We know Nepali Gurkhas as loyal and brave warriors, but not as the bookish or intellectual type.


Imagine a Nepali Phd professor of economics teaching at the University of New Mexico in America and writing a plan for his old country. His love and his vision shine through his excellent writing.

He sees how Nepal can benefit from its landlocked Himalayan position sandwiched between two giant developing countries, India and China. The theme is not unlike Singapore and Malaysia straddling the Straits of Malacca and benefiting from their strategic positions as conduits.

BTW, Burma, also, is in a similar “conduit” situation.

Professor Bohara notes that prior political disagreements between India and China can change. They can mesh in with their overriding long term economic interests. This will benefit Nepal, as well, as a conduit country. He argues it’s therefore in Nepal’s interests to bring the two neighboring countries together and form a trilateral cooperation agreement (area).

Food for thought for our politicians.

Also noteworthy is his approach. Instead of playing one country against the other, he is bringing them together.

His article below:

A Tri-lateral Trans-Himalayan Economic Cooperation Agreement


(The writer is professor of economics, University of New Mexico and can be reached at bohara@unm.edu )

(Editor’s Note: Nepalis, wherever they live, as well as friends of Nepal around the globe are requested to contribute their views/opinions/recollections etc. on issues concerning present day Nepal to the Guest Column of Nepalnews. Length of the article should not be more than 1,000 words and may be edited for the purpose of clarity and space. Relevant photos as well as photo of the author may also be sent along with the article. Please send your write-ups to editors@mos.com.np )

For such a vision, we need to make sure our regional politics are tied to our economic development strategies and that we can promote interests that are mutually beneficial for all parties involved. To that end, Nepal needs to persuade its two neighbours to sign a tri-lateral agreement – the Trans-Himalayan Economic Cooperative Agreement (THECA).

While we were busy with our endless PM electioneering, an Indian journalist was paying attention to a news item coming out of our northern neighbour China. The case in point was the Chinese decision to invest about $200 million to upgrade a dry port in Gyirong, a Tibetan town not that far from the central part of Nepal’s northern border. Calling Nepal a basket case and incapacitated with political infightings, this Times of India journalist was chastising his own government for not paying attention to these huge opportunities in the north.

Nepalis are aware of the rising economic prowess of China and India at the world stage, and we also love to talk about our strategic location. But in order to translate our rhetoric into reality, we need to have a strategic vision, followed by a set of doable policies.

For such a vision, we need to make sure our regional politics are tied to our economic development strategies, and that we can promote interests that are mutually beneficial for all parties involved. To that end, Nepal needs to persuade its two neighbours to sign a tri-lateral agreement – the Trans-Himalayan Economic Cooperation Agreement (THECA).

With rising economic trade between China and India to the tune of $60 billion per annum, which is more than the Indian trade with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries combined, a peaceful trade corridor in the middle would be a welcome relief for the two aspiring superpowers. Numerous Indian banks are already operating in China; English-speaking Indian MBAs and engineers are penetrating Chinese markets in an unprecedented way. And the idea of a trans-Himalayan highway is not confined to romantic, visionary rhetoric. More than 80 percent of goods in the US are transported over land, after all. Such an arrangement will be a necessity within a decade or two for the two Asian giants.

Also, the Chinese decision to move south-westward through the Tibetan plateau is highly strategic. In addition to having an eye on the southern Asian market, China is interested in integrating Tibet and its vast western front, Xinjiang, with the east coast. In particular, the sparsely populated but resource-laden Tibet Autonomous Region, the size of the Western Europe landmass, can play a vital role in China’s continuous economic drive.

For example, Tibet holds close to 30% of China’s fresh water reservoir (more than 100 b cb m underground and as much on the surface), 30% of the forest and bio-diversity (10% of the total Chinese landmass), massive river systems (20 major and 100 others), vast amount of minerals (100 mineral resources), and hundreds of miles of grassy lands. By taming the rivers, the US converted vast expansive grassy lands in the Midwest (about 250 million acres) into productive farm lands and urban cities. China also plans to build 100 dams in Tibetan plateau, which is going to change the Tibetan landscape in a significant way.

Some notable infrastructural developments in Tibet are: 25,000 KM of major and minor highway network, a spectacular railway line linking Beijing to Lhasa (4000KM), 1000 KM oil pipe line, and there’s more to come. This infrastructural development in Tibet also holds strategic value for India.

So what should Nepal do? First, our politicians need to drop the China versus India rhetoric from their political vocabulary and begin a fresh dialogue to design a new strategic vision for Nepal. As stated above, in terms of economic trade and volume, India now has closer ties with China than with Nepal or any other country in South Asia. So, Nepal’s positioning for taking advantage of the economic growth of China should not be looked at as a precursor to a geopolitical avalanche. In reality, the hue and cry in political and diplomatic circle in Nepal and India is merely a hangover psychology of the bygone days. It reminds us of the period when even after Russia and US ended the cold war, the US continued to treat India as an ally of Soviet Union of the cold war era. Within a span of two decades, who would have thought that India and the US would be engaged in a joint naval exercise? Likewise, our closeness to India need not be interpreted as a sign of big brotherly hegemonic domination. We just have to learn how to leverage our comparative advantages.

