MonitorsPublished on Jul 23, 2019
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 29

Nepal: Engaging with the US in Indo-Pacific

Sohini Nayak 

The strategic relationship between the United States of America and the small Himalayan country of Nepal has been quite an intriguing one due to the complex nature of South Asian foreign policy. After establishing their diplomatic relationship in 1948, both nations have remained cordial towards each other. In fact, the primary objective of the US in Nepal has centred on promoting a democratic society and economic advancement with an investor-friendly environment and also assistance in the improvement of the disaster management systems.

Being a land-locked country between the two major South Asian actors -- China and India -- comes with its own geo-strategic challenges. There often arise situations where these smaller players of the South Asian diplomatic theatre remain overlooked. Their voices, if not expressed with confidence and conviction, might get lost amidst the greater economic powers.

Thus, it becomes absolutely necessary for Nepal to have better ties with other extra-regional global powers like the USA, to be able to participate in newer arenas of cooperation like the Indo-Pacific, where it can showcase not only its capability as a nation but also harness its absolute economic potential. Consequently, it would also be able to reach other nations in the grouping, thereby participating in global dialogues with them. Not only would it be the dissemination of newer ideas but will also open new channels and routes for Nepal, helping in addressing its land-locked nature.

New demeanour

The recent week-long visit of the Chief of the Army Staff of Nepal, Purna Chandra Thapa, to the US in July 2019 is reflective of this new global demeanour. According to the press release from the Nepal Army Headquarters, Thapa met with the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces, Paul J Selva, along with the other officials of the US Department of Defence, responsible for looking into the strategic dimensions of South Asia. Apart from this, he also had a meeting with the United Nations Deputy Secretary General Amina J. Mohammad and Under-Secretary General of the UN Department of Field Support, Atul Khare.

In this perspective, given the importance that it attaches to the Indo-Pacific, it is quite clear that Nepal is also being given due importance as a player in the region, which is often known as the ‘buffer’ player as it can play an important role in shaping the dynamics between India and China, finally influencing the bigger strategic role play in the Indo-Pacific zone.

In the Indo-Pacific Strategic Report 2019 of the USA, the interest of the latter is clearly portrayed in expanding the defence relationship between the two countries through mechanisms like the HADR, peace keeping operations, defence professionalisation, ground-force capacity and counter-terrorism. In this regard, the US Army Pacific Land Forces Talks in June 2018, with Nepal, is a reminder of the senior-most military dialogue that the two countries have ever engaged in with each other. Other landmark events have been the ones like the visit of USINDOPACOM Commander and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and South East Asia to Nepal, for the furtherance of this tie.

Why Nepal?

The idea of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ is still developing. It primarily extends as far as the eastern coast of Africa, covering the Indian and parts of the Pacific Ocean. It is also one of the most energy rich routes of the world, thereby making it an area of contention as well. Nepal lies on the rim of the Bay of Bengal, the north-eastern corner of the Indian Ocean, which also connects South and South East Asia by land, proving to be extremely vital for the Indo-Pacific concept.

Furthermore, the closeness it shares with China cannot be denied at all, given the recent major developments in the Belt and Road Initiative and the One Belt One Road Program, of which Nepal is an important participant. This point may be one of major concern to India, which has been trying to maintain the congenial ties it has with its neighbour since a very long time.

However, how much Nepal has been able to move ahead from the blockade of 2015 issue with India is still a question that remains unresolved and also fresh while re-considering new dealings in the fields like hydropower, border security, public health and also Buddhist tourism network, just to mention a few. Yet, no concrete reaction of confirmation from the Nepalese end has been recorded.

South Asian dynamics

As a developing nation, Nepal must realise and refrain from being a part of any strategic conundrum, against its own foreign policy related constitutional ethics. It must be against any proposal that would be harmful to its economic development, which is the core of any regional, sub-regional or extra-regional relationship or participation.

The platform should be used more in shaping an identity for Nepal and bringing forth its perspectives and stance vis a vis the South Asian dynamics and the Indo-Pacific that can leverage Nepal with better trade relations. If there is any probability of pitting Nepal against China, as the latter is considered a major hindrance in the Indo-Pacific area by the US, the former should stay away from it.

Not only would that be against the ethics of being a signatory to the BRI but would also hamper global relations as well. Thus, as a small country, which is just beginning to fly on its own, Nepal must be extremely cautious and not give into any hasty decision making, just for the sake of power, to prove itself and its worth in the region and among its immediate neighbours like India, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

Afghanistan: Evaluating India’s assistance

Sohini Bose

India and Afghanistan -- the world’s largest democracy and one of the most recent democracies -- are intent on building a lasting partnership. Seeking to nourish this alliance, India has been a steady provider of reconstruction aid to Afghanistan ever since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. In the process, India has earned considerable goodwill amongst the Afghan people.

At present, India is the fifth largest donor of international aid to Afghanistan. However, after 17 years of being ravaged by war and now amidst a peace process in which the international community takes a substantial interest, Afghanistan is on the threshold of dynamic changes. Such a changing situation has made it necessary to contemplate on the aid that India continues to provide Afghanistan and evaluate how much of it is in sync with the country’s present requirements. However, before that it is important to understand why India seeks to provide aid to this war-torn country.

Indian motivations

India and Afghanistan share a common past steeped in historical ties and civilizational linkages. Naturally there is cultural affinity amongst the people of the two countries, especially those living near the shared border. Given the diversity of population in both countries, India and Afghanistan also share the values of multi-ethnicity and pluralism.

Apart from historical linkages, from the strategic point of view, Afghanistan is important for India as the country’s connect with the Middle East and the Gulf countries. This has gained prominence, especially as India’s relations with Pakistan have assumed sterner connotations in the aftermath of the recent Pulwama attack and the subsequent developments. Maintaining strong and beneficial ties with Afghanistan has become even more important for India, especially as Pakistan is seeking to expand its influence in the country, utilising its new Prime Minister Imran Khan’s possible advantage in convincing the Taliban to enter into the peace process.

As a neighbouring country, peace and goodwill in Afghanistan is therefore necessary for India to pursue its foreign policy interests. Also being committed to human rights, India seeks unity, integrity and prosperity in Afghanistan and an end to the ongoing violence.

Manifestations of the aid

Rather than focusing on short term or high visibility assistance programmes, India has focused on the underlying structural problems of the country. Ever since 2001, India’s aid to Afghanistan has ranged from constructing public toilets to construction lines, spreading across multiple sectors such as medical services, transport, rural development and power generation. These expanding activities include major infrastructure projects, small and community development projects and lastly education and capacity development.

Some of the major projects that India has undertaken in Afghanistan are the construction of the Afghan parliament in Kabul, reconstruction of the Salma dam that was subsequently renamed as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam, reconstruction of the Indira Gandhi Institute Children’s Hospital and the restoration of the Stor Palace in Kabul. That apart, India has also financed the Afghan National Agriculture Sciences and Technology University, upgraded telephone exchanges, expanded the national telephone exchanges, supplied 250,000 metric tonnes of wheat along with free medical consultation and provided vehicles for local governance usages.

In support of Afghanistan’s attempts to establish a successful democracy, the members and officials of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission and India’s Election Commission members also engage in regular exchanges for study, observation and training activities. These are based on a Memorandum of Understanding between the two institutions.

As India’s efforts have generated a large amount of goodwill for the country amongst the Afghans, it may be understood that the aid projects and packages have been to a large extent in tandem with their needs. Validating this assumption, India’s assistance has been acknowledged to be the “most focused and effective” aid programme in Afghanistan in terms of the value for aid generated.

What future holds

However, India’s assistance, rather than being evenly spread over the entire country, has been concentrated in and around Kabul in an effort to strengthen the developmental efforts by the Afghan government. This may also be attributed to the fact that security is better in or near the capital rather than in the more distant provinces such as Helmand which are Taliban strongholds. It has also been acknowledged in many circled that India’s aid to Afghanistan is demand-driven.

