Emboldened by its success in coercing Nepal to ratify the controversial Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) pact in February, the United States undertook the equally difficult task of getting Nepal to join its state partnership program ( PPS).
But the ambitious decision to give a military dimension to US-Nepalese relations has turned into a boomerang. In the face of vehement and widespread opposition, even the pro-American government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has vowed not to join the SPP.
The fear of becoming the scene of a military conflict between the American-Indian formation on the one hand and China on the other, is at the origin of the rejection. It is a setback for US efforts to expand its strategic footprint in South Asia, bordering China.
The PSP is a bilateral program with a peaceful external intent. But it is seen to have deep military objectives with implications not only for Nepal’s internal security, but also for relations with its two big neighbours, China and India.
The impact on Sino-Nepalese relations will be catastrophic if the PSP leads to a strengthening of US-Nepalese military ties. The exclusive and unique relationship of the Indian army with the Nepalese army will be diluted, a prospect with which the conservative Indian top brass cannot come to terms.
Be that as it may, a fact that cannot be glossed over is that from 2015, successive Nepalese governments, whether pro or anti-US, have applied for admission to the SPP. They were apparently drawn to its potential to help Nepal deal with natural disasters.
In October 2015, Nepal requested humanitarian assistance from the United States to meet the challenges posed by the earthquake and applied for membership in the SPP. Nepal’s request was reiterated in 2017 and 2019.
The PSP has only recently come to the public’s attention. According to veteran Nepalese journalist, Yubaraj Ghimire, this was because there was no requirement for the SPP to obtain ratification from Parliament unlike the case of the MCC. But what ultimately caused the PSP to come under suspicion or scrutiny was a flurry of high-level US diplomatic activity in Nepal within a short period of time after MCC’s ratification. The frenzied activity of the United States had observers wondering if the United States had something up its sleeve.
Uzra Zeya, US Under Secretary of State for Civil Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, and US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, made a high-profile visit to Nepal in May. She created waves meeting Tibetan refugees, touching a chord in China and creating tremors in the halls of power in Kathmandu. She took the status of undocumented refugee since 1995 and asked for papers.
To encourage Nepal to achieve this goal, Zeya has offered a development contribution of over US$600 million. But his prescription is unlikely to be accepted by Nepal as China wants Nepal to send the refugees back to Tibet. Like Zeya, US Ambassador Randy Berry met with Tibetan refugees and traveled to upper Mustang to visit Tibetan monasteries.
The US Army Pacific Commanding General, General Charles A. Flynn, was the next to go to Kathmandu, adding water to the rumor mill. He had apparently urged Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and General Prabhu Ram Sharma, Chief of Staff of the Nepalese Army, to include Nepal in the State Partnership Programme. Nepalis fear that all these measures will have a negative impact on Nepal’s balanced foreign relations, marked by the equidistance of India, the United States and China.
Worried that Nepal will come under more pressure from the United States, Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi called on Nepal’s Interior Minister to seek confirmation of Nepal’s continued adherence to the policy. One China”. Nepal’s condemnation of Russia for its aggression in Ukraine had also made Beijing suspicious of ties between the Deuba and Biden regimes.
Meanwhile, a document purporting to be an agreement between Nepal and the United States on the PPS, emerged and went viral in the media. He was talking about strong military content including joint US-Nepalese army training and also scholarships in the form of scholarships for Nepalese officers in US academies.
He said the U.S. National Guard and U.S. contractors, related vehicles, and light aircraft operated by or for the United States, may use agreed facilities and areas for training, transit, support, and support. related activities, refueling, temporary maintenance of vehicles and aircraft, accommodation of personnel, dependents, communications, staging, deployment of forces and materiel.
The US Embassy quickly declared the document to be fake. The government also said that there was never an agreement. The government line is that although the SPP has indicated that it is ready to admit Nepal, there has been no follow-up.
This is said in defense of the SPP, “The State Partnership Program (SPP) is an exchange program between the National Guard of a U.S. state and a foreign partner nation. The U.S. National Guard supports domestically America’s first responders to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, and wildfires.”
“In the event of natural and other disasters, ranging from hurricanes to earthquakes, floods and fires, the United States seeks to share the best practices and capabilities of our National Guardsmen – our first responders. The SPP can be a effective way to facilitate this type of cooperation.
The SPP has been in existence for over 25 years and includes partnerships with over 90 countries.
But the problem is elsewhere. The SPP is administered by the National Guard Bureau, guided by the foreign policy objectives of the Department of State, and executed by the state Adjutant Generals in support of the policy objectives of the Department of Defense.
“Through the SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security objectives, but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate more interagency and corollary engagements. broad covering military, governmental, economic and social spheres,” a US government website states.
In other words, the PSP is a multi-purpose vehicle for advancing broad U.S. political and strategic objectives under the general guise of humanitarian engagement.
Given the public furor over the possibility of Nepal being drawn into the vortex of the geopolitical conflict between the United States and China and perhaps also between China and India, all Nepalese parties, including the ruling party, the pro-American and pro-Indian Nepali Congress, said they would not agree to join the PSP.
Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand, on behalf of the government, said the government firmly believes that the territory of Nepal should not be allowed to be used against any friendly nation. Expressing his views at a meeting of the House of Representatives, the Home Minister said, “Nepal is not related to the SPP. No decision has been taken to this end. Nor did he imagine going in this direction.
Comparing the SPP to the MCC, Khand said, “We consider and recognize the MCC as a pure development project and not as a military project. It has been approved by all.” It is learned that India was also not in favor of the SPP, as it believes that the insistence of the United States will disrupt the traditional special relationship between the Indian and Nepalese armies.
Nepali Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is due to visit the United States in mid-July. Observers say that if the SPP had not had the negative reaction it has, it would have signed the agreement while in Washington. But now he can’t. The other consideration is that he faces parliamentary elections in November this year. As things stand, Deuba is unpopular and on a weak political wicket, say seasoned Nepal watchers.