The United States’ State Partnership Program (SPP) controversy surfaced in Nepal in June. The so-called SPP is a joint project led by the Pentagon to promote the communication between the US National Guard and “partner countries” in the fields of security cooperation and humanitarian relief.
The Nepali Army denied its involvement in the military program immediately, though later, there was an exposure of formal communication through a letter. It exposed failure of military diplomacy and created some sort of mistrust against the body.
Some analysts believe that since Nepal borders two giant economies, and stands in a critically important geopolitical point, it is important for Nepal to think of its own security interest first as it cannot ignore or undermine the sensitiveness. Each decision should be taken in the best interest of the country.
The SPP program is not just under controversy but became an issue of debate in Nepal’s political and public circles. It is generally believed that the SPP will push Nepal to Indo-Pacific Trap and cause serious consequences.
Prof. Dr Yubaraj Sangroula, whose research area includes international relation and foreign policy, is of view that Nepal’s response to SPP since 2019 is dubious. He opines that since nationalist intellectuals are emerging in Nepal strongly, they believe that having good relations with China does not affect Nepal’s relations with India, US or others. The Nepali political parties in power are making mistakes by nearing themselves to Indo-Pacific through SPP,” Sangroula comments.
Such voices have widely circulated amid suspicions, even after the government claimed it will not take forward the program. “This program can invite war as it threatens our own and neighbors’ security… all the cautious Nepali public and justice supporters should protest such dangerous program,” says Prem Suwal, a leader from Nepal Workers and Peasants Party and a Member of Parliament.
The need of an hour is not to forge a country-specific military alliance, but to have a balanced foreign policy that could contribute in protection and promotion of national interest and welfare. But a key question remains, is Nepal ready? However, questions have aroused whether the current Nepali Congress-led government, often accused as having a pro-west attitude, has really scrapped the deal or has only pushed it for time being.
Analysts are of view that since there is no reported use of words like cancel or scrap in the decision made by the Nepali side, there are rooms for doubts. Nepali Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka had briefed the Parliament that the decision was communicated to the US side through a letter via diplomatic channels on July 25. However, while questions were asked about the exact content of that letter, he shared that it couldn’t be shared publicly as it might create mistrust.
Many opine that chances are high that leaders might have pushed it until the upcoming federal and provincial elections slated for November, or could even accept it under the different names or programs. This narrative could be evidence less, but there are enough rooms to question on real intentions and hidden interests, they shared.
Its not a new phenomenon as a request letter signed by the then Chief of Army Staff General Rajendra Chhetri was leaked which clearly was a Nepali request to be a part of the US program back in 2015, and later in 2017. Following the circulation of document all over social media, the Nepal government was under huge public pressure to not to take it forward.
There were a series of blame games, accusations and vague communication leading to controversies. Yubaraj Ghimire, a senior Nepali journalist, is of view that though SPP chapter is closed for now, but the US’s interest in similar field will remain.
“Nepal should be clearly adhering to its non-aligned policy and should not provoke any country in neighborhood and far away to suspect the motive behind any such deals in future,” he remarked.