Path to prosperityNepal should play an effective role in regional and multilateral development forums
Nepal’s foreign policy is dominated by its two giant neighbours, which constrains its attempts to connect to the outer world. The country can be said to be China-India locked. Our political leaders have yet to realise the strategic stature of Nepal lying between two economically vibrant nations, leaving this small country least developed and poor. It is rare that any country has achieved development on its own. In our case, owing to the geographical location and resource constraints, achieving development on our own becomes even more challenging. Transforming Nepal into a vibrant and prosperous country is long overdue, and this generation has inherited this task.
It is a sorry state of Nepali politics that we lecture for hours on our potentials but lack seriousness about how to use them for our benefit. Nepal’s areas of comparative advantage—tourism, hydropower, mines and minerals, forest and forest products—have been left untapped while we encourage our youths to migrate to the Gulf countries for cheap labour.
Simply put, it is due to the lack of objective policy and proper planning. During the Rana, Shah and Panchayat regimes, we had to struggle for democratic rights and values. This situation now no longer prevails, and we have created a democratic and inclusive constitution. Subsequently, we held elections to the three tiers of government. Now, the onus lies on the government that enjoys a sizeable majority to translate all our aspirations into reality.
Against this backdrop, Nepal needs to reorient its foreign policy to approach the wider world. We shouldn’t limit our foreign policy within the Sino-Indian periphery. This Himalayan nation needs to reach beyond to ensure sovereignty, territorial integrity and full independence. This is the age of interconnectedness and interdependence where complete economic autarkies are rare. Then, quite naturally, our foreign policy guidelines, objectives and strategies should be broad-based too.
The other aspect of foreign policy—developing cordial relations and cooperating with the major powers, development partners and countries in our extended neighbourhood and labour receiving countries—is equally important. Nepal has to play an effective and efficient role in regional and multilateral development forums such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec), United Nations and World Trade Organisation. Along with this, we have to strive strongly for the rights and privileges provided to the landlocked and least developed countries.
Nepal is still in transition despite politics being relatively stable. But our comprehensive economic status so far remains stagnant as our economy heavily rests on remittance which could, at any time, succumb to external shocks.
So, for our longstanding vision of becoming a developing country by 2022 and a middle income country by 2030 to happen, we have to give priority to productive sectors. Scientisation of agriculture, industrial development and development of human resources with equal emphasis on other viable sectors to create employment for the jobless need proper attention. And we have to produce goods and services in large quantities to boost our bilateral and third country trade. Attention should be given to creating an investment-friendly ambience in the country besides developing large scale industries and infrastructures. This can divert the millions of youths obliged to go abroad for jobs.
The role of the private sector needs to be strengthened and the security of their investment guaranteed. The government has to opt for a policy of public-private partnership and its varied modules as provisioned in the constitution.
In this attempt towards development and prosperity, we have to take the help of non-resident Nepalis who are ready to cooperate in this undertaking. They can largely assist in promoting Nepal’s image to the external world and bring foreign direct investment into the country, as it requires a huge amount of capital to recover from the devastating 2015 earthquake and ensure sustainable infrastructural development.
For this, the government should bring all parties including the private sector on board and reach a consensus on how to create an enabling environment for foreign private sector investment in the country. A broad political vision with a sound implementation mechanism is essential to achieve any development goal.
It is also necessary to strengthen our embassies abroad to pursue robust economic diplomacy and augment the national objectives. The domestic and foreign fronts should be fully equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge and technical know-how to usher in an era of development. Then only will our much-touted slogan of “Prosperous Nepal and Happy Nepali” become a reality.
Bhandari works at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs