The Face of Injustice

Written by Raza Khan  •  Region  •  May 2013 PDF Print E-mail

Tibetans and Tibetan refugees in Nepal suffer great injustices from China’s growing influence in the country.

As China gradually increases its influence in the neighboring Himalayan state of Nepal, Tibetans are finding it increasingly difficult to cross into the country. In addition to this, the Tibetan refugees already in Nepal are experiencing a moratorium on their political and religious activities giving rise to new humanitarian crises.

On its part, Chinese officials are trying to stop Tibetans fleeing into Nepal and are enlisting the help of the Nepalese authorities in cracking down on the political activities of the Tibetans already there. Tibetans are the largest immigrant community in Nepal though their numbers have decreased considerably over the past few years.

Tibet is a disputed region where its residents have waged a long but unsuccessful political struggle for separation from China. India has been helping Tibetans with their struggle to settle scores with its traditional rival China. One important reason behind the demand for separation has been the denial of religious freedom to the majority Buddhists residents of Tibet. The international community has expressed deep reservations over gross human rights violations in Tibet by Chinese authorities but these have failed to deter Beijing to stop. Delhi has especially advocated the Tibetans case in the international arena. However, India’s support to Tibetans has been largely politically motivated, as it has long-desired the inclusion of the strategically important region in the Indian Union.

Approximately 20,000 Tibetan migrants had been carrying out anti-China political activities in Nepal without major checks from local authorities. Such activities have attracted international attention and exposed Chinese atrocities. China is also trying to prevent a possible resurrection of an anti-China guerrilla struggle by the Tibetan pro-freedom groups and exploitation of the situation by India and the U.S. In the 1960s, Tibetan guerrillas carried out attacks against Chinese troops using the Mustang area of Nepal and were helped by the CIA. The guerrilla camps were wound up after President Nixon decided to establish diplomatic links with China. Therefore, Chinese authorities fear that if the migration of Tibetans continues into Nepal, the more extremist among the migrants may resort to guerrilla warfare.

In order to stop the flow of Tibetans into Nepal, Chinese authorities have resorted to an assortment of tactics including financial incentives to Nepali state functionaries, threats, and training Nepalese border security forces. These tactics have been quite ‘successful’ from the Chinese standpoint as the number of Tibetans refugees has significantly decreased over the years. Those who have already migrated to Nepal have also been under strict scrutiny and check by the Nepalese authorities. According to The New York Times in the first eight months of 2012, the number of Tibetan refugees crossing the Himalayas into Nepal was about 400, half as many as during the same period in 2011. Tibetans blame tighter Chinese security in Tibet as well as Chinese-trained Nepal border guards for the reduced migration. China’s influence on Nepalese authorities has been so compelling that Kathmandu disallowed exit to 5,000 Tibetan refugees who were granted asylum by the U.S. China believes that such pressure tactics will discourage Tibetan refugees from carrying out political or anti-China activities.

The earliest Tibetan refugees arrived in Nepal in 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet. The Tibetans settled in refugee camps, of which 13 still remain. With a Tibetan enclave set up around Boudhanath, some Tibetans became rich by making carpets and handicrafts, and prominent Tibetan monasteries amassed wealth and purchased prime real estate in the Kathmandu Valley.

The domineering influence of China on Nepal is also attributed to regional politics. India since long has dictated terms to the Himalayan state and at many instances this influence has become intrusive. In order to off-set the Indian influence, Nepal has bolstered relations with Beijing and as a quid-pro-quo it has secured significant chunks of financial aid.

In this situation the only hope for the residents of Tibet and Tibetans refugees is that the growing trade between China and India could defuse tension between the two countries and help alleviate the woes of Tibetans. China has recently completed a 22-kilometre road connecting central Nepal with the Kyirong district in Tibet. The purpose of the road is to export goods to India through Nepal. Beijing is also pondering linking Kathmandu to the railway network present in Tibet in order to tap the trade potential with India. Infrastructural links such as this would open up the remote Tibet region and facilitate its residents’ movement to India and Nepal.

Once Tibetans get some relative freedom this may curtail anti-Chinese sentiments but at the same time may spur Tibetan separatist sentiments. With Delhi eyeing economic interests through enhanced trade with China, the country is expected to gradually decrease its support to anti-China Tibetans. Thus the international community will have to play a meaningful role to help mitigate the miseries faced by Tibetans and pressurize Beijing to solve the issue according to the wishes of the dwellers of the region. 

Raza Khan is a political analyst and researcher on the political economy and the AF-PAK region. He has served in several senior positions in the Pakistan government and is currently writing his doctoral thesis on religious extremism-terrorism in Pakistan.

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