The Himalayan country of Nepal is well-known for its ancient culture, natural beauty, and ethnic diversity. The country was closed to the outside world until the 1950s, ruled by a monarchy. Since then, Nepal progressed and established a multi-party parliament system, which is the central outcome of the country’s decade-long civil war. Nepal is surrounded by the global player China in the north and India in the south. The country was hit by a 7,8 magnitude earthquake in 2015, killing more than 9,000 people and eliminating the livelihood and houses of thousands of Nepali people. To date, the country is one of the poorest in the world, marked by hierarchical caste systems and deep-rooted social inequality (BBC 2018).
India is the biggest democracy in the world. According to UN estimations, the country is expected to overtake China’s population in 2028 and will thereby become the most populous nation in the world. India is a rising economic power and a strong regional power. At the same time, the country is tackling significant social, environmental, and economic issues. Additionally, India is home to several ancient surviving civilizations. The Indian subcontinent reaches from the mountainous Afghan frontier to the forests of Myanmar. The country is extremely diverse when it comes to language, ethnicity, and cultural traditions (BBC 2019).
Relations between India and Nepal are playing an essential role for both nations. However, one must highlight that Nepal depends on India in many regards. To regulate their relationship, the governments established a treaty in 1950, the Indo-Nepali Friendship Treaty. Having witnessed to see the difficulties between the two nations that persist to date inspired me to choose this treaty as a topic for this paper.
The paper will start with an overview of the relationship between India and Nepal. Furthermore, I will explain the term treaty and describe the Indo-Nepali Friendship Treaty. Additionally, I will discuss the finding and end the paper with a conclusion.
Background: Relations between India and Nepal
As direct neighbors, the Government of India and the Government of Nepal share strong ties of cooperation and friendship. A characteristic of the relationship between the countries is not only the open border but deep-rooted contact between people across the state border. Furthermore, the countries share a high number of cultural traditions and religious similarities, such as Hinduism. The tradition of free movement between nations has a long history. The shared border is more than 1850 kilometers long and includes five Indian states: West Bengal, Bihar, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh (Government of India 2019).
There are frequent exchanges of high-level visits as well as interactions between the Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and Nepal’s Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli. The countries have several bilateral institutional dialogue mechanisms, such as the India-Nepal Joint Commission, which is co-chaired by India’s External Affairs Minister and the Foreign Minister of Nepal.
When an earthquake hit Nepal in 2015, India sent National Disaster Response Force teams to Nepal and aircraft with humanitarian goods and relief packages after only six hours. The overall earthquake relief support of India exceeded 67 million USD. Additionally, India granted its neighbor several loans in times of crisis.
Within the past decade, trade between Nepal and India grew significantly. Exports from Nepal to India almost doubled, whereas India’s exports to Nepal grew over eight times. The main import products to Nepal from India are petroleum products, motor vehicles, rice, paddy, electrical equipment, medicine, agricultural equipment, coal, vegetables, tin, and wires.
Indian companies are among the most significant investors in Nepal. Also, more than 150 Indian ventures are operating in Nepal. Among others, these companies include Asian Paints, Dabur India, Hindustan Unilever, Punjab National Bank, MIT Group Holdings, and Tata Power.
Furthermore, the countries cooperate in water resources, mainly focusing on common rivers. Shared water resources form one of the most critical cooperation areas. The rivers in Nepal’s south and India’s north have the potential the be the leading irrigation and power resources for both of the countries. A bilateral mechanism was concluded in 2008 to regulate cooperation in water resources, inundation, hydropower, and flood management between the two countries.
Moreover, India supports Nepal’s development efforts through a wide range of projects, with a focus on infrastructure, water resources, health, education, and community development. Additionally, the countries partner in agriculture, such as in agriculture research, development of agriculture, and agriculture education.
Furthermore, the countries have robust cooperation in the area of defense. India assisted the Nepal Army in the process of modernization, provided military supplies, conducted training sessions, and joined military exercises. The Indian Army recruited more than 32,000 Nepalese soldiers who are now serving India’s military forces.
Both countries signed a power exchange agreement in 1971. The agreement regulates the exchange of electricity in the border region. Nepal exports large amounts of electric power to India. Additionally, an agreement on electric power trade and border transmission of electricity was signed in October 2014 to strengthen cross-border transmission.
