Challenges and Opportunities and Changing Security Spectrum of South Asia and Beyond – Telegraph Nepal

Professor Gopal Pokharel, Kathmandu, Nepal

Introduction:

Foreign policy is rightly understood as the extension of domestic policy. It has also been a rational explanation of a country’s external behavior.

The foreign policy of any country truly represents its core national interest and is rightly taken as a judicious mix of continuity and change.

As a country with a long and unbroken history of political independence and national sovereignty, Nepal foreign policy largely reflects a continuum and encompasses a fine blend of principles and pragmatism with a view to protecting and promoting our national interests in the changed political context in an increasingly competitive and globalizing world of the twenty-first century.

Nepal is one of the few ancient countries which have had a long existence in the annals of world history followed by intermittent setbacks and ups and downs.

On the whole, this country has aptly handled the statecraft which enabled it to preserve and protect the sovereign identity even under the adverse situation.(even when most of the countries of South Asia were under colonial rule, Nepal was an exception).

After Nepal obtained membership in the United Nations(Dec 14,1955 A.D),the country is endeavoring to the best of its ability to contribute to the cause of world peace and security under the aegis of the UN.

After three years of obtaining UN membership, Nepal continuously is involved in the peace-keeping mission, being the sixth one in deploying the military personnel whenever and wherever deemed urgent under the auspices of the UN.
During the cold war period, Nepal pursued a foreign policy of constructive engagement with all the powerful and peaceful countries adhering to the five principles of “Pancha-Sheel” and positive Non-Alignment, giving utmost priority to both of its immediate neighbors; China and India based on equi-proximity and mutuality of interest.

Nepal’s unique geo-strategic location has shaped and guided the country’s foreign policy formulation and implementation ever since the “yam between two boulders” strategy was adopted more than two centuries ago.

Situated as Nepal is between the two Asiatic giants-India and China as her immediate neighbors, the need of this country to maintain cordial, balanced, friendly and cooperative relations with these two populous neighbors cannot be over emphasized. In order to achieve the desired and set goals of foreign policy, the apt and skillful handling of diplomacy is imperative.

Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs(MOFA) in tandem with other sectoral ministries, is to take a lead nonetheless, diplomacy is not exclusively under the domain of MOFA alone now being practiced by all the decision-makers of the government dealing with the international community.

Concomitantly, the role of the private sector, the civil society, and non-governmental organizations along with intellectuals, professionals, and imminent individuals should be geared to the vision of foreign policy matters without making compromises on their independent views.

This obviously helps in fine-tuning the process of attaining the set objectives of foreign policy.

All the actors and sub-actors involved in the administrative and bureaucratic machinery of the government must bear in mind Six ‘Cs’ to effectively handle the business related to foreign policy issues.

The first C denotes Clarity of subject, the 2nd C emphasizes on Consistency, the 3rd encourages capability building, the 4th C insists on Consensus building with all major political figures,5th C talks of co-ordination and the 6th C indeed demands effective communication and cooperation between and among agencies concerned, to name a few.

To systematize the institutionalization process, Nepal needs to enact a separate Foreign Service Act and revamp the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and Diplomatic Missions and strengthen the organizational capacity for result-oriented outputs.

Foreign Policy of Nepal under the Republican, Democratic Dispensation:

What role can foreign policy play in the present-day context?

There has to be a critical yet constructive examination of the anomalies and missing elements in Nepal’s foreign policy which sometimes creates a sense of vagueness and in coherence about the intentions and likely reaction to issues affecting her vital interest.

The institutionalization of Nepalese foreign policy is the need of the hour.

To systematize the process, Nepal needs to enact a separate ‘Foreign Policy Service Act’ and revamp the ministry of foreign affairs (MOFA) and diplomatic missions.

In order to strengthen the organizational capacity, a well-equipped and resourceful ‘think-tank’ like the Institute of Foreign Affairs(IFA)and Nepal council of world Affairs(NCWA) be made further effective to get essential feedback on current trends in bilateral, regional and global relationships and affairs.

Besides, a provision should be made to constantly promote the professional skills and efficiencies of diplomats and officials working in these organizations.

But unfortunately, we have created a filthy atmosphere under which Nepali officials and diplomats hesitate to work with their full potential.

To give a boost to Economic Diplomacy which has been a high agenda in Nepalese foreign policy after the 1990’s political change, Nepal needs to explore all the possible avenues of its comparative advantages and create a conducive climate to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) backed by suitable technology transfer.

At present, a sizable number of Nepalese youths are joining the international labor market mainly to the Gulf countries in search of a better livelihood.

The demand for middle-level manpower from Nepal is relatively higher in international labor markets, for they are honest, hardworking and available at cheaper wage rates.

Recent trends suggest that foreign employment has been a perennial source of remittance over the years which have been instrumental in reducing the extent of poverty.

The increasing number of Nepali workers employed in the Gulf, East and South Asian countries suffered a setback due to the spread of COVID 19 pandemic whose ramifications have affected the overall global economy as well.

Since, the restructuring of the state after the Constituent Assembly polls, in response to people’s interests, aspirations and expectations has become a prime agenda of Nepali polity and as such the people are at the centers of politics and other activities involving them, their interest invariably reflected in foreign policy decisions and the measures that the government has taken from time to time taking into consideration the changing international situation.

Nepalese Foreign Policy under stress:

After the end of the cold war in the eighties of the last century, the disintegration of the Soviet Union followed by the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, there has been a dramatic shift in the global balance of power.

The end of the cold war followed by the wave of globalization has made it possible to integrate the economies of both developed and developing countries in an increasingly interdependent and globalized world.

Conventional diplomacy has undergone a paradigm shift owing to the growing relevance of trade, investment, and other economic activities to developing countries like Nepal under increased pressure to uplift the living condition of their people.

But unfortunately, once again Military superiority and security concerns figure dominantly in the global high politics and a wanton arms’ race between and among powerful countries is posing a serious threat to world peace and order in a form of neo-colonialism.

In recent years, a cold war type of situation with the indulgence of major powers(the US, Russia, China and India)has threatened world peace and caused further stress on the conduct of Nepalese foreign policy.

Under such a precarious condition all the peace-loving countries big or small, developed or developing across countries and continents should forge an alliance and put moral pressure through UN forums and other suitable platforms and come up with modalities so that the likely confrontation and catastrophe be averted.

For Nepal, Millennium Challenge Corporations (MCC) and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) initiated by the two superpowers(the USA and China)have assumed greater currency as Nepal’s tacit involvement in both the projects are the two burning issues that have alarmingly eroded the credibility of Nepal’s foreign policy at present.

To get rid of the present conundrum, perceptional clarity, seriousness and skillful and apt handling of diplomacy is called for, meticulous efforts and consideration on the part of Nepal is urgently needed so that the vital national interest of the country is not put in jeopardy.

Instead of indulging in political gimmicks, Nepal should open free and frank dialogue assuring both immediate neighbors and other powerful partners.

Under no circumstances would Nepal allow its steps and actions to adversely affect the genuine interest of our friends.

The Paradox:

The conventional and nuclear arrangements alone are not adequate in safeguarding the vital interest of the nations mainly of small and weaker ones.

So, there is a global emphasis on human security which includes social and economic security.

In other words, comprehensive security is threatened as much by poverty, destitution, hunger, disease, illiteracy and environmental degradation, population explosion, the widening gap between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ within and beyond the border, and human rights violation, and ethnic cleansing leading to a massive exodus of refugees as by escalating arms race, military build-up consuming colossal sums of money and nuclear proliferation including the proliferation of weapon of mass destruction.

Trade, not aid is the prevailing motto in economic relations among nations today.

Indeed, it is a more powerful catalyst for sustained development than aid.

After obtaining membership in World Trade Organization (WTO),it is imperative for Nepal to increase capacity building and explore the possible avenues of comparative advantages and compete with other partners in the world market for which Foreign Direct Investment(FDI),capital and technology would play a crucial role to accelerate the pace of economic development. Due to lack of policy consistency, Nepal’s credibility is eroded in attracting FDI in recent years.

Credible, correct and appropriate measures are immediately called for to attract FDI in such areas as hydropower, tourism, bio-diversity and education where Nepal has both comparative advantages and competitive edge.

Anomalies:

How Nepal can enhance its effectiveness in the international system is a pertinent concern.

In today’s expanding diplomatic relations with a large number of countries, the rapidly changing international system demands greater understanding with a wide comprehension of the field incorporated by international relations.

