US Arms to Nepal
The extraordinary generosity shown by the United States in supplying arms to Nepal for counter-insurgency operations has evoked mixed reactions from strategists and foreign affairs experts in India. Some say India should not get perturbed; others insist that the US inclination towards Nepal suggests the need to watch US actions that can have far reaching implications for the South Asian region.
It lies in the discretion of Nepal to buy arms and ammunitions from India or from any other country. The US deal with Nepal cannot present any territorial dangers to India. There is no reason therefore for India to be worried because it cannot supply arms and ammunitions in large quantities nor the latest equipment to Nepal. The US's decision to offer military help to Nepal will instead help reduce pressure on India which sells military hardware at 30 per cent of its costs to neighboring countries. Also, US arms will be welcome rather than Indian arms due to the deep distrust in Nepal towards India.
Others do not share these views, and their apprehensions are not without reasons. They believe that any arms supply to Nepal by the US could become the cause for worry because of strategic reasons. The US war in Iraq is a glaring example of the super power's vested interests. In fact, it has been making concerted attempts to establish a base in the South Asian region on one or the other pretext because of its strategic interests although it has yet to get any success. It has made a unilateral offer to tackle insurgency in Northeast India, which rattled the experts, and strategists in India.
Defence strategists suspect that the US wants access to South Asia to keep an eye on China and India in particular. Along with the presence of Pakistan's ISI in Nepal, the US entry through military or financial aid can become a cause of anxiety to New Delhi. According to a senior defence analyst, a super power first signs agreements and then rules over the beleaguered country. The United States has dismissed such reports and made clear that its sole objective is to coordinate and not interfere in the internal matters of Nepal.
The officials in the Nepal Embassy in New Delhi have assured that the Deuba government is seeking limited role for the United States in counter-insurgency operations. Nepal is buying arms and ammunition from Belgium and the United States but India continues to be the major supplier.
India has supplied INSAS rifles and attack helicopters to Nepal. Under the 1950 Indo-Nepal agreement, Nepal is required to make the first offer to India for supplying arms, ammunition, warlike materials and equipment. Nepal is also required to import arms, ammunition, or warlike material and equipment from other countries in consultation with India. But strategists charge that this clause is rarely preserved by Nepal. In fact, India has shown irritation about any foreign involvement of this kind.
US military help essentially involves supply of M-4 and M-16 rifles and explosives, besides training on counter-insurgency measures to security personnel. The latest consignment to Nepal in the last week of September contained explosives and ammunition to combat the Maoists. This began in 2001 after the ruling elite became desperate and sought help from the US to crush the insurgency in Nepal. The US started providing military hardware thereafter in large quantities, including M-16 and M-4 rifles to bolster the Royal Nepalese Army's operations against the Maoists, along with night vision glasses. This assistance forms part of an agreement between the US and Nepal in which the former will supply military hardware to Nepal.
Indian experts have expressed their concern over Nepal getting military aid from various countries and the United Nations offering third party mediation to solve the insurgency issue. They say that India should look seriously at these offers because third parties will complicate the Nepalese conct rather than resolve it. They added that India should cease offering blind support to the Monarchy as the symbol of order and stability in Nepal. The Monarchy is the bone of contention in the Himalayan Kingdom, and hence it cannot be part of any solution to the present crisis. India should try and relate to the grassroots and popular forces, including the Maoists.