India keeps a close eye as Pakistan’s PM Abbasi visits Nepal

Source:  ARY News Published in Foreign Affairs on Monday, March 5, 2018

Nepal's new prime minister is not at the best terms with India and this strain could help Pakistan ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will kick off his two-day visit to Nepal from today (Monday), as part of the nation’s “pro-active and outreach efforts” to engage with regional countries.

During the visit, the prime minister will convey felicitations to the Nepalese leadership on the successful conclusion of its democratic process, resulting in the formation of a new government, the Foreign Office said.

New Delhi hasn’t commented on the visit, according to Indian paper Live Mint, but people familiar with the development said the Indian government is keeping a wary eye on the visit.

Abbasi will congratulate the newly-elected Prime Minister of Nepal Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli and also call on Nepal President Bidya Devi Bhandari, it said.

Oli is seen as pro-China and reportedly he is not at the best terms with India.

The LM reported India’s former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal  as saying that there was the danger of Nepal joining the Pakistan-China effort against India.

Why India is worrying ?

Nepal has already signed up for China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In January, China ended India’s internet services monopoly in Nepal. And there is increasing talk of China constructing railway lines all the way to the Nepal border which could end landlocked Nepal’s dependence on India for land routes for trade.

Besides, In a recent interview to the South China Morning Post, Oli was clear that he would broaden his options by deepening ties with China to get more leverage in his dealings with Delhi.

“We have great connectivity with India and an open border. All that’s fine and we’ll increase connectivity even further, but we can’t forget that we have two neighbours,” Oli was quoted as saying in the interview. “We don’t want to depend on one country or have one option,” he said. 

Indian circles also believe that Pakistan could be looking for a bit of support for itself from Nepal—to host the stalled Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit in Islamabad.

The summit was to be held in 2016 but India refused to attend and countries like Bangladesh and Afghanistan also, though indirectly, sided with India on its stance. With many of the countries in the eight-nation grouping joining the India-led initiative, Pakistan was forced to postpone the summit. 

Many South Asian countries in the past have backed bringing China into Saarc—Nepal and Pakistan included. Ahead of the 2014 Saarc summit, India had successfully pushed back against this move. 

PM Abbasi’s visit will provide an opportunity to further expand and strengthen bilateral relations across all areas of mutual interest including trade, education, tourism, defence and people to people contacts, according to the Foreign Office.

It said ways of invigorating the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) as an important regional organisation will also be discussed.

The Ambassador of Nepal, Sewa Lamsal Adhikari, called on the prime minister on Friday and conveyed the message of welcome from the Nepalese leadership to him.

She also discussed how to further strengthen bilateral relations.

“Nepal is an important regional country and a close friend. Our ties with Nepal are characterised by cordiality, mutual respect and commonality of interests. Our support to each other at bilateral and multilateral fora has remained indispensable for both the sides,” the Foreign Office said.