Ambassador nominee Nilamber Acharya—the 75-year-old former minister, parliamentarian and diplomat—will confront numerous challenges when he takes up his new assignment in New Delhi.
The government on November 11 nominated Acharya to head its Delhi mission. The Parliamentary Hearing Committee has to endorse his nomination before the President may appoint him to the post.
For Acharya, who practised diplomacy as the ambassador to Sri Lanka two decades ago, the report of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) on Nepal-India relations will be the first test. As the coordinator of the Nepali side of the EPG, Acharya’s role will be crucial in getting the two governments to accept the report and subsequently make it public and implement the recommendations.
The Narendra Modi-led government of India is said to be reluctant to receive the document prepared after two years of extensive consultations on bilateral issues in both the countries.
Acharya has a tough task of convincing New Delhi to accept the report prepared by the ninth meeting of the EPG that concluded in Kathmandu on June 30. The fate of the report is uncertain given India’s reluctance to receive it.
According to sources, India is not happy with some of the agreements on, and recommendations for, managing the Nepal-India border as mentioned in the joint report. The Indian establishment doesn’t seem eager to publicise the report. The EPG was tasked with reviewing various treaties and agreements between Nepal and India including the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. The two-year tenure of EPG ended on July 4.
New Delhi’s regular concern with the open border is possible movement of criminals and terrorists across the porous border. The new ambassador has the responsibility of assuring India of Nepal’s commitment not to allowing its land to be used against its neighbour.
Apart from the government and security agencies, perception is growing among the Indian intelligentsia, media and the public that Nepal has inclined towards China in the past few years. Acharya will surely face questions on Nepal’s growing proximity with China right after he lands in the Indian capital.
He will have to reassure India that Nepal-China relations are driven mainly by national interest. Nepal’s decision to award the Budhi Gandaki Hydropower Project contract without competitive bidding, the last-minute pull out from the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) military drill, and active participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiatives have made the southern neighbour suspicious of Kathmandu’s intentions.
He will also have to reach out to the concerned stakeholders in order to give momentum to the implementation of agreements reached between Nepal and India during Modi’s visit to Nepal in May. The two countries had agreed to settle the existing problems and recent pacts between the two countries by September 19.
The problem of misbehaviour faced by Nepalis at the hands of Indian officials at the border or in India while flying to a third country show that the pacts made at the prime minister’s level are not easily translated into action.
There any many other unresolved issues between Nepal and India including demarcation of the border. India has been pressing Nepal to sign strip maps by leaving out the controversial Susta and Kalapani border areas while Nepal maintains that the entire border issues should be resolved at one go. On top of that, the Mahakali treaty has not been fully implemented two decades since its signing.
The much-awaited Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project has remained in limbo for over two decades due to the dispute over sharing of water. On the other hand, the people displaced by the Koshi and Gandak joint projects have not received the promised compensation.
Along with the task of strengthening diplomatic ties, ambassador nominee Acharya should also be mindful of his role in creating a positive picture of Nepal among the peoples of India since there is a huge gap between public perceptions in Nepal and India about the other country.
In addition, the Nepali ambassador will have to work with the representative organisations of all the Nepali political parties based in Delhi.
Foreign Ministry officials said that the new ambassador appointed by the government commanding a two-thirds majority in Parliament should join the post with a concrete plan in order to address a wide range of problems during the four-year tenure.