KATHMANDU: After Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the State Partnership Program (SPP) has become the most hotly debated issue in Nepal.
Both the ruling and opposition parties have been embroiled in controversy over the alleged military agreement with the United States. The ruling party has claimed that the SPP agreement was signed during the time of UML Chair KP Oli-led government.
Dhiraj Basnet of Khabarhub approached Nepali Congress (NC) spokesperson and former Foreign Minister Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat to know more about the ruling NC’s position on various issues, including SPP. Excerpts:
Is the Nepali Congress-led government preparing to sign and implement the SPP agreement with the United States?
We have not signed the State Partnership Program (SPP) agreement, nor are we prepared to do so. UML is trying to create a commotion by bringing out the topic of discussion that took place at some point during its leadership.
We are against any army coming to Nepal, and setting up camp here. Under no circumstances can we do anything that would jeopardize the nationality, sovereignty and integrity of the country.
We are not in any military alliance to the detriment of the country. Neither our party’s policy is to go against the unconventional foreign policy, nor is the government trying to go beyond this principle.
The current government has not signed any agreement related to the military alliance including the SPP agreement. This is just a rumor.
The US has said that the US government accepted the proposal three years ago after the Nepal government requested to include the country in the SPP. What is the story?
Three years ago, in 2019, there was a government led by UML Chairman KP Oli. If it is as claimed by the US government, then Oli must answer.
He is now trying to burden us with the issue of the agreement that was approved during his tenure.
The important thing is approval, not proposal. It is not a big deal when the draft was discussed. Different countries keep making various proposals, discussions take place.
However, according to the United States, the approval was given during the Oli-led government rather than during the discussion.
It happened when Pradeep Gyawali was the Foreign Minister. They have to answer to this. They have accused the current government of bringing US troops to parliament.
However, the United States has said that the agreement was reached during their time. It is clear that this was done by the UML and the then Nepal Communist Party.
However, the US has said that Nepal proposed the SPP agreement twice in 2015 and 2017 when you were in government. Why did you propose it?
I don’t think we made the offer. I don’t even know about it. However, the United States has made similar claims.
This matter should be investigated. If the then government had proposed in 2015 and 2017, the issue would have been discussed, something would have come out.
Why didn’t it come before? Again, when a proposal comes, I do not think any agreement is reached without discussion.
As a former foreign minister, I would say that no such proposal has come. The Nepal Army has also clarified that there is no such agreement and no preparation to make such an agreement.
If so how did the US say that it received the proposal twice and accepted it three years ago? Why is UML making a fuss?
We also need to understand what the United States is saying. When the claims sound controversial they should be investigated.
However, the current government has no involvement. We cannot accept an agreement to form a military alliance.
However, the kind of fuss that the UML is making is also surprising to us. They made the compromise at their time and are trying to blame us.
This is UML’s stunt and then PM Oli, not Deuba, should answer this question. According to the United States, the SPP was approved in 2019 during KP Oli’s tenure. He must answer this question.
UML shows double-standard most of the time.
So can you assure the PM will not sign any agreements related to SPP during his upcoming US visit?
We do not agree with any provision that makes Nepal join any military alliance. We do not go against the non-aligned foreign policy.
There are remarks that SPP has some connection with military remarks. The government does not take part in any military alliance discarding the non-aligned foreign policy.
Not only the USA but also India, China and UK are important countries for us.
Have you decided to take precautions on such agreements not to disappoint any nation rather than considering the national interest?
We don’t have to back down or move forward. The United States has said that the agreement was reached three years ago during the KP Oli-led government.
And who is going to back down? Instead, we are trying to understand more about this. When a country with land sensitivity like Nepal enters into a treaty with any country, she should think of her own interest rather than thinking about other countries. The sensitiveness should not be undermined.
Every country considers that. We want the United States to have the same military exercises and assistance that it has had over the years.
Nepal has cooperation not only with the US Army but also with the armies of India, China, the UK, and other countries. It should all go the same.
Is SPP really fatal to Nepal? As a former Foreign Minister, how do you take the agreement?
Nepal has been conducting joint exercises with the US military for years. The agreement states that the US military will assist in the event of a natural disaster in Nepal, as far as this point it is fine.
However, if the US military is to set up camp in our country and conduct military training in the high geography of Nepal this deserves more alertness.
If the U.S. military is to ensure logistics including the installation of communications technology and the government of Nepal is to provide land for US troops stationed in Nepal, this might be jeopardizing our foreign policy maintained so far.
This cannot be in the best interest of our country. Even if it comes from pure intention, it makes you think because of the provisions in it.
Besides, in a country where the intellects and leaders make a fuss the purely economic project like MCC, there will be many complications with such projects as SPP.
Is there any connection between MCC and SPP?
I don’t think there is any connection between these two. MCC is a purely economic project. It only talks about development.
Talks about the expenditure required for the development. However, the SPP talks of a military alliance, and it talks about military assistance in times of disaster.
So these two projects are different even if they are from the same country. I don’t think there is any connection between these two.