Nepal putting China before SAARC?

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : While the ground-breaking meeting of the home ministers of SAARC to be held in Pakistan has been postponed at Nepal’s request, the Himalayan republic has, however, sent its home minister to China as per schedule.

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Home Minister Bhim Rawal Saturday led an eight-member delegation on an official visit to China. The visit, to span both Beijing and Lhasa, will last for a week.

Rawal, accompanied by the chiefs of Nepal Police, Armed Police and state intelligence agency National Investigation Department, is expected to discuss security cooperation along the Sino-Nepal border areas with his Chinese counterpart.

China has reportedly expressed a desire to be allowed to deploy air marshals on flights by Chinese airlines from Kathmandu to Lhasa and other Chinese cities.

The meeting of the home ministers of eight South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries, scheduled in Islamabad Feb 26-27, was postponed after Nepal said it would be inconvenient for Rawal.

The Islamabad meet, coming just two months before the SAARC summit in Bhutan’s capital Thimpu, was to have been an ice-breaking event.

Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram would have been the first top Indian official to visit Pakistan after the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, which are thought to have been plotted in Pakistan.

Rawal, who visited India last month without any discernible diplomatic development, will discuss border security with China in a bid to prevent protests by Tibetan refugees in Nepal in 2010 and the mass fleeing of Tibetans to India via Nepal.

Nepal has already deployed armed policemen to patrol 10 of the districts in the north along the border it shares with Tibet at Beijing’s prodding, causing a dramatic fall in the number of escapes by Tibetans.

China is especially concerned about anti-Chinese activities in Nepal’s northernmost district Mustang.

Once an ancient Tibetan kingdom, Mustang was used as a base by Tibet’s Khampa warrior tribes to resist the invasion by Chinese troops and the guerrillas were armed and trained by the CIA with India’s cooperation.