My visit to India, which begins today, has great historical significance.
Nepal is passing through a major political transition. We fought against feudal autocracy and monarchy, and for overall socio-economic transformation, for almost 60 years. At times, our movement was peaceful, and at times, violent. But the consistent goal was to abolish feudal autocracy and monarchy, and democratise the state and society. Ultimately, the major political parties — which included the Maoists and traditional parliamentary parties — reached an agreement in 2006 to overthrow the monarchy and institutionalise democracy through the Constituent Assembly (CA).
Peace, constitution and India
We succeeded in abolishing the monarchy, and ushering in a new democratic era in Nepal. We are now in the process of institutionalising achievements through the CA, accompanied by socio-economic transformation, and federal restructuring of the state. According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in November 2006, we are now trying to complete the specific task of army integration and other aspects of the peace process. We are also trying to complete the process of writing the Constitution through the CA. Only after wrapping up this entire process will these gains be institutionalised, and we will enter into a new era of democracy, change and development in Nepal.
The role of India in this process is crucial. Nepal and India share a very unique relationship. Nepal is sandwiched between two huge states of India and China. But we are virtually India-locked, as we have an open border on three sides. Most of our socio-economic interactions take place with India. Two-thirds of our annual trade is with India, while only 10 per cent is with China. Given this historic tilt towards India, our bilateral relationship is unique. When you have more interaction, you have more problems and more friction. At times, there are misgivings and misunderstandings on various issues — some are genuine, while others are born out of scepticism.
India played a positive role in the peace process in Nepal, and during our transition towards democracy. My visit, at this juncture when we are at the last stage of completing the peace process, assumes special significance. While the peace process is basically conceptualised and led by Nepali political forces, the goodwill of international forces, particularly our neighbours, is very important for its success.
Security and development
An important bilateral issue between Nepal and India is related to politics and security. Nepal virtually lies in the southern lap of the Himalayas, and shares borders with two huge states of Asia. This geopolitical reality has to be taken into account. Naturally, there would be political and security concerns of our neighbours which Nepal is committed to observe keeping in mind mutual interests. Nepal will not allow its soil to be used against the security interests of any of its neighbours. Another key issue is economic development and development of resources. In the present day world, the economy of every country is interlinked with that of others, especially neighbours. If we have to prosper, we can only prosper if we cooperate with each other. Poverty and underdevelopment in the neighbourhood will have a fallout, and hamper your own development.
India and China are developing at a fast pace. Nepal, lying between two fast-growing economies, cannot remain backward and under-developed. We will seek the cooperation of both our neighbours, especially India.
We have to find areas of economic co-operation for mutual benefit of India and Nepal. One major field is the exploitation of water resources for mutual benefit. The next is drawing in Indian investment to Nepal — we are committed to creating a conducive environment for investors and providing them security. The trade balance between our two countries has been quite skewed. Our trade deficit with India is quite huge. The import-export ratio is about 7:1, which is not sustainable. That is another area where we have to deepen our economic cooperation.
Personally, I have had the opportunity to get my education in India, and my area of interest has been economic development. I will try to utilise my relations developed over the years to enhance bilateral relations, especially designed towards maximising economic benefits for both sides.
If Nepal can develop faster, it can become a development partner for India. For India also, a more developed Nepal will be a better guarantee of its security as only with development, peace, and stability, there can be security. Security concerns cannot be treated in isolation, but must be viewed in totality. Security and economic development must be seen together.
Trust and goodwill
The visit to India is basically directed towards building a better understanding between the two countries and two peoples. In that sense, it is a goodwill visit.
My personal thrust would be to have a very free and frank discussion with my counterparts so that we can upgrade the relationship according to contemporary needs. The relations and agreements institutionalised in the 20th century may not be enough to meet the needs of the 21st century. Hence, the emphasis would be to develop our relations further, clear misgivings and misunderstandings that we have against each other, and sort out the problems left by history. When the subcontinent was colonised by the British, they left behind a legacy which has created friction among the nations of South Asia. We have to overcome that, and develop mutual relations in the changed time and context. Instead of harping on old disputes, Nepal would like to look forward, and create an atmosphere of cooperation.
There are certain political issues, which would need more discussions. We can engage on it freely and frankly, but they can be postponed for the future. The major thing is to build trust between our two countries, two governments, and two peoples. Once there is trust, and we are sensitive and empathise with each other, even the most difficult issues can be resolved amicably.
A new era
To reiterate, instead of pushing any specific agenda, I want to talk about all the issues in a friendly spirit, with the aim of conveying and understanding bilateral concerns. This will also be an opportunity to interact with those outside government, especially civil society, media, and intelligentsia. Given my long association with Delhi, I have several personal acquaintances there and look forward to renewing those relationships.
It is my strong conviction that my current visit to New Delhi will usher in a new era in our bilateral relations. Nepal is in the last phase of completing its peace process, and is about to enter a new phase of peace and development. Our new bilateral relationship, which will be based on a strong development dimension, can bring about peace and prosperity.
My dream is to have an inclusive democracy, sustainable peace and prosperity in this part of the world. Nepal will try to contribute its best to foster that relation among all the countries of South Asia. Nepal-India relations can be developed as a model of cooperation between neighbours. I am quite confident that after this visit, traditional misgivings between the different actors in Nepal and India will substantially be cleared, and a foundation for better partnership for development in the 21st century would be laid.
( H.E Dr. Baburam Bhattarai is the Prime Minister of Nepal. He arrives in New Delhi today, on his first bilateral visit after taking office .)