Bilateral fuel pipeline exemplifies the turnaround in New Delhi-Kathmandu ties
In a big development for India-Nepal ties, the two countries inaugurated South Asia’s first cross-border fuel pipeline, helping Kathmandu cut fuel prices by Rs 2 per litre on account of reduced transportation cost. The 69 km Motihari-Amlekhganj pipeline project was completed 15 months ahead of schedule and can transport two million tonnes of petro-products annually to the landlocked Himalayan nation. This holds out three positives for the bilateral relationship.
First, India is finally taking its development commitments to Nepal seriously. An impression had taken hold in Nepal that Indian projects are marred by inordinate delays. But the before-time completion of the transnational pipeline raises hopes that other pending bilateral projects too will be expedited. Second, the disastrous 2015 blockade had led to massive fuel shortages in Nepal and soured relations between New Delhi and Kathmandu. The pipeline will help ensure that such shortages don’t recur. Hence, it is a permanent symbol of India-Nepal cooperation that is bound to generate much goodwill in Kathmandu. Third, that the pipeline was inaugurated just as Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi was wrapping up his visit there shows that India has changed tack in its Nepal policy and is focussing on deliverables.
This is smart because forcing Kathmandu to choose between New Delhi and Beijing will likely drive Nepal into China’s corner. Instead, the Indian leadership should be confident about the deep cultural and people-to-people relations that India and Nepal share, and focus on growing these natural synergies. The Modi government has made India’s neighbourhood a foreign policy priority. Given that India’s relations with Pakistan are currently hostile, moving ahead with sub-regional cooperation as in the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) format makes sense. The India-Nepal partnership has to be a key pillar of this approach.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.