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Nepal's key national security interests
Updated:Mar 21, 2012
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By Navin Singh Khadka

When the National Security Council was meeting on  March 4 earlier this month, people in different areas of Kathmandu were out to commandeer any vehicle they saw carrying cooking gas-cylinders.So scarce the fuel has been and so desperate consumers have become. The incidents highlighted one of the key overdue issues—energy security—for the revision of the national security policy, if it is not being done under any sinister design.It might just be about demand and supply or bad governance for now.

But given the fast-paced competition over energy resources world over, it may prove to be a snapshot for future national security challenges.And it is something that has worried even the super and emerging world powers.

Heavy dependence on fossil fuel from elsewhere—mostly, war-torn regions—have always worried the United States of America for its national security. It therefore has shifted some of its focus on its own resources.

In China, security and intelligence agencies have decisive say on the country’s energy policy these days. The deputy chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the People’s Liberation Army and the minister of state security both are on the new national energy commission. And Beijing has reached as far and as dangerous place as Sudan for oil.

India’s high level is not lagging behind either. Mindful of the near-certain fight over energy resources in the days to come, it has begun to focus, among others, on the nuclear option.

“We worked so hard on a civil nuclear initiative that has opened doors for India to develop the option of clean nuclear energy as an important plank of our energy security,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said a little more than a year ago.

Even Bangladesh has been working on a plan to build nuclear power plant aided by Russia.

Energy security is indeed becoming one of the core national security issues for an increasing number of nations.

But there are, of course, still some countries that are stuck to the conventional idea of hardcore military security only—Nepal included.

If what has come out of the recent meeting of the national security council and its recommendations for the earlier revised draft of the national security policy are any indication, the horizon remains dangerously the same.

Nepal will have to worry not just about bringing in fiercely-fought over energy resources like petroleum products and cooking gas but also how to secure for itself its own energy resource—hydropower. The reason: water resources aren’t just for generating electricity. It is first about drinking water, other day-to-day, irrigation and flood control.

The world water forum in France this week has recognised water conservation as the biggest security threat on the horizon. That is because one in every seven countries in the world is more than fifty percent dependent on water from outside its national boundaries.Nepal is certainly not one of them but has it ever bothered what happens if—just if—the water levels of rivers flowing in from Tibet fall.

One of the major river systems, Kosi has three of its tributaries—Arun, Tama Kosi and Bhote Kosi-Sun Kosi—originating in Tibet. In the west, the Humla Karnali river also begins its journey from the Tibetan territory.

And China has been diverting many of its southern rivers including those in Tibet towards its parched north.

Despite Beijing’s repeated rejection, that China might be working to divert Tibet’s Yarlung Tsangpo river (that becomes Bramhaputra after entering India) remains New Delhi’s major concern.

Meantime, India’s supreme court has ordered the government to implement the chronically controversial river-linking project that aims to channelise water from flood prone areas to drought-hit regions through a network of channels between 30 major rivers.

As an upstream country Nepal need not worry, you may think. But to link those rivers, water-stressed India will have to make dams and other structures at ideal locations that Nepal and Bhutan have.That, of course, may not immediately imply a national security issue for Nepal. But the national security policy—if it is to be in its true sense—will indeed have to factor in such developments.More so, when countries around the world are aggressively thrashing out their national security plans in the wake of climate change.

“Climate variability will bring change to the social-economic-political environment on which the security of individuals and communities rest,” writes Professor Brahma Chellaney, an international security specialist and former adviser to India’s National Security Council.Nepal’s own rivers and rivulets—on which its dream of raising the national living standard though hydropower generation relies—gets much of their water from rain and snowfall. And rainfall patterns are thought to have become erratic because of climatic changes.

The backbone of the agro-economy, monsoon and its changing dynamics must therefore find some space in the discussion of the revision of the national security policy. Expecting the revisers to also consider the uncertainty of ice mass volume in the Himalayan glaciers might be a bit too much.But all that one of the government websites on the formulation of national security policy has mentioned in regards to disasters is this: Coordination and direction of military assistance in natural calamities and development.Nothing wrong with it except that the “natural calamities” has been mentioned in the traditional fashion and not in recognition of the increased climate change-induced disasters like floods, landslides droughts, wildfires, among others.

Unless the national security policy recognises such threats from climate change, it will not address the issue of energy security because Nepal can secure it only through hydropower. And water resources have been predicted to be one of the first to take the hit from global warming.

An expected-to-be federal Nepal’s neighbours know that very well—as much as they rightly know how to secure their national interest.

Source: Kantipur, 16 March 2012

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