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Bipin Adhikari
The Kathmandu Post, 4 June, 2009
Source: The Kathmandu Post

"The Committee on Preservation of National Interest falls woefully short of expectations"

When Nepalis talk about national interests, they talk about very basic things about their survival. These basic things are the country's perceived needs and aspirations in relation to their immediate external environment.

Nepalis do not have the luxury of worrying about interests that are remote in a geographical, moral or worldly sense. They hardly expect a higher level of security that many in the developed world will think of, rarely imagine prosperity that many countries in Europe and America might want, and never dream of advancing any of their national values to other countries, or set objectives that are much more expansive in space, time and even conception. However, it does not mean Nepalis do not (or should not) have survival instincts.

Just early this week, India's Border Security Force (SSB) violently evicted thousands of Nepalese families by crossing the international border once again. Kantipur reported that among the more than 6,000 people chased away from their villages, 1,800 had to look for shelter in the Satbariaya forest in Deukhuri. Indian troops invaded their land, burned their homes and told them that they could no longer live in that area. Over 15 young women are said to be still missing. Once again, the troops moved the pillars marking the border between the two countries approximately 35 metres into Nepali territory. This is the everyday trauma that Nepalis have been forced to suffer by a jealous neighbour.

While the Committee on Preservation of National Interest (CPNI) has become the first among the 10 thematic committees of the Constituent Assembly (CA) to present its report to House Chairperson Subhash Chandra Nembang within the revised time schedule, the question whether its report has been able to propose arrangements that might preserve Nepal's vital interests as a nation is open to discussion. The issue here is: Has the committee responded to the trauma which the people of this country have been forced to suffer?

The committee report comprises a concept paper on the areas of its competence, a preliminary constitutional draft based on it, which also has a separate column for an explanatory memorandum for every issue dealt thereon. Led by UCPN (Maoist) leader Amik Sherchan, the committee has claimed that its report is based on consultations with 26 subject matter specialists and a review of the recommendations of 48,985 respondents to the questionnaires distributed by them early this year. Besides, 46 in-house experts of the government were also consulted on different issues.

In addition, they also checked 294 suggestions received from different quarters. Further, 7,500 informal slips were received and entertained by the committee to gauge public opinion. The committee had 98 meetings to finalize the report in its present shape, and spent 337 working hours to process all concerns. Moreover, the committee had created eight sub-committees -- one each for the eight constitutional areas allocated to the committee by the CA Rules 2008 to provide small group focus on these matters. Some of the sub-committee members said they are happy with the net output of the process they followed so vigorously.

Indeed, the report has captured many of the issues that relate to the preservation of Nepal's national interests. It has not been able to hit the core of our problems, however. Some of the fundamental issues that should have been addressed by the report at this level have been left unattended, miserably failing to read the nerve of this poor country. Some others do not find proper expression in the present draft format, even though several inputs have been received from the people on this score. Apparently, the plenary session of the CA has to compensate for these deficits, or send the report back to the committee for improvement.

To begin with, it is very important for Nepal to close all its open international borders and guard the house against unsolicited intruders to preserve its core national interest. This strategy has to encompass national border security, immigration control, sanctity of Nepal's airspace and a mechanism to fight terrorism and other sponsored activities from outside the country. Just recovery of lost lands, demarcation of the international border and its regulation is not enough. The committee needs to come forward and reflect boldly on the suggestions received from the common people, which among many other things, include explicit demand for passport control for every foreigner visiting Nepal.

The CA must also say no to the strategy of overwhelming Nepal's indigenous population by unsolicited immigrants. This country cannot remain a population importing country anymore. It would not be able to offer another round of five million citizenship certificates to immigrant Indians after another 20 years without finishing itself. The practice of offering citizenship en masse must be constitutionally halted for ever. Together with this, Nepali natives must be protected from pseudo Nepalese enjoying dual citizenship. The constitution should be able to provide stringent action against foreigners holding Nepalese citizenship while retaining their native passport.

A credible defence force remains one of the best means by which to guarantee security to the nation in a variety of ways. It must be kept outside the day-to-day politics, and attempts to bring abrupt change in the institution must also be resisted. However, the attempt to establish a national defence council where there is no representation of the chief of army staff is a very wild arrangement. It neither serves democracy nor any national interest. The provision of compulsory military training to youths without the leadership and support of a disciplined army is not a viable concept. All of the successful small states practice this to some extent. The provision serves well only when there is explicit determination to keep the army out of any military alliance, soft or hard, and its politicization thoroughly prevented. The interests of each regional power can also be preserved only by preventing the domination of the country's force by one of them, or any other outside the region.

It is in Nepal's enlightened national interest to make herself a neutral centre of trade, commerce, communications and finance useful to all powers, and capable of absorbing and integrating their presence and influence. Unfortunately, the committee report is without any direction in this area. It does not even consider and take a position on how to preserve access to reasonably priced and secure supply of oil in place of the current India guarded supply system. There is no direction about the national food security strategy, an all time crucial issue. It is surprising how a country can preserve its national interest without a clear concept of internal security challenges like climate change and floods and natural disasters affecting a large segment of the people like earthquakes.

The world has never been a safe place for small states. Nepal is not safe either. It has become even less so with the advent of regional rivalry, economic conflict, scramble for energy and mineral wealth and terrorism. One does not have to be Sam Huntington or Donald Nuechterlein or Alexander George or Robert Keohane to understand these basic survival issues. The point is why are these issues being ignored?

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