By Prem Sagar Poudel - - -
On August 29, MCC Vice President Cameron Alford and Minister of Finance Prakash Sharan Mahat held a symbolic exchange of letters which marked the official start of the five-year countdown to complete the $500 million compact. Not only the Nepali society but also the government and parties are conflicted about the issue of MCC. Even the number of people who consider Nepal as the best project of MCC development is not less. There are also strong arguments that it is the worst project ever. All arguments have done one thing, that is, the division of Nepali society. In other words, the polarization of Nepali society is the most important success of MCC, for America.
The US has given US$ 500 million as a grant for the operation of the MCC project in Nepal. The cost of the MCC project has now reached 92 billion rupees. When Nepal signed this project, its cost was 60 billion. If the work is not completed on time, the cost of the MCC project will increase. As a result, the investment of the Nepal government in this project will seem to increase. Currently, the US is sending around 15 billion to the US from Nepal only for visa-related work. In MCC, the US grant appears to be less than the annual remittances from Nepal to the US by the US Embassy in Nepal.
If Nepal had advanced this project in the situation of the MCC agreement, in addition to the 32 billion rupees that is now Nepal’s share, this project would have been completed by investing only another 28 billion rupees in India, that too with the investment of the Nepalese government. Therefore, it is not yet clear why Nepal has shown so much interest for the MCC project. The US clearly has two interests in this project. First, after this MCC project, America wants to conduct another project in Nepal. Expanding influence in Nepal is America’s first interest.
The second and most important issue is the use of radium which is in Nepal. Hetauda and Mustang of Nepal have high-quality radium. The US is thinking of managing the energy needed for the extraction of radium mines by connecting it with the transmission line built from the MCC project. The United States is interested in how the bid of the Nepali people can be stopped for this job. For that, MCC was seen as a successful project. This project has made it clear who is for and against America across the country. In this way, America’s mission has already been successful before the MCC project was officially launched.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has no confusion about the MCC project. Under his leadership, the concept of the interpretative declaration was taken forward while the MCC was approved by Parliament. This concept is just a cover-up. Since the MCC is an agreement between Nepal and the United States, the interpretation made by one party does not become part of it. However, there seems to be a consensus of all the parties represented in the Parliament of Nepal on the issue of moving the MCC forward. Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, Maoist Center, and National Independent Party are clear about moving MCC forward. It seems that Prime Minister Dahal was not able to talk openly about MCC among the people in the general meeting in Butwal. It is clear from Prime Minister Dahal’s support to America that he made this play to save himself.
In 2018, during the visit of the then Foreign Minister Pradip Gyawali to America, Nepal formally agreed to become a member of IPS. Gyawali’s agreement was made public by American officials. In Minister Gyawali’s meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the two leaders discussed America’s Asia policy, also known as the Indo-Pacific strategy. After this discussion, Nepal was ready to play a central role in the Indo-Pacific strategy. After the protest in Nepal, Minister Gyawali held a press conference and said that there was no decision on the issue of IPS as stated by America.
Therefore, Nepal seems to have entered the circle of Indo-Pacific strategy. American activity in Nepal has increased significantly since the time of Sher Bahadur Deuba, who was the Prime Minister before Dahal. After Dahal became the Prime Minister, the visits of Americans to Nepal became more frequent. The purpose of these visits is to publicize the agreements with Nepal. In 2015, the letter written by the then Chief of Army Staff Rajendra Kshatri to the American Ambassador in Kathmandu requesting to participate in the SPP program has already been made public. At the request of the Nepali Army, then Prime Minister Sushil Koirala agreed to proceed with the SPP agreement with the US. The US Embassy mentioned that the government, army, and military leadership were involved in the requests sent by Nepal in 2015 and 2017. In 2017, KP Oli was the Prime Minister from the CPN.
The subject of IPS and SPP agreements made by Nepal is currently silent. It seems that America is analyzing the responses from Nepal through the MCC. Their latest strategy is to gradually manage those who oppose America and public the agreements with Nepal. Therefore, how Nepal will go in favor of America is beyond speculation now. However, Nepal is trapped in the American encirclement. The entry into force of MCC will put Nepal at risk.