If reality were to be laced with allusion, Nepal is India’s national security bull in the China shop. And the move by Beijing to seek Kathmandu’s nod to open a consulate in the strategically located Pokhara in Southern Nepal has alarmed New Delhi. The dragon has been slowly making the Himalayan nation its lair and its presence in Southern Nepal has serious strategic implications for India.
Ostensibly, the Pokhara Consulate is to reciprocate the favour granted to Nepal, which has plans to set up a mission in Guangzhou -- the largest city in Southern China and the Communist nation’s third largest. Besides Pokhara’s strategic location, the Indian concerns over the Chinese move has got to do with the fact that region has been an important theatre for Indian counter-terrorism operations, scoring significant successes like the arrest of LeT master bomb-maker Abdul Karim Tunda and Indian Mujahidden co-founder Yasin Bhatkal.
According to the security agencies, a Chinese consolidation in Nepal will provide protective cover to Pakistani terror outfits targeting India.
China has also pressed ahead with the moves to expand its presence by setting up Confucius Institutes -- Beijing’s non-profit public bodies meant to promote Chinese language and culture -- which are scattered across Nepal.
And there are the China-Nepal friendship societies and associations, manned by local businessmen with trade links to Beijing, which have been set up at all the district headquarters in the Himalayan nation. Although, India too has submitted proposals to open new consulates at Nepalganj and Biratganj in the Madhesh region,Nepal’s current delicate political situation has kept them on hold for the time being.
China’s primary concern in Nepal is to monitor and suppress the activities of Tibetan refugees. And Pokhara is a major transit hub for the Tibetans trying to reach India, with no less than four Tibetan refugee camps located across the city.
China is vying with India at the PR level, also after initially maintaining close ties with the Nepalese monarchy and its Home Ministry. Nepali politicians of all hues get invited to Beijing, much like the invites to New Delhi in recent years.
However, diplomatic sources say China is careful to calibrate its public statements, aware of the India’s unease over Beijing’s growing footprint. Indian observers also believe that China is expanding its influence in Nepal to mainly counter the US, which is active in the region.