The general presumption that a radical change of a country’s political chemistry eventually leads to the change of mindset among its responsible leadership and instills a new sense of direction in their minds, has proved to be an absolute fallacy in the Nepali context. The marked propensity among its leading political actors to play around with the country’s paramount national interests in pursuit of their individual or partisan benefits is testimony to this assertion. All political groupings of Nepal, regardless of their professed ideological creeds and frequently displayed fits of jingoism, are similar in this respect, though the UCPN (Maoist) is widely perceived as being unbeatable in compromising the nation’s vital interests.
It seems somewhat oxymoronic to state that Nepal has a foreign policy that is non-existent for all practical purposes. All successive regimes never cared for evolving a consistent and proactive foreign policy that would help the country effectively face the emerging challenges on its international relations. Perpetuating their hold on power has always been their prime objective and political expediency has determined their external relations. Consequently, a few external powers, who claim to enjoy an exclusive prerogative of determining the course of Nepal’s internal politics, have been practically dictating the core planks of its intercourse with the outside world.
THE NEED FOR FOREIGN POLICY
Every cataclysmic transformation of a country’s political identity, as Nepal underwent some six years ago, is said to carry a question linked with it is ‘quo vadis ?’ or ‘where are you going?’ One of the highly prioritized responsibilities that the transformational leadership needs to take on is devising a dynamic policy framework that would determine the trajectory, scope and extent of the state’s interaction with the outside world. This, we mundanely designate as ‘foreign policy’ and the skills and methods applied to achieving the aims and objectives prescribed therein is ‘diplomacy’ in common parlance. If innovation of the governing mechanism shapes the internal political dynamics of a newly transformed nation, a pragmatic and functional foreign policy enables it to effectively expand its basic structure of international relations.
Foreign policy is not an elixir that can be concocted overnight by a few myopic caucuses of the ruling party or parties. It is a carefully drawn national strategy that helps the nation keep alive its aspirations. It is a plan of action crafted by responsible people at the helm of power and their technocrats considered to be prescient and farsighted. One should not assume that what is good today will always remain good. Nor will today’s fixed concepts necessarily be valid for tomorrow’s possibly altered ground realities. Regular evaluation and recalibration of policy approaches is essential for their efficacious implementation. A sound foreign policy, if unhinged from political predispositions and biases, enhances national dignity and honor before the international community and protects and promotes national interests by cultivating a climate of goodwill and understanding among the neighbours on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual respect.
The legendary statesman/diplomat of Austria, Klemens Metternich, had once maintained that ‘domestic disposition determines the state’s behavior internationally’. In other words, a country’s internal political dynamics has a direct bearing upon its foreign policy options and initiatives. Nepal’s ongoing political imbroglios and scramble for power may be attributed to its failures on bilateral as well as multilateral fronts. Blatant political improbity on the part of national politicians has equally contributed to creating a conducive environment for overt interference in its internal affairs by outside forces. Because of the unabated foreign interference, shady nexus maintained by Nepali leaders with foreign political forces and their frequent secret visits to New Delhi or Beijing for seeking advice, a common Nepali is confronted with a vital question: Who precisely rules this country?
NEPAL’S FOREIGN POLICY
Last two decades have been the most inglorious period in Nepal’s diplomatic history marked by national humiliation on the international front and failures on bilateral issues.
Nepal’s harsh geopolitical realities demand that it pursues a pragmatic and consistent course in its foreign policy. It is true that we have limited options vis-à-vis our relations with the two nuclear giants who constitute the central axis of the country’s international relations. Regardless of the glittering rhetoric, Nepal-India relations are characterized by mutual distrust and ambivalence, whereas inconsistency on the part of Nepal has occasionally chilled its relations with China. Nepal’s responsible political stakeholders ought to envision that it should remain a country in which the two emerging powers of Asia would act as co-operative partners and not distrustful rivals. Our policy should be based on a conviction that harmony could be distilled even from a selfish competition between them.
If a state wishes to expand and promote the network of its international relations, enduring peace and political stability at home is a pre-requisite. Unfortunately, this continues to remain elusive in Nepal’s context. People in Nepal harbor an apprehension that the country might be heading for yet another ethnic violence, leading to a progressive dilution of its sovereignty and distinctive identity. Under these hindering circumstances, the evolution of a consistent and independent foreign policy remains nothing but a fantasy.
If we make a dispassionate overview and evaluation of Nepal’s bilateral as well as multilateral diplomacy conducted over the last two decades or so, one would come to a highly distressing conclusion. The last two decades have been the most inglorious period in Nepal’s diplomatic history marked by national humiliation on the international front, failures in resolving bilateral issues, and mockery of diplomatic representations. They were all brought about by inept, frivolous and at times schizophrenic political leaderships responsible for conducting the nation’s international diplomacy.
There is no doubt that during the Panchayat days, questioning the regime’s rationale behind its policy decisions or its envoy’s diplomatic performance was considered to be a taboo. But even after the collapse of the top-down polity, the feudal legacy handed down by the defunct regime has been passionately maintained by Nepal’s political class. With a few exceptions, Nepal’s diplomatic envoys to foreign countries—politically appointed or belonging to the diplomatic cadre—have failed to live up to the general expectations of the people. During their tour of duty, these ‘diplomatic worthies’ render more services to their respective mentors or political parties than making tangible contributions to meaningful bilateral cooperation. Projecting a false image of themselves at home through media interviews or messages has been their special aptitude. This is the most unfortunate aspect of Nepal’s politically-oriented foreign policy and non-functional diplomacy.
The author is a retired Chief of Protocol of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs