Saturday, May 28, 2022

Nepal and Ukraine crisis


Ukraine crisis popped up at a time when Nepal was already badly embroiled into another crisis that was having a geo-political ramification. It has to do with the crisis of Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) where the US offered $500 million grant, China goaded Nepal not to accept such grants with heavy strings and India relatively kept quiet.

Definitely, Ukraine crisis will have different ramifications in Nepal but associating it with the implementation of MCC will be an exercise in stupidity.

Russia invading Ukraine on 24 February must have pushed, albeit indirectly, our ever quibbling politicians to hurriedly approve MCC in the parliament on 27 February. As China and the US resorted to diplomatic duet, MCC was going out of control.  

On 2 March, Nepal voted in favour of United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A total of 141 countries voted in favour, 35 abstained and 5 voted against the resolution. Among the important countries that abstained from voting included China and India.

China and India abstained for different reasons. Based on China and India’s abstentions and also ignoring massive global outcry against the invasion, the political buffoons in Nepal are not in short supply to criticize the government for showing “diplomatic immaturity” or antagonizing Russia. Many believed Nepal’s condemnation of invasion to be the handy work of the US.

There are others believing that Nepal voted in favour of the resolution because Nepal got irked by Russia demanding repayment of the soft loan granted in 1960s. The buffoons should know that even in South Asia, besides Nepal and Afghanistan, smaller countries like Maldives and Bhutan also voted in favour of the resolution. There are no fewer intellectuals in Nepal subscribing that Nepal should have remained neutral because of its non-aligned policy. The fact is that the non-aligned movement (NAM) has never remained non-aligned. Like SAARC, it is a dead issue.

One should realize that Nepal has much more bigger ties with Ukraine than with Russia. It is one thing that in early 1960s, the then USSR, as a result of cold war situation, was a major donor country for Nepal. The then USSR helped Nepal in the field of infrastructure and manpower development. Many of the public owned corporations like Birgunj Sugar Factory, Janakpur Cigarette Factory, Agriculture Tools Factory and Rosin and Turpentine Factory were established with the financial and technical support of the USSR.

Unfortunately, like the history of USSR, all of these units have been closed for a long time. The then USSR also provided generous scholarships to Nepali students in the field of engineering, medicine and other technical fields. With the change of winds, Russia’s influence in Nepal has considerably shrunk. Currently, Nepal’s trade links with Ukraine runs several folds than with Russia.

With the escalation of the Ukraine crisis, it may percolate into Nepal through China and/or India.

This scribe was shocked to know that when an oil miller based in Khokana informed him of having mustard grains, imported all the way Ukraine to extract cooking oil here. With Ukraine crisis unfolding, one can fairly expect food prices to shoot up in the days to come. Definitely, looming global crisis emanating from the war in Ukraine will exert direct or indirect impact on Nepal.

With the Ukraine crisis, the very first problem Nepal faced, as in Afghanistan, is the rescue of Nepali students studying in Ukraine. There are around 1,000 Nepalese based in Ukraine. So far, government has claimed to have rescued more than 500 Nepalese from Ukraine. Hopefully, as aberration, a lone Nepali, by the name of Pratap Basnet based in Ukraine, went viral in the social media, for deciding to join Ukraine army to fight Russian invaders.

Now, there are thousands of volunteers from the West queuing up to fight the war. Who knows with the escalation of the war, possibly dragging NATO into the fold, Nepal will have difficult time coping with the possible deployment of Nepali Gurkha soldiers, now employed in the British Army. Nepali Gurkha soldiers come cheap to the Britons, therefore, it is conventional to deploy Gurkha army in any war participated by the UK.

With the escalation of the Ukraine crisis, it may percolate into Nepal through China and/or India. With Ukraine crisis, China is having a windfall. However, this is expected to last for a short period. If the crisis turns out to be an intractable problem engulfing into a global crisis, China loses everything it has gained so far. Global instability will come as a big cost to China. Its ambitious BRI project will come to a standstill.

India cannot keep quiet for long. Sooner or later, it has to take sides. With China sucked into one-party communist ideology, it will be near impossible for India to distance away from the camp of Western allies. This is where Nepali politics may come into a grind halt. Let us hope we are not into World War III or Cold War 2.0.      

Published on 11 March 2022