Rabi Raj Thapa
Former Additional Inspector General (Retd)
Armed Police Force, Nepal
Member of Nepal Council of World Affairs (NCWA)
A prominent book authored by Jared Diamond (Diamond 2019) has postulated twelve factors of identifying whether a country is in crisis or not or whether a country has reached its turning point’. This article has tried to review the concurrent Nepali national crisis on the basis of his logic that today’s Nepalese leaders, decision makers, elite and think-tanks need to ponder and introspect. In his book, Jarred Diamond has raised hope and optimism for small and underdeveloped countries with his examples of Finland and its struggle for survival against its big powerful neighbor Russia (Then Soviet Union). Second, the author has narrated how the Meiji Government of Japan developed and prospered by imbibing the advanced technology from the United States and the West at the same time preserving its old traditional identity, culture, tradition and civilization.
Crisis as a Turning Point:
The word “Crisis” can have several related meanings. One of the numerous meanings of crisis means a “turning point” or change. (Diamond, 2019, p.7). As early as 1982, Blakie, Cameron and Seddon had written, “…Nepal is now in a state of crisis, fundamentally rooted in a failure of productive organization associated with its economic and political underdevelopment” (Blaikie P., and etal.1982). 18 years after their assertion, a prominent Nepali World Bank officer Rajib Upadhya writes in his book, “Nepal descended into deeper chaos when the heir apparent to the 240-year old Nepali crown gunned his family down – including the reigning king – tempting the world to write the nation off as yet another ‘failed state’.”
Geo-politics has several components – geographic location, national identity, people, leaders and national policies and strategies. Among these, Geographic location can however fluctuate but cannot be changed. It is only the defense, diplomacy and development of a country that can change a nation’s destiny, irrespective of its geographic location.
The other factors are dynamic in nature and changes depending upon internal political stability, law, order and peace or conflict situation, and nonetheless external threat and environment. Unfortunately, Nepal is at present embroiled in all fronts including Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC), border dispute with India (Lipulek, Limpiadhura. (Paudyal, 2013)). Recently, Nepal has also become embroiled in a new border issue with China. (Subedi, 2022).
Jared Diamond opines that it is neither possible nor desirable for individuals or nations to change completely, and to discard everything of their former identities. Since the political change of 2006, the new rulers of the post-armed conflict of Nepal have changed the course of Nepalese history and its political structure may prove to be nothing other than “a penny wise pound foolish” political experimental adventure. Today, the urgent need for Nepal is to be able to differentiate and figure out which parts of the political system still functioning well and don’t need change; and, which are not working and urgently need changes.
Individuals or nations when they come under pressure must take honest stock of their identities, abilities goals and values. However, one needs courage and patience to recognize and to be able to change in order to deal with new ever emerging situations.
Therefore, one must introspect and decide what works for oneself, this remains appropriate even under the new changed circumstances. Similarly, a nation must be ready to figure out which parts are no longer working and need changing. (Diamond, 2019, p.6).
Based upon Jared Diamond’s twelve factors related to the outcome of national crisis, I have tried to interpret the manner in which Nepal is currently dealing with its national crisis as follows:
Is there a National Consensus that Nepal in Crisis?
Nepal must be able to acknowledge or deny whether she is being in crises. This acknowledgement requires some degree of national consensus. The accession and ratification of the MCC by the parliament on February was done in a very dubious way with neither the consensus within parliament nor from the people. The same procedure was adopted in 2008 that repudiated Nepal as a Hindu State and it also dissolved the age of a Hindu monarch in Nepal. The row on the Millennium Cooperation Compact (MCC) (WION, 2022) exacerbated by violent street protests and demonstrations; political and horse trading to get it ratified by the legislature is a glaring example of no consensus among the national stakeholders, i.e. Nepalese people and the political leaders.
Are the government, political leaders and stakeholders shouldering their responsibilities to act accordingly?
Nepalese stakeholders must be willing and able to take responsibility to take action to solve the problem, or else deny the responsibility by indulging in self-pity, denial of responsibility, blaming others, and assuming the role of victim. (Diamond, 2019. p. 51).
Nepalese must learn to stop wallowing in self-pity or focusing on oneself as the victim and instead they need to recognize the need for change in their attitude and behavior.
Delineate the National Problems Needing to be solved:
Nepal needs to stop making ad-hoc decisions and subjective rules that it has inherited since centuries. It is time for Nepal to make selective changes in its policies and institutions as well. Nepal must prioritize and deal with crises depending upon its urgency, gravity, risk and vulnerability. Here, the question may arise – where has Nepal failed -why and how; and, what needs to be done?
Getting Material and Financial help from other Nations:
A nation may receive material and financial help from other nations. But the rationale of foreign assistance based on eternal design and dictation needs to be averted as much as possible. Nepal’s GDP per capita, Purchasing Power Parity 2020 – country ranking is 147 out of 183 countries (The Global Economy, 2022). In recent interview, Nepalese ministers clearly indicate that the survival of Nepalese economy is based on delicate foreign aid and remittances.
Nepal had received overwhelming material and financial help during the Great Earth quake of 2015. But it cannot take foreign and remittances for a ride.
Use others examples as a model as how to solve a problem:
Jared Diamond gives an example of Finland as a small country and how it has success fully dealt with its assertive powerful neighbor – the Soviet Union (USSR after 1991) its neighbor. Nepal can learn a lot from Finland’s experience.
Another example that he has given is of the Meiji rule (Meiji rule 1868-1912). After the Meiji restoration, Meiji rulers had very successfully learned from western political, legal, administrative infrastructural transformation and development, and at the same time, had successfully protected and preserved, almost intact, their national core values, national identity, culture and religion. (Diamond, 2019, p.60)
Nepal needs to learn from Finland how to deal with big and powerful neighbors and from Japan how to develop nation without destroying age-old Nepalese tradition and culture.
Jared Diamond writes,” Nations do have a national characteristic called the national identity. (Diamond, 2019). It requires reaching some degree of national consensus in experienced and responsible leaders, united civilians, objective control, unified military, clear internal and external orientation (in domestic and foreign policy), convergent ideas.
If the “America First” can be the America’s identity, Nepal can have – “The Land of Gurkhas”, “the Birthplace of the Lord Gautama Buddha”, “the only Hindu Kingdom of Nepal with a Hindu King” has always been the symbol of Nepal’s National Identity. Currently all these century old identities have been either forcibly repudiated, eroded by wallowing for and against the Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) which has demonstrated eroding political norms and values of political, business houses, so called think-tanks and elite circles.
Nepal Requires Honest National Self-appraisal:
Jared Diamond (2019) writes, “Nations have historical experience of previous national crisis”. (Diamond, 2019). Therefore, it is not only the geography but also honest appraisals of successes, the national policy-strategies and statecrafts as national historical mile-stones. According to one of the most renowned bureaucrat, diplomat and historian Sardar Bhim Bahadur Pandey, Nepal is one of the rarest five ever sovereign and independent countries of Asia-Pacific along with other four, namely Afghanistan, Iran (Persia), Japan and Siam (present Thailand). This shows that it is not only geographic constraints but also statecraft that matters a lot. For example, what can be the reasons for land-locked countries like Austria and Switzerland, a sea-locked city-state like Singapore, and a small country surrounded by entirely hostile countries like Israel are all successful in their domestic and foreign relation?
It is for sure that, if the countrymen are not honest in their national self-appraisal, their country can never prosper.
Historical Experience of Previous National Crises:
Jared Diamond (2019) writes,” Nations have historical experience, while individuals have personal memories of previous crises. (Diamond, 2019).
Nepal has been through centuries of social, political upheavals in the past. But its past seventy years have been a failure to transform, to accommodate / adapt to the changing regional and global order at large. That is the reason, Nepal is considered to be in transition for seven decades – which is paradoxical and absurd.
A prominent historian of Nepal, Ludwig F. Stiller had coined the historical period of 1816-1839 as a period of the Silent Cry” of Nepal (Stiller, 2018). It seems that Nepal is again going through the same destiny ever since it fell into the conflict-trap since armed conflict of 1996-2006 and it still continuing through disguised proxy means and ways.
Dealing with National Failure:
Jared Diamond (2019) writes,” Nations differ in how they deal with failure and in their willingness to explore other solutions to a problem if the first attempted solutions fail”. (Diamond, 2019).
Seventy years of trial-and-error democratic political experimentation of Nepal has now become an ever relapsing chronic disease of state-failure. Nepal seems to have failed to learn anything from its past failures. Nepal seems to have become a victim of never ending emotional, raw and immature political adventurism; political horse-trading despite repeatedly falling into vicious conflict traps of 1050s, 1962, 1972, 1986, 1990s, 1996 to 2005, 2006, 2015 and present). These geopolitical quagmires seem lead Nepal into a failed-state, ultimately a death-trap, threatening the sole existence of Nepal into a vanquished nation like Tibet, Sikkim and Palestine.
Situation-specific national flexibility:
The rigid war-mongering of the Nazi-Germany and Japan in the past have shown extraordinary flexibility once they were decimated during the Second World War -1930 1945. As a result of their situation-specific flexibility, they were exemplary in damage control, national revival and reconstruction; saving their people from death, poverty and hunger within few decades. Since the political change of 1950, Nepal as a government has behaved like spineless except for the 12 years of King Mahendra’s rule; even though his term is looked at with disdain. This political roller-costar ride, trial-and-error experimentation, policy of appeasement has eroded the once effective institutional and political infrastructural development of Nepal, and sent it into a regressive mode.
Need to protect and preserve Nepal’s national core values:
What are the core-vales of Nepal?
Decades ago, Kathmandu valley was coined as a City of Gods. Nepal is still one of the oldest living culture and civilization in the world. Politically, Nepal has remained ever sovereign and independent since it came into existence in 1769.