South Asia whose identity as a region was recognized later in the mid-eighties only. South Asian member states with their collective efforts and wisdom eventually succeeded in establishing a regional entity named as South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation(SAARC).
By signing its charter with a strong resolve for a common cause realizing the full potential of south Asian people to achieve collective well-being within the shortest possible time frame. The modus-operandi was based on respecting the sovereign independence of individual states through interdependence.

Tremendous efforts and befitting arrangements were made in consolidating SAARC activities which successfully concluded its 18th summit, in Kathmandu.

The blending of the state-centric approach (Track 1)and people-centric steps(Track 2)promoted and protected the organizational efficacy of the regional body to a considerable extent.
The 19th Summit proposed in Islamabad is overdue because of misperceptions and differences between the two regional heavyweights India and Pakistan.

At present, SAARC stands in limbo and collective efforts, resources and precious time consumed so far, apparently seem to be an exercise in futility.

Nepal as a founding member and incumbent chair should have worked out modalities and tried to create a congenial atmosphere to bring a rapprochement between India and Pakistan but the portion of onus basically rests on these two regional heavyweights for the successful functioning of SAARC.

The perceptional, military and nuclear irritants in the region should be done away with and bring back the process of SAARC on right track.

Further, the recent developments and trends to encourage unilateralism, interventionism, intrusiveness both globally and within the region has raised pertinent concern regarding the traditional and non-traditional approaches which might further exacerbate the existing conditions and most of the regional states continue to face uncertainty and insecurities arising out of the antagonistic relations between the two neighbors.

The case of Nepal: Democracy versus Hypocrisy:

“People and people alone are the motive force in the making of national history”.

All the leaders of major political parties of Nepal have miserably failed and are reluctant in grasping the essence of the forgone line, suggested by a very famous political thinker and leader. It is indeed unfortunate.

During the time of the first general election, under the democratic-republican dispensation, the communist parties of Nepal (UML and the Maoist –center) forged an alliance initiating the unity process with a plea and promise that the combined strength of the two left parties would pave the way for political stability, socio-economic transformation and economic development.

The communist party of Nepal (CPN) circulated the manifesto embodying these principles.

The common Nepali at the grassroots level received this proposition with a sense of relief and reposited their faith with almost two-third mandate for a full term of five years to rule them democratically with a dream of better tomorrow.

Initially, common people were euphoric in supporting the policies and programs launched by the communist party. With the tacit understanding of the then Maoist party supremo Prachanda, KP Sharma Oli was the president and popularly elected strong Prime Minister of Nepal for the second time in Nepalese history.

After coming to power KP Sharma Oli coined a phrase ‘prosperous Nepal and happy Nepali’ which the common people received very positively as a dream for themselves.

No doubt, in the initial stage the policies and measures adopted by the government were oriented to mitigating the sufferings of the people.

The steps taken by Oli government in the field of health and social security were progressive ones in view of the socio-economic transformation of Nepal.

As the time rolled on serious differences and feuds surfaced in the ruling party and the modus operandi followed by the government was controversial and at variance with the established practices and guiding principles of ‘democratic centralism’ in the organizational setup of the communist party.

The government, instead of paying heed to the suggestions and recommendations made by the party committees and leaders, started displaying undemocratic character and the government turned arrogant and monopolistic in its approach.

The government apparently gave a positive message and impression that it would lead the nation in the right direction taking into account the aspiration and expectations of the general people.

Certainly in the initial phase the government recorded some success stories also.

But ironically, the basic attributes of good governance- transparency, accountability, the rule of law, inclusion, fair and equitable distribution of national wealth etc were missing and as a result, there was mounting public pressure on the government and the ruling party to review the program based on favoritism, nepotism followed by rampant corruption and scandals.

Oli’s government turned a deaf ear pertaining to the suggestions and recommendations of its central committee members and especially of the nine-member secretariat of high-profile members of the party life.

Instead of institutionalizing the democratic order, Oli’s government went on monopolizing state power protecting the interest of cronies and ‘vested group’.

A small coterie of cronies and so-called insiders surrounding the Prime Minister were bent upon to damage the image of the party and the government, turned arrogant stubborn by defying genuine suggestions and prescription of the responsible party central committee members.

Political opportunism reached its zenith whereas democratic sentiments to their lowest ebb.

Common people at the grassroots level were starving and were deprived of better livelihood and social justice whereas the handful members of the coterie in the cabinet grabbed the major chunk of the national cake for themselves.

