No alternative to working togetherThere is a need for common understanding to implement the country's foreign policy.
Following the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and the end of the First and Second World Wars, the international system has seen increasing growth in the development of nation-states to prescribe their attitude or behaviour in the external context. The establishment of the United Nations and the process of decolonisation, which has liberated many states and made them sovereign entities, have further provided the impetus to push for interrelationships among states. This has resulted in the formation of foreign policies. In the modern globalised world, every country has a foreign policy to safeguard and promote its national interests in the conduct of relations with other countries, bilaterally and multilaterally. In view of this, from the period of Prithvi Narayan Shah to the current republican period, Nepal has continued to maintain and strengthen friendly relationships with other countries through several agreements and extend engagements beyond the immediate neighbourhood.
Continuing this process, the Oli-led government has endorsed Foreign Policy 2020. The concept is based on the Constitution of Nepal, universally recognised principles and rules of international law, and the international treaties to which Nepal is a party. The government has produced this integrated document at a time when it is struggling to reconcile the growing and competing interests of the big powers in Nepal. What is important in Nepal's policy toward other countries, for the time being, is developing good neighbourly relations and strengthening the foundation of their national existence and promoting their economic independence.
Foreign policy challenges
There are wide differences of opinion over the key issues elaborated in the policy, which has been criticised as having several holes and shortcomings, making it difficult to implement it. The policy has pointed out around 20 foreign policy challenges, but its critics have been busy raising their voices against the challenges without offering a way to deal with them. It would have been unveiled by another government if it had not been introduced by the current Oli-led government. The political parties are indeed vital to modern political settings.
Under the multiparty system and coalition governments, the opposition parties always have conflicting views and interests. But we often maintain solidarity whenever a matter of national interest emerges. For example, Parliament unanimously voted to amend the constitution to update the country’s political map. Likewise, a lesson can be learned from the trade and transit agreement signed with China in 2016 when the Oli administration resisted India's blockade by upholding the national interest. Nepal had until then been relying on India for transport and transit facilities, and this agreement diversified the country's trade and transit with China. When we come to political consensus on several issues of national interest, lack of political consensus and the absence of political will and determined leadership have always hindered the country's overall development efforts. As a result, several cross-party talks seem to have failed to yield any favourable result. When the parties have failed to achieve consensus, there have been political crises. But the leaders have realised that they have no alternative to working together.
There has been wide criticism that Foreign Policy 2020 was unveiled without consulting experts. But it must be remembered that the National Dialogue on Foreign Policy was held on June 29, 2019, by inviting the leaders of the major political parties, foreign policy experts, think tanks, academia, media, civil society and the business community, and opinions and views were taken from them. Nothing is indeed complete in itself, and the same is also applicable to the legal instruments.
One reason why laws may need to change is changing circumstances over time, including social, economic and political factors. An example of this is the constitutional debate on the recent decision to dissolve Parliament. It has been widely criticised that the constitution does not clearly define whether the prime minister has an exclusive right to dissolve the House. As a result of this, Nepal in the changed national, regional and global context must accommodate, reorient and reformulate its foreign policy to serve the growing needs and aspirations of its people. Debates and discussions on such a legal document should be held to strengthen the national interest; otherwise, it will result in the country's isolation in international politics, as happened with the regimes in North Korea and Myanmar.
When Foreign Policy 2020 came into existence, there was no significant impact of Covid-19. The pandemic has had economic, social, political and geopolitical consequences that will inevitably affect key aspects of the country's foreign policy. The time has come to rethink the existing approaches to international relations with a greater focus on this issue as one of the priorities of the global agenda and an integral part of efforts to ensure sustainable development. It is high time that all the concerned stakeholders, including the opposition parties, joined hands with the government to come up with a common strategy and provide forward-looking leadership in the larger national interest to cope with the challenges brought by the pandemic.
To conclude, there are many lessons to be learned. The current state of world development is characterised by profound changes in the geopolitical landscape. These fundamental and rapid changes not only create serious challenges, but also provide countries with new opportunities. We need to be prepared to carefully watch the developments at this juncture, and support the government on any pertinent issue of national interest in the hope that it will achieve economic dependence and stabilisation of the people's livelihoods. It is time for the political parties to demonstrate leadership and fulfil their historic responsibility. We also need to consolidate, safeguard and institutionalise the gains of the popular movement, stop blaming each other, and ponder whether the changing global geopolitics of Asia and the world offers Nepal an opportunity to reset or innovate its foreign policy options, or continue them with certain modifications in style.