Nonetheless, it is necessary to consider whose demand is it and if the demands of the Afghan government are in consonance with the requirements of the Afghan people. Also, India’s reconstruction efforts have been mainly directed at reconstruction activities and providing supplies.

Keeping in mind the question of sustainability of such assistance, it is important that India also contributes towards establishing small scale industries in Afghanistan which improves that chances of better livelihood and sustenance for the Afghan people. India recently hosted a trade exhibition for Afghan exporters in Mumbai wherein the latter earned substantially and left with lucrative deals.

More such efforts are necessary. Faltering system of education and the deteriorating status of women and their involvement in public life are also major problems in Afghanistan. India must therefore channelise its assistance for the betterment of these two concerned areas. Most importantly, as India focuses on long term assistance and reconstruction, it must formulate an evaluative mechanism which can assess how the aid projects are improving the lives of the Afghans and meeting their immediate requirements.

The future of India’s aid to Afghanistan is, however, debatable, especially with the Taliban entering the peace process. Chances are high that in the event of Taliban involvement in the future governance of the country, Afghanistan’s relations with India are likely to undergo dramatic changes. Also, as Pakistan is also not overtly keen on India’s involvement in the Afghan peace process, India’s best bet for ensuring beneficial ties with Afghanistan are on the goodwill of the Afghans. After all, the peace process is to be led and owned by the people of Afghanistan.

Country Reports


NATO in peace process

The NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has clarified that the US and its allies are not seeking a “leave deal” as they enter into negotiations with the Taliban leaders. The NATO is actively involved in peace efforts and is in frequent consultation with the US Special Envoy for Peace in Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. He further stated that NATO forces will not stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary. Already the forces have gone down from 140,000 to 16,000.

New chair for AIHRC

Ms. Shaharzad Akbar has been appointed as the new Chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) as the outgoing Chairperson Dr.Sima Samar bids adieu. Subsequently the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) announced that it looks forward to working closely with Ms.Akbar especially in the context of the ongoing peace talks. UNAMA also stated that the AIHRC has been playing a valuable role in moulding attitudes that have improved human rights in Afghanistan.


Ershad dead

Lt-Gen Hussain Muhammad Ershad, the chief of the Jatira Party and a former President of Bangladesh, died this week. Gen Ershad was the last the military dictator of Bangladesh who was ousted from power through the mass movement in 1990. Ershad’s Jatiya Party has been known to be a close ally of ruling Awami League. Currently, the party is sitting in opposition after Awami League rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party declined to join the parliament as questioned the impartiality of the parliamentary election held on December 2018.

South Korean PM in Dhaka

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon visited Bangladesh this week. During his visit, he met top leaders of Bangladesh, including Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina and President Abdul Hamid. During his meeting with President, South Korean Prime Minister pledged to support Bangladesh to realise its vision for 2021-241.  The visit also marked the signing of three bilateral instruments for enhancing cooperation in fields of trade, investment, diplomacy, and culture. The instruments comprise Memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cooperation between the Korea National Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Foreign Service Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh; and a Cultural Exchange Programme between Bangladesh and South Korea for the years 2019-2023. South Korean and Bangladesh maintains a friendly relationship. South Korea is a major developing partner in Bangladesh.


Connectivity through waterways

The country’s  first-ever consignment of 1000 metric tons of stone aggregates with chips sent from Dhubri port in Assam was officially received by Bangladesh at Narayanganj port in Dhaka on 18 July.  The export and import of goods through the use of riverine routes are expected to reduce the cost of transportation and serve as economic cooperation of trade involving the three neighbouring countries.

Dry port at Pasakha

Bhutan would construct a dry port at Pasakha and has earmarked Nu 1.7 billion for it out of the Nu 4 billion Trade Support Facility (TSF) India is providing Bhutan under the 12th Plan. The dry port is expected to be three times bigger than the mini-dry port that has been constructed in Phuentsholing.

Trade pact with Bangladesh

Bhutan is soon going to finalise the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with Bangladesh aiming at boosting trade and business between the two countries. This was informed after Bhutanese envoy to Bangladesh, Sonam T. Rabgye meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.


