Lama since 1959. The Dalai Lama lives in India as Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said as an honoured guest. It is an open secret that the government of India has its own channels of communications with the Dalai Lama and the Chinese have been living with this de facto situation. It is the establishment of the Liaison Office in late 2006 which one can find in the MEA website that appears to have increased the hostilities. At the ASEAN Summit last week in Thailand, India and China only postponed the tensions. India will have to weigh its option considering its greater vulnerability, and the fact that even President Barack Obama had to postpone the meeting with His Holiness.
Q: But many would also say that China has been insensitive towards India as well?
Chakma: Yes. Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India and India has been holding regular elections. There are border disputes along Arunachal Pradesh and that does not mean that India has no claim over Arunachal Pradesh. Questioning the visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Arunachal Pradesh is certainly not being sensitive. Kashmir is the most sensitive issue for the Indians and many wonder as to whether China had any proactive role to play for the recent appointment of the Special Envoy of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) on Kashmir when the conflict is on downhill.
Q: Where does Nepal figure in all this?
Chakma: If the tensions between China and India continue, Nepal will be the battleground. Perhaps it has already become one. In a way, the politics in Nepal will be more fragmented, there will be attempts to influence things by both the countries, and at the end of the day all these will go contrary to Nepal’s interests. What Nepal requires is the support of both India and China for its political stability and development. The Nepalis do not want to be the pawns in the geopolitical games.
Q: Do you think the Indians are justified in believing that Nepal’s Maoists are allowing too much Chinese penetration?
Chakma: The Maoists leaders from top to bottom have a habit of shooting from the hip. They engage in lots of loose talks to raise fears. At the end of the day, it is not a question of Maoists allowing Chinese penetration. We live in an era of globalization where markets cannot be protected. The Chinese will come, they are possibly already here; you cannot prevent them from coming, as it is Nepal’s own decision. Asking the Chinese not to come to Nepal is like King Canute asking the waves to go back. It does not matter which political party is in power — whether it is the UML or Nepali Congress or Maoists, once they come to power they have to say please come here and develop railroads and other communication links.
Q: Is there anything Nepalis can do to establish constructive relations between India and China in Nepal?
Chakma: Frankly, Nepal has nothing to do with the disputes between India and China. It has no influence whatsoever. Nepal could only hope for peace between the two countries.
Q: As an observer of Nepal’s peace process, what do you think are the major obstacles facing it?
Chakma: Who should be the PM? Since the Jana Andolan II, whoever forms the government do not think they are there for an interim period. They don’t realise that the mandate given by the CA elections is to draft the constitution and implement the peace agreements. You have to take all the actors who are parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement along, not act like the Defence Minister Bidya Bhandari who has her own agenda. Many Ministers are not accountable to the prime minister; nor do they have any respect for the other parties to the peace agreement.
Beyond the CPA, the government has signed various other agreements — with Madhesis, with Janajati groups. Every time you sign an agreement you make them party to the peace process. So you have to take into account these groups also as they want the agreements they signed with the government to be implemented.
Q: But the political conditions don’t seem to allow for such implementation.
Chakma: True and that is because all political leaders are concerned about their positions, rights, and not the responsibilities. I believe there is a need for new agreement to stipulate the mechanisms for implementation of the CPA within a specific time frame. They have to stop talking at each other and talk to each other. This includes all major parties as well as Madhesi and Janajati groups. Since there is no mutual trust, they require a serious facilitator who will have leverage on all political parties and iron out differences, and possibly even come out with a text for negotiation and running of the administration in the interim period. You need an engaging facilitator, not just somebody who calls meetings or acts like a Viceroy.
Posted on: 2009-11-04 03:39