Within the last years, India contributed to the development of Nepal’s education sector, provided scholarships to Nepalese citizens. India and Nepal, furthermore, promote the exchange of culture between the nations, such as in the field of art and media. Joint training for journalists, editors, writers and other professionals are frequently conducted across the countries. The two states also signed several agreements to support cultural exchange, such as between
- Sahitya Kala Akademi India and Nepal Academy
- Doordarshan India and Nepal TV
- Lalit Kala Akademi India and Nepal Academy of Fine Arts and
- Sangeet Natak Akademi India and Nepal Academy of Music and Drama.
The Government of India has a large embassy in Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu and a Consulate General in Birgunj. Furthermore, Nepal’s government has an embassy in India’s capital New Delhi and a Consulate General in Kolkata.
Indo-Nepali Treaty of Friendship: What is a treaty
Global Solidarity describes that a treaty is a bi- or multilateral arrangement. Its content can characterize a treaty. Furthermore, treaties can regulate the mandates of intergovernmental organizations, e.g., the Constitution of the European Union or the United Nations Charter (Global Solidarity 2016).
The Vienna Convention describes that treaties can be concluded between two states in written form. Furthermore, treaties are governed by international law. A treaty, whether consist of a single instrument or two or more related instruments. Treaties can be named differently. However, the designation does not say anything about the legal status. A treaty is an essential tool of international law. Treaties cannot be concluded between a government and a private company (Aust 2007).
Comparing the Indo-Nepali Treaty of Friendship, I came to the conclusion the agreement is a treaty because it was bilaterally concluded between the two nations of Nepal and India, signed by the former Ambassador of India in Nepal and the former Prime Minister of Nepal; the treaty is registered and published in the treaty section of the United Nations as well as governed by international law. It consists officially of one signed instrument. I believe proofing if an agreement is a treaty according to this definition, is essential as the title of the document says nothing about the status.
Friendship treaty between India and Nepal
The India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship was concluded in 1950. The treaty forms the basis of the relations between India and Nepal. The treaty gives approximately six million Nepalese citizens residing in India the right to live and work in India and vice versa for the 600,000 Indians living in Nepal (Government of India 2019).
The treaty consists of ten articles, envisioning harmony between the states, upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the states. The treaty ensures unrestricted cross-border movement of citizens of both countries. Additionally, the treaty is the basis for active cooperation on different matters, such as defense relations. The main reason for the agreement was the occupation of the communist state of China in Tibet, 1949. India and Nepal were concerned about matters such as regional security (Mohanty 2019).
Shortcomings in the treaty
Articles 1 and 2 of the treaty highlight mutual respect between the parties regarding territorial integrity as well as sovereignty. Both governments are obliged to inform each other about every abrasion with other neighboring countries that might have an impact on bilateral affairs. Nevertheless, Nepal argued that India missed consulting Nepali during the 1962 Sino-Indian war and the wars with Pakistan.
Article 5 of the treaty states that Nepal is allowed to import weapons through Indian territory. Nevertheless, the article does not limit Nepal from importing weapons from other countries. Therefore, one can argue that India broke the agreement when they imposed an economic blockade on Nepal in the late 1980s when Nepal imported weapons from its northern neighbor of China.
Articles 6 and 7 focus on bilateral economic prospects and the treatment of each other’s citizens. Indian citizens, therefore, have the right to obtain land in Nepal, which is contradictious to other regulations that ban foreigners from buying property in Nepal. Both countries give each other’s citizens rights regarding job opportunities and residence.
Article 10 of the treaty writes that the treaty remains in force until one of the parties determines it with one year’s notice (Mohanty 2019).
Nepal, being a landlocked country, is also strongly dependent on India. Nepal is divided by China through hardly accessible mountains, which makes the trade with India crucial.
Nepal has been increasingly raising formal and informal objections to the Indo-Nepali Friendship treaty. As a consequence, both countries have agreed on reviewing the treaty. However, not much progress has been made. Reasons for the demand to review the treaty are shifting priorities in the bilateral relations of the countries and new geopolitical contours.
The treaty is in the focus of discussions since 1959 when a confidential document was negotiated at the same time as the treaty was revealed. In the document, India is named as the primary project partner for natural resource projects with Nepal. Many Nepali people believe that the treaty can be seen as a burden to Nepal, resulting in the Rana dynasty, who were not considered representatives of the Nepali people. Additionally, many people in Nepal, as well as political groups and oppositions, perceive the treaty to be unfair for Nepal and demand revision of the document (Mohanty 2019).
When Nepal adopted its new constitution in 2015 and protests increased in Nepal’s south, India imposed an unofficial border blockade on Nepal. This led to dramatic shortages of medicine, petrol, cooking gas, and other essential goods. The results of the blockade were tragic for the people of Nepal who have been hit by an earthquake only a few months before. Humanitarian goods were not let in the country; the economy suffered; already vulnerable people had to suffer even more. Nepal criticized India for this procedure (Plesch 2015).
Furthermore, the blockade resulted in increasing anti-Indian sentiments of the Nepalese population. On social media, Nepali citizens started to express their anger. People sharply criticized India’s interference in Nepal, calling it a crime(Firstpost 2015).
From my experience of having lived in Nepal in 2015, many Nepali people not only showed their hatred on social media, but also in TV, radio, newspapers, and conversations. Graffiti with anti-India slogans were found all over Kathmandu. Indian colleagues in organizations operating in Nepal were increasingly bullied. Activists urged the Government of Nepal to find alternatives to the strong ties with India.
Due to the dependence on India, Nepal has been increasingly reached out to and strengthened ties with its northern neighbor China. Currently, Nepal and China are planning a rail link to Tibet and a tunnel system, intending to end Nepal’s dependence on trade with India. The 70 kilometers long railway will link Kathmandu with Gyiron in Tibet, China, and is seen as one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in Nepal. At the moment, India accounts for almost two-thirds of trade in Nepal. Therefore, India, as a reaction, is criticizing Nepal for these steps (Sharma 2019).
Moreover, India’s border blockade can be seen as a violation of Article 2 of the treaty, as India did not inform Nepal’s government prior to their planned intervention, which would have given space for diplomacy, highlighted in Article 3 of the treaty, and finding solutions to address India’s concern. The pacta sunt servanda principle might have been violated through India’s actions. Nevertheless, Nepal’s government did not sufficiently critically reflect India’s reaction but condemned them from the beginning.
Additionally, the treaty does not explicitly address legal issues such as termination, reservations, or dispute settlement procedures. This lack of details might be a reason for the struggles to address criticism the treaty is facing these days. Nevertheless, eventually, the Nepal Government, who felt that India was doing wrong, did not even take the treaty under consideration at this moment as a tool to resolve the issue.
Treaties are tools to regulate relationships between nations. However, Nepal is highly dependent on India. There is an imbalance of power with the giant global player India on the one side and landlocked economically weak Nepal. The Indo-Nepali Friendship Treaty regulates cooperation between the countries, grants each other citizen exclusive rights, regulates trade and common projects on natural resources. However, the people of Nepal increasingly demand the review of the treaty, claiming that India broke the treaty, that the treaty is unfair, and more for India’s benefit. Considering that the treaty was concluded 70 years ago and situations might have changed, I believe that this is a valid argument for a revision.
Nepal and India need to be more clear on articles. From Nepal’s perspective, India broke the agreement several times in the past. Reviewing the treaty might be an essential opportunity to adapt the document and include the concerns of the opposition. The peace and political situation of Nepal was and remains fragile. Conflicts and protests are commonly observed. Oppositions often claim that their voices are not heard. Therefore, I strongly recommend that both countries fast-track the formal review process. Intergovernmental organizations, such as the United Nations, offer practical support mechanisms for these processes. Interpretative declarations might be an option to avoid such different interpretations for future treaties.
Both countries should respect the ethics of an open border and bilateral cooperation. Treaties cannot include force. Countries need to bring the will and commitment to follow agreements.
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Sharma, Gopal. 2019. “Nepal Pushes to End Dependency on India with China Rail, Tunnel Deals.” 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nepal-china-xi/nepal-pushes-to-end-dependency-on-india-with-china-rail-tunnel-deals-idUSKBN1WS0CA.