Nepal’s Geostrategic Location: A Postcolonial Perspective
“Geography legitimates, excuses, rationalizes, in its very act of origination.”
Modern geography, from its very inceptions, formed part of the knowledge and practices attendant to colonialism that aimed to objectify and classify the territories and bodies by deploying an impulse to chart, names, and map. It helped produce improved cartography, regional description, geographical data, and analyses of the natural environment and political economy. Decolonization historiography demonstrates that when empires ended, they by no means left colonial borders and modern nation-states as their inevitable successors.
In tracing the beginning of modem geography inside the matrix of modem regimes of knowledge production, one has to deal with the point that while benefitting time, western theories of International Relations have tended to treat geographical space as “dead, the fixed, the undialectical, the immobile.” This has been the case for Nepal’s geostrategic position from the past to contemporary times. Nepal’s geographic description has been deemed to be fixed and immobile with that of the colonial narratives that were imposed by the colonial rulers in India.
Nepal has never been colonized and remained a sovereign state from time immemorial. Nepal, now recited to be at a geostrategic location between two Asian giants, India and China, inherits this narrative from the colonial rule in India. The presence of a more assertive China and imperialist USSR in the north led British India to consider Nepal as a buffer state and integrate Nepal into its security parameters. Then after this geographical description of Nepal has been the root narrative for Nepal’s geostrategic position. Former King Gyanendra also expressed Nepal’s willingness to be a transit state for the overall economic development of the region. Recently, one of the ideas as an offshoot of the change was the inception of discourse on reinventing Nepal into a bridge between India and China to take advantage of the rapid economic growth of both neighbors also has the roots of the colonial narrative of buffer state as depicted by the colonial rulers in British India.
Moreover, through the lenses of postcolonialism, the historical description of Nepal by Prithvi Narayan Shah through the yam theory is also a reaction to the process of colonialism, because the early efforts by the East India Company to establish themselves in the north of India were marked by a certain degree of success.
Thus these several geostrategic markers for Nepal have been inescapably marked (both philosophically and institutionally) by its location and development from a western-colonial science perspective. The modern geography of Nepal after the Anglo-Nepal War (1814–1816), and the realization of the colonial rulers in India about the geostrategic importance of Nepal is “primarily, if not mainly, served the interests of British imperialism in its several aspects comprising territorial acquisition, economic exploitation, and through the practice of class and race domination”. Thus, from a postcolonial perspective, Nepal’s geostrategic evolution reflects the past imperial interest and this very formation and institutionalization of the discipline were intricately bound up with the imperialism of the British, which Nepal still holds till date. As a vanguard colonial discipline, geographic narratives played a founding role in the modern geographical construction of Nepal by helping to suture consciousness with space. This construction turned out to be crucial regarding modem colonialism in Nepal. The international power politics in Nepal between India, the USA, and even China can be, thus, analyzed through the narratives which were established during the colonial periods by British India.
Through postcolonial analysis, this led to the crisis of the real geographical identity of Nepal. Therefore, a critical geographical view is most for Nepal to uncover the connection between geographical description and colonial perspective. Geography similarly played a constructive role in the augmentation and consolidation of the modern state apparatuses and technologies of governance. Thus, the policymakers in Nepal have actively pursued this colonial geographical description of Nepal, having inherited from ambiguous colonial-era frontiers.
In conclusion, Nepal should “de-link” the narratives of geographical and regional description imposed by the former colonizers in India and thereby shed a landscape imposed upon. Though these geographical narratives to Nepal have helped to come feasibly as close as possible to spatial accuracy, however, Nepal still has the power to enact her own will upon this spatial landscape and manipulate its geostrategic representation to suit biased needs.
Disclaimer: The article was originally published in the Sino Sphere.