Relief for India at ICJ

The International Court of Justice gave a significant verdict in the case involving Kalbhushan Yadav, the former Indian Navy Officer, who was allegedly abducted by the Pakistani officials from Iran and was sentenced to death on charges of espionage and terrorism by a military court of questionable integrity in Pakistan. The international court ruled on 17 July  with a decisive vote (15-1) that Jadhav cannot be executed by Pakistan and he must be given adequate consular access and free trail. Subsequently, Pakistani officials reported that they are willing to provide consular and legal assistance to Jadhav.

NIA strengthened

The Rajya Sabha passed a legislation to strengthen the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the country's primary anti-terror body after it was passed in the Lok Sabha amid objections raised by the opposition. The government has asserted that the NIA Act would be instrumental in combating terrorism by checking scheduled offences such as human trafficking, circulation of fake currency, manufacture and sale of prohibited arms and cyber-terrorism.


Yameen trial on

In a first of its kind in Maldives, the trial of former President Abdulla Yameen in a money-laundering case is being televised live. This is the first of many likely trials against Yameen, and in this one he is charged with attempting to launder and derive benefits from @ 1 million deposited into his bank account by SOF, the private company which syphoned most of the state funds embezzled from government-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).

C’wealth commends EC

Pending Maldives’ application for re-admission into the British Commonwealth, the latter has commended the nation’s Election Commission (EC) for the ‘peaceful, credible, inclusive and transparent’ parliamentary polls on 6 April. However, the Commonwealth poll-observer team has expressed concern over the fewer number of women candidates in the fray. As may be recalled, the erstwhile Government of President Abdulla Yameen had pulled Maldives out of the Commonwealth, after the multi-national organisation found fault on democracy issues in the country.


‘Military seats’ to go

Significant changes are being proposed for amending the Constitution. A committee of legislators from the NLD has proposed getting rid of Article 20 authorizing the commander-in-chief of the armed forces to oversee the country’s security and defence institutions, and to gradually phase out the quarter of national and regional parliamentary seats automatically reserved for military officers under another article, legislators. NLD members of parliament also suggested changing Article 436 so that the support of only two-thirds of elected lawmakers would be necessary to approve constitutional changes instead of the current 75 per cent plus requirement that effectively allows the military bloc to reject amendments with their built-in veto power.

Internet blackout in Rakhine

The parliament speaker U T Khun Myat rejected an emergency proposal on 18 July asking the government to restore internet access in northern Rakhine and southern Chin states. The Ministry of Transport and Communications on June 20 ordered the four telecommunications companies to suspend mobile internet services to nine townships in northern Rakhine and southern Chin to restore law and order and create less confusion. Although internet access is cut off, phone calls and SMS services are available. But media blackout is obstructing correct news and generating more rumours. Therefore, the government’s effort to secure rule of law and regional security may be at risk.


Training for officials

Janardan Sharma, leader of the present Nepal Communist Party (NCP), has come up with an idea that would enable government officials to undergo training every year, thereby helping the system. It was mentioned that often due to inadequate knowledge, the system is not able to function smoothly. Given this circumstance, it comes across as a good suggestion.

Harnessing Indian benefits

Indian foreign direct investment in Nepal has been quite fascinating in the recent fiscal year. Also, India has also been witnessing a stable economic growth. Indian envoy to Nepal, Manjeev Singh Puri, recently called out to Nepal for utilising this opportunity. India is also speculated to become a USD 25 trillion dollar economy by 2025. This seems to be a good grounding for the two countries to bond.


Media freedom at risk

Pakistan has been found to be a “high risk country” for media pluralism, according to a recent report by the Pakistani Media Watchdog Freedom Network and the Media Ownership Monitor Pakistan. According to the study, Pakistan requires more broad based media ownership to ascertain greater variation in news sources as half the mass media ownership is in only a few hands. Furthermore, the report states that the new millennium saw a radical change in the size of Pakistani media.

