Thursday, September 23, 2021

President Biden, why are you trying to destroy relationship with Nepal through MCC?

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Honourable President Joe Biden,

Greetings from a country sandwiched between the two giant nations- China and India. Having thought very rigorously for a prolonged period whether it is a good idea to write you an open letter despite being consciously aware of the fact that the White House is not an easy-to-reach destination, I had no choice left but to address you through an open letter.

It is a common knowledge that the flight distance between Nepal and the US is some 7,926 miles, which is equivalent to roughly 14.15 hours’ distance in an airplane that travels in an average speed of 560 miles per hour. However, the real distance between Nepal and the US is not as simple as the aforementioned figure. It is much more than the physical distance that separates the two countries.

Millions of aspirants from nearly every nook and corner of this universe dream of landing in US soil at least once in their lifetime and Nepali people are no exception.

I am confident that you are aware about age-old diplomatic relation between Nepal and the US. At this moment, with profound respect to the US, I would like to remember the year 1947 when the US recognized Nepal as a sovereign country and the following year it established a diplomatic tie with Nepal. Since then both the countries have shared very close bonds, co-operating in various issues. The US has been providing momentous financial as well as technical supports for the development of Nepal through the USAID since 1951. Although questions have risen over the distribution and the use of a huge aid budgets not reaching the deserving ones, the USAID Project is still in function, and it is among the largest donors to Nepal.

However, for the past few years, Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has been the talk of the town. An agreement viz. Millennium Challenge Compact has been signed between Nepal and the MCC in 2017 to work in transmission line and in developing road infrastructure in Nepal. Apparently, the project seems very attractive and in complete favour of Nepal since the motto of the MCC is to help the underdeveloped by reducing poverty. On top of it, the US spends a huge sum in order to foster the dream of underdeveloped countries to prosper, which should also make the ties between the US and the aid receiving country stronger and deeper.

Contrary to its objective, the MCC project has created division in Nepal. Not only are the political parties and party leaders taken at least three sides, if not more, but also the experts and the public are polarized. To add to that the unpopularity of the MCC is growing like a wildfire in Nepal, deteriorating an age-old healthy relationship between Nepal and the US.

Certain clauses of the compact are not in compliance with Nepal’s foreign policies, and they also challenge certain domestic norms with potential threat to the sovereignty of the country.

One understanding is that the MCC, like many other functioning foreign projects run via aid, is a development assistance and there are no hidden agendas except the ones Nepal has complied with and committed to abide by. Hence, there should not be any further delay in accepting the compact as per the agreement. But another increasingly growing discourse is that the MCC is a demon disguised in the form of economic assistance to be implemented to carry out the strategic interests of the US and, therefore, it should not be welcomed in Nepal at all. Additionally, there prevails another view that certain clauses of the compact are not in compliance with Nepal’s foreign policies, and they also challenge certain domestic norms with potential threat to the sovereignty of the country. However, if such clauses in the compact are amended the project may contribute significantly to the development aspiration of people.

I want to take this opportunity to remind you, Mr President, that although a huge section of public and a markedly large number of experts and politicians were in favour of the third point of view, more and more people who once supported the project with certain amendments have turned against the MCC. Several incidents and stakeholders have played their role in making the compact an unwanted choice.

First and foremost, the inconsistency of the American perception of the MCC acted as a provocation against the compact. Such inconsistency could be reflected in one of the visits of US envoys to East Asia when they linked the MCC with that of Indo-Pacific Strategy. The issue was further agitated when the US ambassador to Nepal in an exclusive interview claimed the compact being an American investment while the Nepali side had consistently argued it to be a complete grant with no ifs and buts. Such contentious understandings lead to the question whether MCC is a grant, a soft loan, an investment, or a blank check without any deposit in the bank.

On top of these arguments is a new narrative which looms over the Nepali sky viz. the MCC compact was signed without serious study. The 11 questions and 17 sub-questions on some of the clauses of the compact posed by Nepal government three years after the compact has been signed and the underlying nature of these questions speaks voluminously on the immaturity of the Nepal side reflecting its hasty acceptance of the programme with far lesser homework done.

More importantly, Mr. President, a large section of the society has been raising voices against the compact yet neither Nepal government nor the MCC seems to have given the ear to the voices raised. If the MCC is tabled on the parliament for ratification and if it is implemented, it is very likely, if not certain, to create rift in the society. They society is bound to divide on this issue, which is very displeasing for the US government as the motto of such programme is to create peace and prosperity not chaos and division. It will eventually help in increasing the animosity towards America and the relationship which both the countries have enjoyed for more than 70 years might deteriorate at least at the ground level. Not to remind you that Nepal has in almost all the international forums stood by the US supporting the latter in its international stand.

If the MCC is tabled on the parliament for ratification and if it is implemented, it is very likely, if not certain, to create rift in the society. They society is bound to divide on this issue, which is very displeasing for the US government as the motto of such programme is to create peace and prosperity not chaos and division.

It has been a common understanding that US over the recent past has been shaky with its foreign policy, especially in dealing with Afghanistan and Syria and it has been facing a sharp criticism inside the US and outside. In this regard, if the objective of the MCC is not fulfilled and if the project is unable to deliver its promise by the end of its five-year plan, America would have to accept the share of the pie further diminishing its own reputation in the international polity. Since the MCC itself imagines the possibility of its failure and the evidence from Honduras and Sri Lanka clearly suggests that there are chances of failure as well as rejection. On this note, precaution is essential.

Multiple clarifications issued by the US embassy and high-level visits of MCC representatives to Nepal seem to have pressured Nepal side to ratify it as quickly as possible. More than a year ago the American Embassy hinted the soon-to-expire date of ratification has been postponed and no one knows on whose interest or request. Now the concern is: why should the US forcefully allocate the fund to Nepal while the popular aspiration is against the compact? Door-to-door visits of Fatema Z. Sumar, the vice-president of the department of compact operation at the MCC do more harm than good.

At this moment, a question is rising across Nepal and many Nepali Diasporas: “Why is the US investing in deteriorating the long-standing friendly relationship with Nepal?” Is the US ready to bear the loss and cost of MCC project in Nepal?

Published on 10 September 2021

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