Without discussion, consultation and adequate homework, controversial and counterproductive proposals and measures were moved to the cabinet which besmirched the image of the then government and the party in a short span of time.

The PM was indulged in a clandestine deal (India’s RAW chief Samanta Goyal ), that further exacerbated the existing situation.

Prime Minister though elected popularly, failed to enjoy the confidence of the party in power and as a desperate move, dissolved the working parliament under the veil of his ‘prerogatives’.

This event caused a nationwide uproar, created a political vacuum leading to an unstable and chaotic situation.

Most of the political parties, enlightened members of the civil society intellectuals, lawyers and eminent individuals forged an alliance and challenged the step of the PM in the supreme court which after extensive hearings and deliberations, declared the dissolution of the parliament null and void.

Oli’s government did not take a lesson to initiate fresh steps in restoring confidence in the ruling party, instead, he tried to fulfill his self-aggrandizement trying to weaken the parliament of sovereign people and was unwilling to compromise and after a short interval of time, the PM once again dissolved the house for the second time defying the norms and provisions under article 76 of the constitution of Nepal.

The supreme court responsible for interpreting and protecting the constitution once again declared the PM’s step as ultra vires.

Consequently, the KP Sharma Oli’s party (CPM-UML) is now in opposition.

Concomitantly, contrary to the expectations KP Sharma Oli’s government was indulged in political rhetoric and gimmicks as a result socio-cultural, political and economic fabrics of the society were badly eroded and apparently, the country seems to be heading towards a failed state.

Conclusion:

Coalition under Sher Bahadur Deuba:

Currently, a five-party alliance government is installed at the center in which a group of party members have abandoned the CPN- UML membership and have formed a new political party Unified Socialist under the leadership of former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal.

The five-party alliance government was received by the people as positive steps for the protection and consolidation of the democratic order.

The Nepali society has yet to develop democratic political culture and institution for the socio-economic transformation of the society.

Sher Bahadur Deuba who is fortunate enough to lead the government for the fifth time seems not to have learned from hindsight. He seems to be unaware of the sensitivity and interest of the people along with many burning issues.

Instead of nurturing the coalition culture and practice, he sticks to his old and outdated approach in running the government.

Once again the people are gradually being frustrated and losing their faith in the incumbent coalition government as well. If one observes, there are many pending burning national issues before the government which calls for immediate attention and many negative syndromes are discernable in the Nepalese economy at present.

Inhibiting and impeding tendencies has created a favorable climate for those internal and external elements having ulterior motives are active enough to fish into the troubled water.

Paradoxically, instead of working for a national consensus, the incumbent government including other (opposition) leaders belonging to almost all national political parties are bickering over trifles, igniting the fissiparous tendencies, pursuing a policy of brinkmanship on both domestic and external fronts.

Party leaders are reluctant to give up their myopic views and megalomaniac tendencies and come up with fresh and correct ideas and plans for lasting solutions that would help to get rid of the present political quagmire.

In the end, it can simply be suggested that all the responsible political leaders, elites, professionals, civil society members and eminent individuals and the commoners of Nepal forge an alliance by displaying collective wisdom and work honestly with unison and determination honestly in the larger interest of the people and the country.

This is possible only when we resolve to learn from hindsight.

End text.

Thanks the distinguished Professor Gopal Pokhrel: Ed. Upadhyaya N. P.
# our contact email address is: [email protected]

References:
# A Generic Guide Line for development through Economic Diplomacy, IFA publication, April 2008, Kathmandu
# Pokharel Gopal (Ede) Expansion of SAARC; challenges and opportunities, IFA publication. August 2008, Kathmandu.
# Pokharel Gopal; Foreign Policy of Nepal, Challenges and Opportunities, IFA publication. August 2008, Kathmandu.
# NCWA, Annual Journal 2010-11, Kathmandu.
#Foreign Policy of Nepal; Enhancing Effective Participation of Nepal in the regional and international system and risk of climate change, IFA and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung(FES) June 2013, Kathmandu
# Institutionalization of Foreign Policy- IFA, June 2013, Kathmandu.
# ‘Vision to Action’- Selected Speeches of KP Sharma Oli, Volume-3, Kathmandu.
# Democratic Innovations in Nepal, Joshi Bhuban Lal and Leo E. Rose.

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