Bring Bipin homeNepal should turn to countries like Qatar that have significant leverage in Palestine.
It’s almost been a month since Hamas militants began an all-out war against Israel in a massive surprise attack on the morning of October 7. The world was shocked by the magnitude of the casualties—hundreds were killed. In Nepal, it was a moment of national mourning as 10 Nepali students visiting Israel on an “earn while you learn” programme were murdered. An 11th student, Bipin Joshi, went missing. After all these weeks, there are hints that Joshi is alive and in Hamas captivity. The Israeli government claims Joshi has been held hostage by Hamas militants. Joshi, the office of the Israeli prime minister said, is among 122 foreign nationals held captive by Hamas, although they failed to tell where he is being kept.
The news from Israel is a thin thread of hope for Joshi’s family and the millions of Nepalis who wish to see him return home safe and sound. However, as Israel’s counter-attack continues to kill Palestinians and flatten Gaza, the road to freedom for Joshi is not easy. In fact, that will entail sustained diplomatic lobbying from the Nepal Government. Considering how quick the government was in rallying behind Israel in the immediate aftermath of the October 7 attack, one got the impression that Nepal had burnt bridges with Palestine. However, Nepal made its position in support of Palestinian lives clear when it later voted in favour of a ceasefire in Gaza on humanitarian grounds.
The fact that most Western nations have rallied behind Israel even as Palestine undergoes the worst humanitarian crisis in its history has made an immediate ceasefire a distant dream. In their quest for a collective punishment of Palestinians, the Western powers have been calling for the release of their citizens in subdued voices. However, a country like Nepal that does not have any vested interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict has every right to demand an unconditional release of its citizen on humanitarian grounds. The Nepal government must, therefore, make optimal use of its diplomatic channels to ensure an expedited release of the Nepali student, in what will also be a test of Nepal’s global diplomatic clout and finesse.
As there is little to be gained from Western diplomatic channels at this time, Nepal should turn to countries like Qatar that have significant leverage in Palestine. The Gulf nation is leading negotiations between Israel and Hamas for a ceasefire, and is best placed to facilitate Joshi’s release. As Nepal and Qatar share deep diplomatic and economic ties, it would be prudent for Nepal to request the friendly nation to intervene and help release one of its citizens. After all, if Qatar’s economy is built on the sweat and tears of Nepalis, then it has a moral responsibility to help Nepal when it most needs it.Joshi’s trials and tribulations in Hamas’s apparent captivity, though, goes beyond a national concern. A total of 122 foreign nationals, in addition to 118 civilians remain in Hamas’s captivity. UN Secretary-General António Guterres, during his Nepal visit this week, expressed his concern for Joshi’s safety, just as he has been calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and the return of the hostages. Countries across the world, especially those that are blindly backing Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civilians, should come together for an immediate ceasefire and escalation of humanitarian assistance in Gaza. That will help return Joshi and the 240 captives home faster. But Nepal also cannot completely rely on other countries to come to the rescue of one of its own. Moreover, if Nepal can somehow secure Joshi’s release, it will be a huge diplomatic victory for the country and the Dahal government—a much needed one at that, hot on the heels of the humiliation it faced in the election for the WHO regional director.