The Oli government’s foreign policy is lopsided and lacks coherence, say opposition parties and expertsOpposition leaders and foreign policy analysts pointed to the recent deterioration in relations with India as emblematic of the failure of the Oli government’s diplomacy.
Recent developments in the conduct of Nepal’s foreign policy, especially the precipitous fall in its relations with India, have led politicians from the opposition parties and policy analysts to characterise the ruling Nepal Communist Party’s foreign policy as disoriented and in disarray.
A meeting of the opposition parties on Tuesday concluded that the KP Sharma Oli government has pursued an imbalanced and irresponsible foreign policy, which is hampering Nepal’s relations with its neighbours.
“The meeting concluded that Nepal is facing difficulties while maintaining good relations with its neighbours due to the government’s immature foreign policy,” said Bimalendra Nidhi, the Nepali Congress vice-president.
Leaders from the primary opposition Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal said that the Oli government is exercising double standards when it comes to the conduct of its foreign policy, which is leading to the deterioration of Nepal’s standing in the international sphere.
“Our credibility in the international arena has eroded and the fundamentals of our foreign policy have weakened,” said Nidhi. “This is not just happening with India but also China, the US, the European Union and international organisations.”
The two opposition parties held an informal meeting to discuss three primary issues—Nepal’s weakening foreign policy, prorogation of the House without consulting the opposition; and the Oli government’s poor response to the Covid-19 crisis.
In the meeting, the opposition politicians pointed to specific incidents involving Nepal’s two neighbours—India and China. While relations with India are at a historic low due to Nepal’s release of a new political map that includes territories disputed with India, China is seen making inroads into Nepal, said one opposition party leader.
Nepal held a virtual meeting with the Chinese Communist Party on June 19, at the heights of tensions with India, and more recently, the Chinese ambassador to Nepal has been making the rounds with senior politicians at a time of crisis within the ruling party.
“The Oli government should be mindful while tilting towards one side," one opposition party leader said. "If we keep siding with one power in this multi-polar world, this kind of imbalanced foreign policy will discredit us in the long run."
Opposition leaders accused the government of prioritising one neighbour over the other, leading to a breakdown in ties. While all the parties, including the opposition, had stood behind Prime Minister Oli during the release of the new map, many had criticised the statements he made then, including making light of the Indian national emblem. More recently, on June 29, he accused New Delhi of fomenting a plot to unseat him through its embassy in Kathmandu.
"This government has created a distance with India, which is not good," Upendra Yadav, a former deputy prime minister and foreign minister from the Janata Samajbadi Party, told the Post.
Top leaders from the Congress and Janata Samajbadi Party had gathered at Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba’s residence in Budhanilkantha on Tuesday to discuss a wide range of issues.
The opposition parties took exception to the Oli government’s sudden decision to prorogue the House at a time when dozens of bills were awaiting parliamentary endorsement.
As pressure mounted from his own party leaders to resign, Oli on Thursday decided to prorogue the federal parliament. The prorogation means that his opponents cannot bring a vote of no confidence against him. It also provides Oli with ground to introduce an ordinance if he wants to split the party.
Oli has increasingly come under pressure from his own party members to resign as both prime minister and party chair.
“The prime minister prorogued the House to save his post. This is unfortunate,” Rajendra Mahato, a Janata Samajbadi Party leader, told the Post. “We are deeply concerned over the sudden prorogation of the House which was the only avenue for the opposition parties to raise the people’s voice.”
In the meeting, according to the opposition party leaders, contemporary foreign policy issues like the government's failure to initiate talks with India to resolve the boundary dispute, the discord over the $500 million US-led Millennium Challenge Corporation grant to Nepal, and recent meetings between senior Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leaders and Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi, were in focus.
Nepal has repeatedly asked India, since November last year, to sit for talks in order to resolve the boundary dispute in northwestern Nepal, but India has yet to respond conclusively, only saying that talks will be held once the Covid-19 crisis is over.
Foreign policy analysts agree with the opposition's assessment of the Oli government's handling of its foreign policy.
"The government appears confused in the conduct of its foreign policy,” former ambassador Dinesh Bhattarai told the Post. “The government used to say that Nepal is now seen and heard on the global stage but it rather seems like even our neighbours have stopped listening to us.”
According to Bhattarai, the broad contours of Nepal’s foreign policy have been laid out in the constitution. Nepal pursues a policy of “equidistance” between its neighbours, although age-old familial, cultural and religious ties have meant that the country has long tilted towards the south.
Nepal, since the 60s, tilts towards India or China for the survival of its political class, said former ambassador Pradhumna Bikram Shah.
“The foreign ministry never became a core instrument to channel our foreign policy so our international relations never became pro-people,” said Shah. “The current state of confusion [in the ruling party] is a political gimmick. It will finally settle in a compromise or reconciliation, probably mediated by the foreign powers.”
But according to Bhattarai, it is long past time that Nepal understands the gravity of its foreign policy.
“We need to understand just how sensitive our geopolitical location is,” said Bhattarai. “For any foreign policy, trust, credibility and coherence are of utmost importance. But we have been exercising a double standard, which effectively means we have no standard.”