China's mission Pokhara sets alarm bells ringing
By Devirupa Mitra - NEW DELHI
Published: 15th Sep 2013 08:11:55 AM
Nepal is India’s national security bull in the China shop. China has asked permission from Nepal to set up a consulate in critically situated Pokhara, alarming New Delhi. The dragon has been slowly making the Himalayan kingdom its lair, and its presence in southern Nepal has serious strategic implications for India. The Pokhara consulate is ostensibly reciprocal to a proposed Nepali consulate in Guangzhou.
The proposal worries Indian security agencies. In recent months, the Pokhara region has been an important theatre of Indian counter-terrorism operations, scoring significant successes such as the arrest of terrorist bomb-maker Abdul Karim Tunda and Indian Mujahidden co-founder Yasin Bhatkal. Agencies feel that Chinese consolidation would provide protective cover for Pakistani terror groups targeting India.
China has also escalated its presence in the region. Confucius institutes, the official vehicles to promote Chinese language and culture are scattered all around Nepal. At all district headquarters, there are friendship societies and associations, which are manned by local businessmen with trade links to China. Meanwhile, India has also proposed new consulates in the Madhesh region in Nepalganj and Biratganj, but Nepal’s delicate current political situation has kept them on hold for the time being.
China’s primary concern in Nepal is to monitor suppress activities of Tibetan refugees. Pokhara is a major transit hub for Tibetans to reach India; four Tibetan refugee camps are located around the city. China is vying with India at the PR level, too. After initially nurturing close ties with the Nepalese monarchy and home ministry, Nepali politicians of all hues are invited to Beijing, much like invitations to New Delhi in recent years.
However, diplomatic sources say China is careful to calibrate its public statements, aware of Indian discomfort at their growing presence. Indian observers also believe that China is increasing its tentacles in Nepal to mainly counter the United States, which is active in the region. Recently, the US military and Nepalese army chartered an understanding on disaster response, which would increase the presence of US army personnel and aid officials in the country—a sore point in Beijing, nervous about US military personnel with their heavy-lifting equipment, operating close to their restive province.
Sources said the concerns of the central intelligence agencies about the spreading presence of China in Pokhara and its surrounding environs, close to the Indo-Nepal border, have been transmitted to the higher echelons of the government, including the prime minister’s office.
It will be difficult for Nepal to fob off Beijing for too long once a new government is in place after Constituent Assembly elections take place in November —especially since Nepal already has two consulates in Hong Kong and Lhasa.
A Chinese engineering firm had won the tender for an international airport in Pokhara last year. But, despite having a deadline for completing an agreement by August this year, it seems to have run into rough weather over increasing cost revisions.
-The Sunday Standard