Firstly, Nepal has got the Mount Everest; secondly, Nepal is also the birthplace of Lord Gautama Buddha; thirdly, King Prithivi narayan Shah had coined Nepal as an “Aasali Hindustana”, a pure Hindu nation of the world, that existed intact for 240 years; fourthly, Nepal was the only nation with Hindu Monarch on the world-map that was repudiated in a questionable manner by the first Constitutional Assembly of Nepal in 2008. Paradoxically, there are still many Christian Queens and kings in the world today. Similarly, there are many kings and princes as absolute rulers in the Arab and Muslim countries (Huntington, 1997). Finally, Nepal being the source-country of world’s re nowned Gurkhas, it is also gradually being reduced and replaced by infamous manual labor forces who are dying in the desert of the Gulf countries in a large number like a fallen soldier. Then what is the difference? – may be only hardship, humiliation and disgrace being a Nepali in the outer world.
Finally, Jared Diamond concludes with the geopolitical constraint that no country of the world can possible ignore. (Diamond, 2019).
Geo politically, the greatest disadvantage of Nepal is that it is land-locked and totally surrounded by two ambitious emerging powers of the world – China and India. The second most sensitive point is that Nepal has become vulnerable as a conflict flash point, bridgehead between the world arch-rivals USA and China, a possible strategic land-mass like Afghanistan and Ukraine.
The relationship between India and China in trade and transit looks friendly but their military and strategic relation is hostile. Positively Nepal as a buffer zone could be the best for both the countries. But due to weak and poor diplomatic acumens, Nepal is losing its trust and credibility with both the countries. Now, the US assertiveness to get its MCC contract through the parliament has divided the country politically that has provoked Nepal’s northern neighbor to become vocal. Nepal’s sweet-and-sour relationship with its southern, eastern and western neighbor India has always been unpredictable since India got its independence in 1947.
Nepal’s aspiration to develop and modernize has been stalled due to numerous factors. When the just in three decades Germany recovered from the devastation of two World Wars fought within three decades. Japan did recover and restructure and restore its national identity and robust economic power after the defeat and two Atom bombs killed an estimated 140,000 in Hiroshima, and further 74,000 in Nagasaki. (ICAN, 2022).
When Germany and Japan could recover and reconstruct their countries within decades after such crippling devastation, what are the reasons for Nepal to get entangled into a boiled spaghetti situation? After the war Japan was forced it to be ruled by the USA and Germany was divided into communist East and democratic West. Why cannot take full advantages of its all what we have in Nepal. Nepal has always failed to introspect and its leaders after 1950 been infatuated by external ideas and influences, contrary to what Jarred Diamond has stipulated.
Nepal can learn from Finland to defend it national interest diplomatically using soft and smart power. Nepal can learn from Japan to modernize and develop by preserving its rich culture, tradition and civilization. Nepal need to do realistic-assessment of its geopolitical advantages and vulnerabilities and adapt with a combination of selective changes as required.
To be on the safe side, Nepal can play a preventive diplomacy like that of Finland and national development in a manner Meiji Japan had done in the 1800.
Geography will never hamper if the politics can take smart and constructive measures.
To sum up, Nepal is deeply embroiled into a complex and complicated chaos and crisis; so much so that it is going to be a Herculean Task and Achilles Hills to whoever aspire to be the ruler of this modern Nepal.
Blaikie P., Cameron J., Seddon D. (1982). “Nepal in Crisis”, Oxford University Press: Delhi. p.5.
Diamond J. (2019). “Upheaval, How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change”, Penguin Random House: UK.
Huntington P.S. (1997). The Clash of Civilization and Remaking of World Order. Penguin Books: India.
ICAN. (2022). Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN): https://www.icanw.org
Paudyal, G. (2013). “Border Dispute between Nepal and India”, Research 1- II, July -December 2013, (pp. 35-48), Kathmandu: Tribhuvan University.
MCC. (2022). Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) https://us.nepalembassy.gov. np/mmc/
Meiji Period. (1868-1912). Japan-guide.com: https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2130. html
Stiller, F.L., S.J. (2018). “The Silent Cry, the People of Nepal. (1816-1839), Revised Edition: Education Publishing House: Nepal.
Subedi, T. (2022). Border Disputes Between India and Nepal: Will India Act as a Responsible Rising Power? January 8, 2021, Australian Institute of World Affairs: https://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australianoutlook/20832
The Global Economy (2022). https://www.theglobaleconomy.com/rankings/ GDP_per_
WION, (2022). Slogans rejecting MCC echoes in streets of Nepal. Latest World English
News: WION. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ss_aVH-GC1k. Accessed 25 February 2022.
# Mr. Thapa is an Additional Inspector General, Armed Police Force, Nepal (Retd.) and also Member of NCWA
# Text courtesy: Vice President Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, Nepal Council of World Affairs ( NCWA).
Thanks the distinguished author and the NCWA executive team: Ed. Upadhyaya.
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