The >brief detention of 13 Indian border guards by the Nepali police on Sunday is yet another example of the deteriorating relations between the two countries. Nepali authorities of the Armed Police Force (APF) say India’s Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) guards illegally crossed the border with weapons, while Indian officials say the guards had inadvertently stepped into the neighbouring territory while chasing “smugglers”. The crux of the situation is, the differences between India and Nepal that have led to a >two-month blockade at the border are now having a direct impact on the close cooperation and trust that the SSB and APF soldiers have shared for decades, and this marks a dangerous turn. It will require urgent discussions at every level of the military and civilian leadership on both sides to now bring this situation to a resolution, clear the protestors to the largest extent possible on the Nepali side, and clear the backlog of trucks that have been piling up on the Indian side since September 23 so ordinary Nepalis can receive much-needed fuel, food, medicines and other essential supplies. While some trucks have been released in the past few weeks, they are by no means enough, and all of Kathmandu now sees long serpentine queues for every commodity. Regardless of relations at present, it is unacceptable for India to stand by, especially as the days and nights grow colder, without moving in to help Nepal. Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, has warned that more than three million children under the age of five in Nepal now face the risk of death or disease in winter.
This will by no means be easy. The government of Prime Minister K.P. Oli could start simply by pushing through the amendments that his predecessor, Sushil Koirala, had cleared in the Cabinet. The government had also started talks with Madhesi leaders to reach a consensus on constitutional amendments that would bring the country back to normalcy. But talks collapsed last month, following which the government started police action against the protesters, which actually made matters worse. Prime Minister Oli’s obsession with blaming India for all problems Nepal is facing serves as an excuse for his government’s inability to find a solution. India too must face the fact that all its attempts at intervention in the Constitution process have come a cropper. It is time for diplomacy rather than a dogmatic stance, as bad relations with Nepal will begin to seep into every sphere of bilateral ties, as they have already begun to taint the relations between the border security forces. Eventually, whatever the resolution, India can only deal with the government in Nepal; it cannot engage any of the political groups there directly. Nor is it fighting a popularity contest inside Nepal. A stable, peaceful democratic Nepal is in India’s best interests. For this to be realised, both nations should first give up the confrontationist approach, and work together to resolve the impasse over the Constitution in Nepal.