Pranab’s three-day visit under close scrutiny in Nepal


Kathmandu : India’s External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee begins his three-day official trip to Nepal Monday, eclipsing visits by a British minister and a senior UN official who also arrive in Kathmandu the same day.

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Mukherjee’s visit — the first by a high-level Indian official since the formation of a Maoist-led government — will be watched closely by the former guerrillas, the opposition as well as royalists who blame the ouster of Nepal’s 239-year monarchy on India’s support.

The private media in Nepal focused on the Indian minister’s arrival, eclipsing the visits by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people Prof. S. James Anaya and British Minister for International Development Mike Foster.

Mukherjee will meet Nepal’s President Ram Baran Yadav, Deputy Vice President Parmanand Jha, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav.

He will also fly out to Sunsari district in south Nepal to meet the victims of the flooding after the Kosi breached its banks and inundated large swathes of Bihar and Nepal as well and the Indian consulate in Birgunj town on the India-Nepal border.

During his meetings with Nepal’s prime minister and foreign minister, both sides will review the 22-point agreement signed between India and Nepal in September when Prachanda went to India for the first time after assuming office.

The agreement signed with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made little progress.

Despite a joint pledge for greater cooperation, cross-border crime remains rampant.

Both sides had agreed to launch relief and rehabilitation measures for victims of the Kosi flood. Though India offered financial aid worth Rs.3.2 billion, it was dismissed as “inadequate” by Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister Bam Dev Gautam.

The two neighbours had agreed to repair the breached embankment on the Kosi by March 2009. But given the slow pace of work, it is doubtful if it would be completed in time.

India’s renewed offer to build the 245 MW Naumure hydropower project for power-starved Nepal on the Rapti river has also failed to progress even though the offer was first made in 2006.

However, the fuel situation has improved in Nepal after India’s willingness to provide credit of up to (Indian) Rs.1.5 billion to ensure uninterrupted supplies of petroleum products.

Mukherjee’s visit comes at a bad time for the Maoists.

Prachanda’s leadership has come under fire from his own Maoist party with the ongoing national convention of the party seeing a hardliner challenger emerge.

Mukherjee will also meet opposition leader, former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, whose Nepali Congress party is close to Mukherjee’s own Congress, and Jhalanath Khanal, chief of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), the second largest party in the Prachanda government.

The meeting with Koirala is likely to see the octogenarian leader underlining the Maoists’ violation of the peace pact that helped them come overground two years ago.

Former finance minister and Koirala confidant Ram Sharan Mahat points out that the Maoists have not returned the private properties they seized during the insurgency. Nor are they discharging the child soldiers in their cantonments.

The UML meet will raise the issue of the murder of two cadres by Maoists, that triggered a Kathmandu shutdown last week, a telling proof that the former guerrillas are yet to renounce violence.