We already know of our potential in cash crops (coffee, spices, tea, herbs, biofuel), cultural and recreational tourism, manpower pool, and the importance of our Himalayan water towers. For example, by investing in fibre optics and IT parks equipped with physical facilities, water, electricity and tax breaks, we can also attract some portion of the billions of dollars of outsourcing ventures in India and China. Our thousands of MBAs and IT engineers will find good paying jobs and will learn entrepreneurial skills from Indian and Chinese partners. Multi-lane highways and railway lines through the Himalayas could link the two economic giants. The THECA doctrine should spell out these collaborative ventures, including the preservation of the trans-boundary eco-system. Our banking sector is already poised to be a regional financial capital, and our private colleges will be reinvigorated by linkages with educational institutions north and south of the border.

In return for these economic opportunities and infrastructure development in Nepal, and as an integral part of the THECA doctrine, Nepal should not hesitate to offer some peace of mind to China and India. Chinese concern is the growing anti-China political activities in Nepal. Peaceful demonstration in some designated areas should be tolerable to the Chinese, whereas the Nepal government should also make sure that the monasteries in Nepal do not violate their spiritual sanctity by being the centres of political activism. The Dalai Lama himself has not demanded a separate Tibet and professes non-violence. Any violent demonstrations by the Tibetan exiles in Kathmandu are not consistent with the Dalai Lama’s view. Plus, the recent dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama’s emissary is also an indication of a positive sign.

Likewise, Nepal should assure India that its land and the government apparatus would not be used to aid and incite Maoist unrest on the Indian lands. Similar assurance will have to be extracted from the Indian side.

This type of trilateral cooperative agreement between Beijing, Kathmandu, and Delhi should not be seen as a substitute for SAARC, nor should it be seen as a China-versus-India card game. OECD countries have forged their local cooperative treaties as per their national and regional needs. India too is constantly looking around to forge linkages with its neighbour on a bilateral basis to fulfil its resource needs: Bhutan for hydro, Iran for pipeline, and Bangladesh for natural gas. Similarly, a visit to India by Myanmar’s Head of State, Senior General Than Shwe from 25 to 29 July 2010 is equally significant. It is also worth noting that India and Myanmar share a 1600 KM border much of it along the remote and volatile north-east frontier. Thus, despite Myanmar‘s closeness to China, Indian leaders have decided to focus on issues of common interests.

Other examples include India’s long-time desire to join the much coveted membership to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum, and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), of which Nepal is a member of. Another example is the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between Japan and India. Thus, the proposed THECA concept is also a natural outcome and the socio-economic needs of the region.

Nepal can be a strategic transit to help India play a role in another big game China is orchestrating on its western frontier, also referred to as China’s new Silk Roads. As India continues to seek opportunities around its neighbourhoods, China is also making heavy investments to make headways into the resource-laden Central Asian countries that once were considered the buffer states. Thanks to Chinese economic muscle power and the farsighted vision, the region of contentious flashpoints is gradually turning into a transit corridor between East and West. Thus, politicians in Nepal too should change their old mindset, and not consider the country as a buffer state between China and India. The proposed THECA doctrine will help us look beyond the narrow tunnel vision that we have been harbouring for decades.

Historically, Nepal has provided a cultural linkage between Tibet and India. There are hundreds of cave dwellings in the upper Mustang valley filled with the centuries old magnificent Hindu and Buddhist paintings. These vast cave settlements provide evidence that the valley was frequented by pilgrims travelling between Tibet and India. This vibrancy in the valley several centuries ago seemed to have played a major role in spreading Buddhism in Tibet. On economic front, Nepal and Tibet traded salt, rugs, and spices for centuries, and Nepal used to have a strong business presence in Lhasa. Lately, the two countries are increasingly involved in export and import of the manufacturing goods. We already know of Nepalis and Indians sharing an age-old Vedic cultural heritage. But, our Himali cultural tie with our northern neighbour is also not less important. That is, there is a natural trans-boundary cultural foundation that binds us together, making a trilateral agreement more relevant between the three countries.

The key is to build a sense of trust among ourselves by being respectful of each other’s national sensibilities. Nepal cannot afford to use the China versus India card as pendulum diplomacy to suit their domestic political game plan. Nor can we afford to sit back passively and submit ourselves to their merciful discretion. Time has come to change our mindset, and be transparent about our needs and concern, and take up a proactive approach to our regional diplomacy.

Of course, in order to get Nepal on track for economic prosperity, the Maoists must be completely assimilated into our political spectrum, starting foremost with a written agreement on the merger of a mutually agreeable fixed number of PLA fighters into the Nepal Army. Given the way things are going at present, the tri-lateral treaty will require some more time, serious homework, and a tactful shuttle diplomacy. But while the politicians are distracted, the groundwork for the proposed THECA doctrine should begin to help break the geo-political paranoia and economic stagnation. But a long-run success of an agreement like this will require strong parliamentary endorsement from all the parties in Nepal, big and small.

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