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Nepal Tragedy: INDIA LEADS NEW ‘AID RACE,’ By Gaurav Kumar Jha, 30 April, 2015 Print E-mail

Round The  World

New Delhi, 30 April 2015

Nepal Tragedy


By Gaurav Kumar Jha

(Research Scholar, School of International Studies, JNU)


In the aftermath of the worst earthquake of Nepal in last eight decades that destabilised some 59 out of 75 districts with the death toll expected to exceed 10,000, a new ‘aid race’ has begun for increasing influence in the Himalayan country.


In view of the protracted political instability in Nepal occasioned by 10 years of Maoist insurgency, followed by the political vacuity after the abolition of the monarchical empire, the role played by foreign powers in shaping the domestic politics in that country assumes critical significance.


Nepal, being a small state, is considered a consumers rather than producers of security and hence relies fundamentally on the aid of other states. Therefore, after the quake, the ravaged land-locked state has become a theatre for competitive politics of aid diplomacy and humanitarian assistance, primarily between regional actors – India and China – and United States acting as extra-regional player.


India responded to Nepalese disaster within minutes and led one of its finest rescue and relief operations ever. Soon after the quakes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an emotional outreach to the Nepalese citizens by saying Indians needed to “wipe the tears of every Nepali, hold their hands, and stand with them.” The Indian response codenamed ‘Operation Maitri’ was so swift and adroit that the world appreciated our efforts with #ThankYouPM trending at number one on Twitter. New Delhi sent aircraft, blankets, water, food, medicines, rescue and medical teams, et al across. Nepal thanked India’s assistance calling it a “blank cheque”.


While India certainly gained an edge in handling the disaster and earned popular goodwill, other significant powers also stepped in as no country wished to lose the battle of perception. Nepal’s strategic location makes it natural for foreign powers to take interest in its internal as well as external policy. The quake thus, triggered an ‘aid race’ in the country.


China led a 62-member search-and-rescue team on Sunday and has pledged $3.3 million in aid, including emergency accommodations, clothing, blankets and power generators. The U.S. committed $10 million through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) along with sending search-and-rescue teams and 45 tonnes of supplies. The U.K. is giving $7.6 million in aid along with dispatching an eight-member team of disaster-response specialists with 1,100 shelter kits and more than 1,700 solar lanterns.


Israel led a 260-member strong team to Nepal to support with rescue and relief operations along with 95 tonnes of aid and medical supplies. Australia pledged $3.9 million in assistance. Malaysia deployed 30-member rescue team and sent 20 doctors to help with operations on the ground. Pakistan deployed four Pakistan Air Force aircraft carrying rescue and relief aid, with a 30-bed hospital and a curative team of doctors and paramedics.


The EU and UN have committed $3 million and $15 million towards disaster. Other countries involved in donating financial aid or sending in personnel to help with rescue and relief operations include Bhutan, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.


Why is every country racing alms to Nepal? What are the stakes of these states there? Is Nepal going to face a new round of strategic competition in the Himalayas? Will the renewed Chinese interest in Nepal affect India’s relationship with the latter in the future?


India’s success in the rescue operation in Nepal mustn’t be looked in isolation but as part of its greater diplomacy to boost its soft power (foreign policy tools that nations can use to “achieve desired outcomes through attraction rather than coercion”) vis-à-vis China and the U.S.


The growing influence of China and western players and their competition for political and strategic space in Nepal would keep India vulnerable due to an open border. With the erosion of idea of Himalayas as a natural frontier because of advancement of technology in the age of globalisation, Nepal has become extremely important to India’s security in the eventuality of a conflict with China. India has erected physical defences all along the India-China border but it remains exposed along Nepal’s border with China.


China on its part, views Nepal primarily through lens of Tibet. There is a chronic suspicion in China that the Nepal-Tibet and Nepal-India border is being misused by the Tibetan refugees. Therefore, Nepal comes second in importance for China, after Pakistan, in South Asia. Ensuring Nepal’s neutrality on the Tibet issue and precluding any possibility of India-Nepal collusion over the issue becomes important from the Chinese point of view.


China is also cautious of presence of extra-regional powers in Nepal, especially the U.S. that had had armed Tibetan ‘Khampas’ rebels in late 1950s to free Tibet from the Chinese occupation. Realising its vulnerabilities because of the existence of the US-led western powers in Nepal, China has stepped up its stakes in Nepal and has even replaced India as the largest investor there.

The earthquake thus provided India an opportunity to re-gain its lost sphere of influence in Nepal. New Delhi’s aggressive aid diplomacy can be viewed as continuation of Modi’s Neighbourhood First policy, who has visited Nepal twice within a year. India understands that a regional peaceful and friendliness adds to a nation’s security and economic well-being.


With this intention, India has augmented its soft power aid diplomacy in recent years. It started with sending food aid to the Philippines after Hurricane Haiyan killed at least 10,000 followed by the Maldives water crisis, where India demonstrated its responsiveness, flexibility and versatility in meeting various contingencies by the working together to ship 1,000 tonnes of fresh water to Male.


In Yemen, India led an outstanding rescue effort, boldly taking the risk of entering a torrent of bombings under the cover of night and rescued more than 4640 overseas Indians along with 960 foreign nationals of more than 40 countries in the Operation Raahat. These countries included significant states like Bangladesh, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the U.K., and the U.S.In Nepal, India assisted 170 nationals from 15 countries in evacuation. This includes people from Brazil, France, Germany, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Ukraine and the United States.


India’s commitments to playing a larger role in such humanitarian assistance and disaster response initiatives have been welcomed by all. The experiences gained from mitigating these crises will help India to meet any eventuality in case of a domestic disaster. It will also help in improving India’s image in her neighbourhood from being a dominant ‘big brother’ to a friendly, dependable and trustworthy partner. Third, aid diplomacy is also a clear signal that South Asia is India’s backyard. Fourth, it will raise India’s stature amongst the dominant international powers and make its bid for a permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) stronger. Finally, it would help India transform itself from ‘balancing’ power (balancing China vis-a-vis the U.S.) to a ‘leading’ power in Asia, as, without compromising on her ideals of strategic autonomy, as Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar envisions. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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