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‘No option to cooperation’

Ashok Tuteja | New Delhi |

Born in a middle class family in Kathmandu in 1949,Deep Kumar Upadhyay is Nepal’s Ambassador to India. He actively participated in movements towards the establishment of multi-party democracy in his country. Upadhyay has been Nepal’s Tourism Minister and Minister of State for Finance in the past In this interview to Ashok Tuteja, he talks about Nepal’s relations with its giant neighbours ~ India and China ~ and other regional issues

Nepal’s Prime Minister was recently in India. How do you look at the outcome of the visit in terms of its success??

The Right Hon’ble Prime Minister Mr Sher Bahadur Deuba’s state visit last month was, in a way, continuation of bilateral engagement at the level of senior political leadership. The visit has served as a great opportunity for the leadership to take stock of the broad range of bilateral agendas; provide necessary political guidance on several important matters and chart out a direction for how our countries may seek to advance relations in the days ahead.

Prime Minister Deuba’s visit remained an important event in Nepal-India relations both symbolically and substantively. Prime Minister Deuba is known in India’s political circles as Nepal’s senior leader with great many years of experience both as a party leader and the head of the government. He is known as a decisive leader. This visit was an occasion to renew the acquaintance with the broad spectrum of Indian political leadership. Top focus was on development partnership.

Why did his comment about the Nepal Constitution become an issue back home in Nepal?

What the Rt Hon’ble Prime Minister said about the Constitution amendment is not a new statement. It is something that political parties across the spectrum in Nepal have been saying. Everyone has acknowledged that the Constitution is a living document and can be amended as per the need and demands of the people.

However, the amendment has certain process and requires twothirds majority to pass. This was the fact Rt Hon Prime Minister underscored in his statement. He spoke about the amendment of Constitution while highlighting the priorities of current governments in the national context.

How do you look at the recent border stand-off between India and China at Doklam?

On this matter, we were clear and consistent in our conversations and public statements that any debate between neighbours or any friendly countries in the world for that matter needs to be resolved peacefully through dialogues. What we said and wished for (in fact several others said and wished for) turned out to be the way out eventually. Conflict and hostility is not in the interest of any party. If we fight each other, nobody will lose but ourselves. We are encouraged to learn that even during the heated time, channels of conversations were maintained between our neighbours and such conversation helped them to find a way to diffuse the situation. This is good.

There is an impression in India that Nepal is getting closer to China at the cost of India. Is it correct?

In my view, such impression is the result of unnecessary media sensitisation of Nepal’s relation with China. Nepal is a relatively small country situated between two big neighbours, both of which are rapidly growing economies and world powers with growing stature. It has been the consistent policy of the Government of Nepal to maintain friendly relations with both neighbours. We consider it a privilege and opportunity to be situated between the vastly growing economies. We have close cooperation with both of them, but we do not compare between our respective bilateral relations with India and China. For us, each relation has its own merit.

Nepal also conducted military exercises with China earlier this year which caused some concern in India. Are these exercises going to become an annual feature?

When media raised this matter with the Minister of State for External Affairs of India, he quite rightly stated that there is nothing new about such exercises between countries. This is exactly how the exercise has to be seen. We have been having joint exercises with the Indian Army for years.

Has Nepal been able to settle problems arising from its people due to demonetisation in India last year?

NRB and RBI are in touch on the matter. We hope that a channel would be provided for us to exchange the demonetised currency notes we have in Nepal.

Anti-India elements often use the territory of Nepal because of the porous border between the two countries.What steps has Nepal taken to rein in forces acting against India from its soil?

Nepal is steadfast in its policy of not allowing its territory to be used against its neighbours and both our countries are and should be watchful not to allow any unwanted elements misuse the open border. The open border has facilitated movement of people, their interaction, eased their lives and facilitated trade and transit. While cherishing such benefits, we have kept our respective administration and security entities vigilant. The cooperation between security agencies of the two countries is excellent, particularly in the bordering districts. They hold coordination meetings locally on regular basis. Border patrolling on both sides is done by the respective security entities.

How do you look at the growth of SAARC as a regional group?

In its three decades of journey, the organisation has been able to build an institutional set-up, develop treaties and conventions in certain critical areas and identify areas of cooperation. There is no option to coming together again. As the current chair of SAARC, Nepal is focused on bringing the process back on track.

Don’t you think SAARC has failed to live up to its desired objectives because of India-Pakistan rivalry?

As I said, it is not true that SAARC has done nothing. Every regional initiative has a certain formative period. SAARC had that too. In those years, institutions were set up; processes were defined. Our people had greater expectation from us. No doubt, they wished that we expeditiously pursue the agenda of regional connectivity infrastructure, regional trade, investment and job creation, regional initiatives for poverty alleviation and upliftment of their lives. We lagged behind in their expectations. Are we satisfied with the progress made so far? Of course not, the pace could have been better. Yet, we cannot give up. Benefits of regional cooperation and working together as a region are immense. Our problems and challenges are similar. We still believe that we can work better as a region. You may be aware that on the sidelines of the UNGA Session, the SAARC Council of Ministers meeting took place in a friendly and cordial atmosphere.

How do you look at the South Asian satellite launched by India in May?

We welcomed the launching of the satellite and in fact, like other leaders of the region, our Prime Minister was invited to witness the launching via Skype on May 5. Our Prime Minister mentioned that the launch of the satellite would enhance connectivity in South Asia and would be helpful to provide communication services in the mountain and hilly regions of Nepal. We then congratulated the Government of India for this success and appreciated India’s thoughtfulness to help their neighbours benefit from their advancement in science and technology. We have viewed the initiative as India’s positive contribution in the region.