In his visit to India later this week, Nepal's Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai's primary agenda will be to solicit Indian support and goodwill to complete the peace process and write a constitution. Senior officials said that instead of contentious bilateral security issues, they would like to keep the focus on Nepal's political transition and India's role, and seek assistance in ‘socio-economic' arena.
Political and security matters A highly placed source in the Prime Minister's Office, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “Our experience since the 12 point agreement has been that unless India nudges and puts pressure on other parties, especially the Nepali Congress, they are reluctant to co-operate. The PM will request India to use its influence with all forces so that the peace process can move forward.” While the Maoists blame NC for blocking the process of regrouping of combatants which will set the stage for integration and rehabilitation, the NC has accused Maoists of being insincere and shifting goalposts.
After two years of a publicly acrimonious relationship, relations between India and the Maoist party are on the mend. The fact that India did not block the Madhesi parties, over which it has substantial influence, from supporting the Maoists is seen as a shift from their earlier ‘hardline policy' of keeping the Maoists out of the power structure. The PM sees his visit as a political opportunity to rebuild ties with New Delhi.
PM Bhattarai will also convey Nepal's ‘sensitivity' to Indian security concerns, and reiterate the commitment that ‘anti Indian activities' will not be allowed on Nepali soil. But it will not sign any formal security related treaty. Indian officials have pressed Nepal to sign the long pending extradition treaty, the mutual legal assistance treaty, border strip maps, and allow deployment of sky marshals on Indian aircrafts. The Nepal government has conveyed to India that, ‘given the fragile political transition', formalizing these agreements would not be possible.
Indian sources said that they support the present government. “PM Manmohan Singh congratulated and invited Dr Bhattarai to visit within hours of his election. Our consistent policy aim has been completion of the peace process. We are willing to extend whatever help is needed for the purpose. But all sides, including the Maoists, have to be flexible.” They said that while India would have liked pending bilateral treaties to be signed, they will respect the Nepal government's position, and not ‘push it'.
Nepal will also raise the issue of huge trade imbalance, and seek more economic investment. Minister for Industries, Anil Kumar Jha, who will accompany the PM during the visit, told The Hindu, “We would like Indian investors to come to Nepal. The government is fully committed to creating conducive environment for them, tackling legal and practical difficulties that sometimes crop up, and ensuring full security for the investors.” Mr Jha said that they will also seek Indian support to create Special Economic Zones and industrial districts.
In the backdrop of attacks on certain Indian joint venture companies, the Indian side is keen to sign the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (BIPPA). The Nepali bureaucracy has concerns about certain clauses in the agreement, related to conditions under which losses of investors will be compensated, and definition of non-commercial risks – Kathmandu does not want ‘insurrection or riots' included within this ambit. It also opposes the provision that the compensation would include ‘interest at a commercially reasonably rate' until the date of payment. Indian officials claim that Nepal has signed similar treaties with third countries, and singling out India is unfair.
Agreements on import of 200 MW of power from India to meet Nepal's crippling power shortage, and Indian support to infrastructure projects, are expected.