Asia in Review Archive (2019-2020)
Date of AiR edition
19 May 2020
Continuation of India’s territorial and border disputes with Nepal
(jk) Last week, Asia in Review highlighted the story of the Indian Defence Minister inaugurating an link road through the Lipulekh pass, a territory disputed between India and Nepal and currently under control of Indian security forces. We also noted that Nepal has formally protested the unilateral move [Asia in Review No. 19, May/2020, 2], and since deployed members of its Armed Policy Force to patrol the area. [The Wire]
Over the week, the dispute has not died down and Nepal’s President Bidhya Devi Bhandari has claimed that a number of contested territories, including Lipulekh, belong to them. The cabinet endorsed a new map of the country this week including those territories in a clear sign of claiming sovereignty. [Zee News]
Observers in India have pointed out what they believe to be a distinct “China angle” in the developments as well, especially considering how close the pass is to the Line of Actual control (LAC) and after India’s Army Chief publicly stated that Nepal’s protest was at ‘someone else’s behest’, leaving little doubt he was referring to the PRC. [The Indian Express] Growing Chinese influence in Nepal is of course a concern for India and was only very recently highlighted by the actions of the Chinese ambassador to Nepal amid a serious government crisis as we highlighted then. [Asia in Review No. 18, May/2020, 1]
12 May 2020
India’s territorial and border disputes with Nepal, China and in Kashmir flaring up
(ls) Several incidents have put India’s disputes with neighboring countries and in Kashmir in the spotlight. Last week, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an 80 km link road through the Lipu Lekh pass, which is a territory disputed between India and Nepal but currently under control of Indian border security forces. Nepal protested against the move and announced to increase the number of security outposts and deploy more armed personnel to the border with India.
Nepal’s interests have suffered several setbacks in recent years. Back in 2015, India and China agreed to include the Lipu Lekh Pass as a bilateral trade route, without consulting with Nepal. And in 2019, India released a new political map including the disputed territories, which led to Nepal’s protest. [Kathmandu Post] [Economic Times] [The Hindu]
At the border between India and China, two small-scale violent incidents in Ladakh and Sikkim occurred between troops of the two countries. Soldiers brawled and threw stones at each other. The acts have led both India and China to send additional troop reinforcements to the area, while at the same time officials played the incidents down. The last major violent clash between the Indian and Chinese troops took place along the Pangong Lake situated between Ladakh (India) and Ngari (China) in September 2019. In 2017, there was a brawl between Chinese and Indian soldiers near Ladakh and the standoff in Bhutan’s Doklam in the same year. [South China Morning Post] [Times of India]
Turning to another hotspot, Kashmir, where Indian troops have intensified operations amid India’s nationwide lockdown. Indian troops killed four militants in gun battles, including Riyaz Naikoo, the commander of the biggest separatist group, Hizbul Mujahideen. News of the operation triggered clashes across the region in which dozens were injured. Authorities disabled mobile internet across the Kashmir region. [Reuters]
5 May 2020
Nepal’s Supreme Court reaffirms need to amend transitional justice law
(hg) Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled again on the sensitive matter of amnesties for grave conflict-era crimes in context of the country’s civil war. Rejecting a government petition the court asserted the overriding interest in securing truth, justice, and compensation for the thousands of victims of abuses by both sides who are still left without relief. Background is a campaign to revise the 2014 Transitional Justice Act and ensure its implementation and eradicate those provisions allowing for amnesties even for severe crimes like torture, rape, and enforced disappearance. The Supreme Court struck down these amnesty provisions in February 2015 already, prompting the government to petition the court to overturn the ruling. This petition was now rejected. [Human Rights Watch] [Nepali Times]
5 May 2020
Nepal: Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli under great pressure but remains in power – with a little help from a friend?
(jk) Continuing the pressures on PM Oli described in the previous Asia in Review, the past week saw a number of meetings between the various factions in the Nepal Communist Party looking for common ground. Even after withdrawing the ordinances on allowing political parties to split and easing the appointment of office bearers in the constitutional bodies, Oli stood to lose both his position as prime minister and party chair. [Asia in Review, No. 17, April/2020, 4]
The ruling Nepal Communist Party was formed after the merger of the CPN-UML (Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist)) and the Maoist Centre, with different factions now controlling various party institutions such as the Secretariat and the Standing and Central Committee. A Politburo has not yet been formed. The main rival faction, led by the second party chair and former PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal recently launched a campaign calling for Oli to resign, with a third faction in play led by senior politician Madhav Kumar Nepal. Both Oli and Dahal have over the last week tried to convince Nepal to join their respective side, offering him various posts and making promises. In Parliament, of the party’s 174 Members “around 78-80 are on Oli’s side and around 35-40 on Nepal’s side. The Maoist faction has 53 lawmakers.” [Kathmandu Post 1]
After it initially looked like Dahal and Nepal were set to push Oli from power, a last minute effort by Oli over the weekend seems to have secured him the premiership for now after he redistributed powers and positions within the party to different powerful faction leaders. Oli and Dahal in particular agreed to share power in that Oli is to focus on the government and Dahal on party affairs with “executive authority”. Dahal’s supporters followed his lead and withdrew their challenges against Oli. [Kathmandu Post 2]
An interesting international angle on the crisis last week was provided by the action of the Chinese ambassador to Nepal who “held a series of meetings with senior Nepal Communist Party leaders, expressing concern over the ongoing power play within the ruling party and seeking support to act as a bulwark against an international movement targeting China.”
Ambassador Hou’s series of meetings preceded the crucial ruling party Secretariat meeting on Saturday and the following events of the weekend where the crisis and Oli’s resignation was eventually avoided. While the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu stated meetings were nothing but “regular working communications”, the timing of the meetings as well as the fact that “the Foreign Ministry was not informed beforehand and no representative of it was present during the meetings” and as a result “no institutional records of the meetings [or] talking points” were made may raise eyebrows and seriously questions Chinese affirmations that they do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. [Kathmandu Post 3]
28 April 2020
Nepal: Prime Minister Oli’s struggle for power as corona crisis looms large
(ls) Last week, Nepal’s Cabinet endorsed a surprise ordinance allowing political parties to split if 40% of their parliamentary party voted for it. Another ordinance that was also approved related to the Constitutional Council, easing the appointment of office bearers in the constitutional bodies. Observers considered these as moves by Prime Minister K.P. Oli to counter his rivals in the governing Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and to distract from the economic fallout of the corona crisis. [Kathmandu Post 1]
However, after coalition partners and some Cabinet members opposed against the move, Oli had to backtrack and revoke both ordinances. The case illustrates Oli’s dwindling power. He is increasingly isolated within his own party. At the same time, the government has been accused of several corruption scandals which undermined public trust months before the corona virus started to spread. [Nepali Times]
Prior to the revocation, Dr. Bipin Adhikari, constitutional law expert and founding Dean of Kathmandu University School of Law, called the ordinance that would have amended the provisions related to the Constitutional Council unconstitutional. Nepal’s Constitutional Council is a key agency that appoints officials at various constitutional bodies, including the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, the country’s top anti-corruption agency. [Kathmandu Post 2]
In another interview, Adhikari also commented on Nepal’s legal framework to deal with the corona crisis. [Lokantar] The country’s emergency powers invoked in the crisis have also been analyzed at [Verfassungsblog].
Economic insecurity caused by the impact on Nepal’s tourism sector and returning migrant workers pose the risk of pushing many Nepali households further into poverty. For the time being, foreign tourists will no longer be coming. Instead, Nepal stands to potentially see millions of now-unemployed nationals returning home from abroad. [The Diplomat]
31 March 2020
Is the corona crisis bringing Nepal closer to China?
(ls) As China claims to have brought the coronavirus outbreak under control, it has now reached out to Nepal, India, and 10 other Eurasian and South Asian countries to help out these nations in their respective fight against the virus. As for Nepal, these efforts may bring the country in closer cooperation with its big neighbor. The development highlights Nepal’s difficult choice between China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the United States’ Indo-Pacific Strategy. [The Diplomat]
24 March 2020
Nepal: Parliament to discuss legalization of Marijuana
(jk) After filing a motion in parliament earlier this year calling for legalization of cannabis and a lawmaker proposing a bill earlier this month to legalize marijuana in Nepal, senior members of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (NCP) are stressing the potential economic benefits to the country from re-legalizing. The legislation that is currently under review in parliament, calls for scrapping the 1976 Narcotics Drugs Control Act and with that, allow production, sale, and consumption of cannabis. [Newsd] [Nikkei Asian Review]
18 February 2020
Nepal: Former parliament speaker acquitted of rape charges – New speaker a murder suspect
(ls) A court in Nepal has acquitted the former speaker of parliament and senior Communist Party leader, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, on charges he raped a government worker. Mahara, a former leader of the Maoist rebels, had been elected speaker of the House of Representatives last year after the Communist Party of Nepal won a majority of the seats in elections in November 2017. [ABC News]
Mahara’s replacement will likely be Agni Sapkota, a senior member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party and also a former Maoist rebel leader. He is accused of ordering a man’s death during Nepal’s civil war. Though several hearings over the case have taken place in the Supreme Court, he has not been officially charged. Civil and human rights activists said the case has made mockery of (the) rule of law and undermined human rights obligations. [Dhaka Tribune]
11 February 2020
Nepal: Controversial Politician accused of murder becomes Speaker of the House
(jk) For many years, human rights groups have tried to initiate an independent investigation in a murder case implementing a standing committee member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP). The case dates back to 2005, but in the absence of a thorough investigation, Agni Prasad Sapkota continued his political career and has been elected as speaker of the house in late January. His predecessor is accused of rape, a fact not lost on those who lament a “culture of impunity” among Nepal’s top politicians. [The Kathmandu Post]
Nepal has a long way to go in a credible transitional justice process 14 years after the end of its civil war. [Al Jazeera]
4 February 2020
Nepal Supreme Court demands better protection of Nepalis working abroad
(ls) In a decision in January, Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered the government to investigate cases of Nepalese workers who lose their lives abroad. The vast majority of such cases (about 1,000 per year) occur in Malaysia and Middle Eastern countries such as Qatar. The court issued an order against the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security and the Foreign Employment Promotion Board to include provisions regarding insurance and compensation to families in labor agreements with destination countries. Every day, about 1,600 Nepalese leave the country to work overseas. In many cases, they are subject to excessive recruitment fees, fraudulent jobs, abusive working conditions and mistreatment, and often have their passports withheld by employers. [South China Morning Post] [Himalayan Times]
21 December 2019
Nepal: Struggle over position of House Speaker
(ls) In Nepal’s House of Representatives, the post of the Speaker has been vacant since the former Speaker was arrested on charges of rape of a parliamentary colleague in September. Nepal’s Constitution requires that the Speaker and deputy must be of different parties and different genders. They are supposed to resign from their political parties so that they can lead the parliament impartially. The current deputy speaker is Shivamaya Tumbahangphe who was a member of the ruling Nepal Community Party (NCP), which wants her to resign: The NCP cannot contest the process of Speaker election as long as she is the deputy. However, women’s rights activists and politicians have termed the NCP’s demands discriminatory. The topic is followed closely throughout the country. [Nepali Times]
The level of discrimination against women in Nepal’s society and in the legal profession are described in an article published in [The Diplomat].
17 December 2019
Nepal demands renegotiation of Gurkha recruitment deal with Britain
(ls) Nepal’s foreign ministry has announced that it wants to review a military deal allowing its citizens to be enlisted in the British army. The announcement came just before a planned recruitment of Nepali women in the Brigade of Gurkhas for the first time in two centuries was initiated. Britain has been enlisting Gurkhas, a tribe from Nepal’s Himalayan foothills known for their fierce combat abilities, since 1815. In 2007, Britain announced plans to recruit Gurkha women for its elite force. However, the existing agreement does not allow Nepal to play any role in the recruitment process, which is the reason for Nepal’s call for renegotiation. [Reuters]
Here is a video about the British army’s recruitment selection process in Nepal. [YouTube]
26 November 2019
Video: India Nepal Relations in Shadow of Chinese Influence
(jk) A conversation with a former Indian ambassador to Nepal who looks at the historical evolution of India-Nepal relations and argues that the concern over increasing Chinese involvement in Nepal, and resulting threats to India, are exaggerated. While he sees “legitimate areas of concern”, India should seek avenues for cooperation with both. [The Wire]
19 November 2019
Nepal rejects Indian and Chinese maps that apparently appropriate Nepalese territory
(ls) India has released a new official political map at the beginning of November, which has been stirring criticism in Nepal recently, including from Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The updated map of India includes a major Nepali claim, an area known as Kalapani. However, this is not an entirely new development as India’s national mapping authority has been including the Kalapani and Navidhang areas in its maps since 1905, disregarding Nepal’s territorial sovereignty and a 1816 treaty between Nepal and the then East India Company. [The Diplomat]
In addition, protesters also took to the streets of Kathmandu after a recent government report indicated that China had encroached on Nepalese land. According to the document released by Nepal’s Survey Department, four districts sharing a border with China – Sankhuwasabha, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk and Humla – were seen losing territories as Beijing expanded its road projects. [South China Morning Post]
The incidents vividly illustrate Nepal’s sandwiched position between India and China, which are, however, both seeking to deepen ties.
5 November 2019
The effects of American anti-abortion policies on Nepal
(ls) A detailed report on Buzzfeed describes the effects of conservative American politics on parts of Nepal’s health care sector. It lays out how, shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump was elected, he activated a “global gag rule” (GGR), banning US funding of foreign NGOs that provide abortion counseling or referrals. The article argues that, for a country like Nepal where the health care sector relies heavily on U.S. aid, the effects were very negative for women’s health. [Buzzfeed]
29 October 2019
Nepal refuses China on extradition treaty and is protecting Tibetan exiles
(jk) As previously reported, a couple of weeks ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping made important visits to two of China’s direct neighbours, India and Nepal [Asia in Review, No. 42, October/2019, 3].
While Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not discuss political topics such as Kashmir and focused on improving economic exchanges, Xi and Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari announced a “strategic partnership of cooperation featuring ever-lasting friendship for development and prosperity”, signed a number of MoUs, and celebrated promises of investing around US$500 million in different development projects [India Today], including US$21 million for the Nepalese Army in “disaster relief materials” over the next three years [Reuters]. It was the first Chinese president in 22 years to visit the country, and a rail link with Tibet was one of the focal points of the visit.
Nepal is home to thousands of exiled Tibetans, and their treatment has long been an issue of tension. After the visit however, it is important to point out that Nepal refused to conclude an extradition treaty that China was apparently after. [The Economic Times]
15 October 2019
Chinese President visits Nepal
(jk) After Xi’s India visit (above), he went on to Kathmandu to meet and discuss Beijing’s infrastructure development programme there. Among the more ambitious projects are a 70-km rail link that will connect Gyiron in Tibet with Nepal’s capital city and a proposed 28-km road tunnel that will more than halve the distance from Kathmandu to the Chinese border.
The visit was controversial for Nepal is traditionally a close ally of India and this was the first such visit in over two decades. The geopolitical and domestic political shifts of late are affecting Nepal which is looking to diversify its external relations.
Xi and Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari announced a “strategic partnership of cooperation featuring ever-lasting friendship for development and prosperity”. A number of MoUs were signed, in addition to a promise of investing around US$500 million in different development projects. [India Today]
An additional point of contention is the fact that Nepal is home to thousands of exiled Tibetans, who are facing and increasingly tough communist government that is moving closer to Beijing and “would never allow any anti-Chinese forces to operate in Nepal”. [South China Morning Post 1] [South China Morning Post 2]
8 October 2019
Nepal: House Speaker arrested over rape allegations
(ls) Krishna Bahadur Mahara, the Speaker of Nepal’s House of Representatives, has been arrested after he had resigned from his post following an accusation of rape by a staff of the parliament secretariat. The news of rape surfaced after a news website published a report on September 30, where the woman accused Mahara of raping her in her own residence. [BBC] [Himalayan Times]
The governing Nepal Communist Party had also asked Mahara to step down. He was the chief negotiator for the Maoists during the peace talks that ended Nepal’s decade-long civil war in 2006 and served as Finance Minister and Home Minister in successive Maoist-led governments after 2008. He was elected speaker after an alliance of the rebels and moderate communists won a landslide victory in the 2017 national elections. Throughout his political career, he was involved in several scandals and controversies. [Nepali Times]
24 September 2019
Nepal: Energy politics with India and Bangladesh
(ls) As relations between India and Nepal are deteriorating under Kathmandu’s communist government, the Himalayan country’s electricity export outlook is also worsening. Over the last four years, two foreign companies have pulled out of two hydropower projects due to the less attractive prospect. Despite signing a Power Trade Agreement in 2014 aimed at easing flows of electricity across the frontier, the process has been stalled by the lack of a policy framework on both sides. However, Nepal also sees Bangladesh as a potential buyer of its energy. Hydropower is one of Nepal’s major export sectors. [Nikkei Asian Review]
17 September 2019
India opens cross-border pipeline with Nepal
(jk) The leaders of India, PM Modi, and Nepal, PM KP Oli, have officially opened the first cross-country oil pipeline, allowing Nepal to receive direct oil-supplies from India without relying on trucks passing through often narrow border areas.
Nepal is heavily reliant on oil supplies from India and over recent years, protests and other disturbances at the Nepali-India border have often led to shortages in energy supplies.
India-Nepal ties are recovering after Oli’s first term in which India-Nepal ties had reached a low point when Modi pressured for the interests of Indian-origin Madhesi in the country, allegedly supporting a blockade to put pressure on Kathmandu to make specific changes to its constitution. The blockade created widespread suffering in Nepal, which had also just suffered a major earthquake, and caused many anti-Indian sentiments. [Live Mint]
10 September 2019
Nepal: Arrest of a popular journalist illustrates deterioration of press freedom
(ls) In Nepal, the arrest of one of the country’s most popular journalists has exposed widespread disaffection with politicians and the direction in which the country is headed more generally. Last month, police detained Rabi Lamichhane, a television show host, from his studio in Kathmandu in connection with the death of a former employee. Although the charges against are not directly related to his reporting activities, observers see the case as a crackdown on freedom of speech. A number of journalists have been arrested since the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) won national elections in a landslide in 2017.
Date of AiR edition
4 June 2019
Nepal: Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) voices concern over Nepalese government’s growing control on constitutional body and media
(jyk) Hong Kong-based AHRC has recently voiced its concern over Nepalese government’s attempt to pass an amendment bill that will give the government, led by National Communist Party (NCP), the discretionary power to intervene in the internal affairs of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), despite NHRC’s status as an autonomous constitutional body. NHRC was established to monitor and take independent measures against cases of human rights violation within the country, but its autonomy enshrined by the Constitution of Nepal will be undermined once the bill passes. The NCP-led government was also seen submitting the Media Council Bill that could let the government sue and impose a fine of up to one million rupees (about 9,000 USD) on medias and journalists under the charge of defamations [The Himalayan Times 1].
In similar concern over political entity’s growing influence on judicial branch, a group of lawyers have founded a new bar association called Independent National Lawyers’ Campaign (INLC) to replace the NBA (Nepal Bar Association), whose leaders are being overtly involved and loyal to the political parties. The INLC members seek to develop INLC into a neutral organization and expand its units across all regions. [The Himalayan Times 2]
28 May 2019
Four killed and seven injured in Kathmandu bomb attack
(jk) A Maoist splinter group is suspected to have conducted a coordinated three-blast bomb attack in the Nepali capital of Kathmandu, killing four people, past Sunday. The army has sealed off the area and is investigating the matter as no one has come forward yet to claim responsibility. [Nikkei Asia Review]
11 March 2019
Nepal: Agreement with Madhesi group to end violence
(ls) Nepali Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa and CK Raut, a ‘Free Madhes’ campaigner and coordinator of the Alliance for Independent Madhes, have signed an 11-point agreement, according to which the group would cease their demands for a “free” Madhes and enter mainstream politics while the government would withdraw cases against him and his followers. Raut had for the last six years been actively demanding an independent Madhes for ‘liberation’ of the Madhesi people. However, there are several Madhesi separatist groups that are not covered by this agreement. [Kathmandu Post]
11 March 2019
Nepal: New strict legislation to regulate social media
(ls) A new law being introduced by the Nepali government will give the authorities powers to block social media platforms and remove or prosecute defamatory posts. The government has also tabled legislation that restricts civil servants from sharing their views in the media including social media sites. The Information Technology Bill would impose harsh sanctions for “improper” social media posts. The law also prohibits speeches and writing that are considered “contrary to the policies of the Government of Nepal or to undermine mutual relationship between the Government of Nepal and the people or the relationship with any foreign country”. Civil rights groups have strongly criticized the bill. [Himalayan Times]