Boosting Ties in the Himalayan ARC
STORIES, ANALYSES, EXPERT VIEWS
The Himalayas are bounded in the north largely by China. On the southern side, it is fragmented into Indian Union Territories (Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir), Indian states (Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh) and the independent nations of Nepal and Bhutan.
This region of half-a-billion, writes Ranjit Rae (former diplomat and author of Kathmandu Dilemma, Resetting India Nepal Ties) “is at relative peace for the first time in decades, though this compact is not necessarily stable or durable, and depends on both external and internal security challenges — especially the challenge posed by China.”
But the challenge “is to take advantage of this relative stability and consolidate the current situation. At present, there is little or no cooperation between these various Himalayan entities even though their traditions and cultures, natural resource endowments, and geographies are similar. No mechanism exists to share knowledge, best practices, and lessons learned from diverse development experiences. For instance, Sikkim is a success story in the development of organic agriculture. Bhutan is an excellent case study for harnessing the potential of water resources and hydropower for national development….. Nepal is a trekker’s paradise….It has also made big strides in harnessing the wealth of Himalayan herbs and medicinal plants. Bhutan and Ladakh are linked to each other through the Drukpa Buddhist tradition. Kashmiri traders were invited by the Malla Kings in Nepal to develop trade links between Nepal and Tibet……”
Leveraging these links and connections
Rae suggests India should learn collectively from these experiences and replicate elsewhere.
“Establishing a forum that meets once a year at the governmental level for an exchange of ideas would contribute to the further strengthening of cooperation across the entire Himalayan belt…..we can encourage regular cross-border bilateral meetings that are not merely limited to security and border-related issues, but also cover development cooperation and partnership….”
Coordination of some border development projects, argues Rae “will also be more cost optimal. Rather than duplicate projects, we could think of certain projects such as airports, universities and hospitals that have a catchment area and serve both sides of the border. While India has several think tanks and non-governmental organisations working on global issues, what is striking is the absence of groups specialising in the neighbourhood. We should establish an interdisciplinary organisation that is focussed on the holistic development of the Himalayan region, covering issues relating to development and livelihoods, ecology and the environment, politics, religion and culture and border related issues.”
Though the China factor and the politics of terror used by some elements in this region cannot be discounted, Rae concludes “stepping up cooperation all along the southern belt of the Himalayas would bring enormous benefits to the countries and peoples of the region, and also smoothen some of the political and geographical problems encountered from time to time. That this cooperation is critical is also underlined by the fact that China has taken an initiative to step up ties with other Himalayan States such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal, in a forum loosely termed as the Himalayan Quad."