Sri Lanka

Rule of law, post-blasts

The visiting UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly, Clement Nyalestsossi Voule, has appreciated Sri Lanka’s ability to recover after the Easter Sunday blasts, and restore freedom and rights. At a meeting with Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, Voule said the freedom of association and peaceful assembly was guaranteed to the public under the present government which embarked on a new trajectory upholding the rule of law and democracy and engaging with the international community, including the UN on the promotion and protection of human rights.



Opinion Pieces

Hujjatullah Zia, “Civilian Casualties – Great Cause for Concern”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 18 July 2019

Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Taimoor Shah and Najim Rahim, “‘What Kind of Peace Talks Are These?’: On the Front Lines of a 17-Year War”, The New York Times, 17 July 2019


Afghanistan Times, “Obstructing health services”, 18 July 2019

Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “The Emirate system, the Basis of Discrimination”, 14 July 2019


Opinion Pieces

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit enhances China and Bangladesh relations”,, 18 July 2019

 Arshad Mahmud, “Chinese investment in Bangladesh comes with risks”, Asia Times, 17 July 2019

Gavin O'Toole, “Green growth key to Bangladesh’s future”, Public Finance International, 16 July 2019

SaleemulHuq, “Bangladesh can lead the way”, Dhaka Tribune, 17 July 2019



Kuensel, “Misinforming the people?”, 15 July 2019

Kuensel, “The monsoon and us”, 13 July 2019


Opinion Pieces

Amrith Lal,” Legislators who change party affiliation must seek re-election”, The Indian Express, 19 July 2019

M.K. Narayanan,” India’s foreign policy needs rework in the next five years”, The Hindu, 15 July 2019

Mukul Kesavan, “Sports and nationalism are joined at the hip”, The Telegraph, 14 July 2019


The Indian Express,” 50 years later”, 19 July 2019

The Telegraph, “The obstacle course of curbing population growth”, 19 July 2019

The Indian Express,” The crumbling city”, 18 July 2019

The Hindu,” Waiting for day break; on Chandrayaan 2”, 16 July 2019



Lujine Rasheed, “Red, Green, White. Mickail defeats the plight”, The Edition, 16 July 2019


Opinion Pieces

Benjamin Waddell, “Returning migrants bring back money, skills, ideas”, The Myanmar Times, 19 July 2019

Aung Zaw, “What the Recent Military Shake-Ups Really Mean”, The Irrawaddy, 15 July 2019


Opinion Pieces

Narayan Manandhar, “Are we a peaceful nation?”, Republica, 17 July 2019


The Kathmandu Post, “A lot more needs to be done to support gender inclusion in the labour force”, 19 July 2019

The Himalayan Times, “Rehab plan a must”, 19 July 2019


Opinion Pieces

Rustam Shah Mohmand, “Finding a new strategic direction”, The Express Tribune, 19 July 2019

A.Rehman, “Proper drafting of laws”, Dawn, 18 July 2019


The Express Tribune, “Dream projects”, 19 July 2019

Dawn, “Empty stomachs, hollow speech”, 18 July 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajan Philips, “What is JVP up to?”, The Island, 21 July 2019

Lucien Rajakarunanayake, “Trump’s racism echoes Sinhala Balaya”, The Island, 20 July 2019

Siri Hettige, “Making political alternative meaningful and relevant to the masses”, The Island, 19 July 2019

Lynn Ocerksz, “Media responsibility as a factor in reconciliation”, The Island, 18 July 2019

Neville Ladduwahetty, “The State Land (Special Provision) Bill”, The Island, 17 July 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Too rooms, too many elephants”, Colombo Gazette, 16 July 2019

Jehan Perera, “The President has a better option”, The Island, 16 July 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “No trust in no-trusts”, Ceylon Today, 16 July 2019


Kelum Bandara, “Turkey alerts Sri Lanka on FETO terrorist organization: Turkish Ambassador”, Daily Mirror Online, 18 July 2019


Afghanistan & Pakistan: Sohini Bose

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Ameya Kelkar & Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Nepal: Sohini Nayak

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.