Several holes in new foreign policy document, say leaders and expertsPolicy should have been prepared with wider consultations by including pertinent global issues, they say.
Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali unveiled the government’s new foreign policy on Sunday, more than a year after work on the document began.
Even after preparing the document without consulting experts both within the government and in major political parties, Gyawali said the dossier is a “consensus” document prepared by major stakeholders.
Party leaders and foreign policy observers and experts say the new policy has several shortcomings and holes and questioned the government’s capacity to implement the policy.
“We have former prime ministers in the party and we have a separate foreign affairs department. We have former foreign ministers as well as members of Parliament,” said Former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who heads the ruling Nepal Communist Party’s foreign affairs department. “None of us was aware of the policy document.”
While making the policy public on Sunday, foreign minister Gyawali had said that its fundamental objective is to protect and promote the country’s national interest. Nepal needs such a policy that can define Nepal’s role in the changed geopolitical, regional and global context, said the minister referring to conclusions from the National Dialogue on Foreign Policy organised last year by the ministry.
“If such an important document can’t be discussed inside the party or with major political parties and parliamentary committees, then one can easily understand how decisions are taken by the government in general,” a standing committee member of the ruling party told the Post.
Senior Nepali Congress leader and shadow foreign minister Narayan Khadka raised several questions about the new policy saying that the new policy sounds like an essay written by a political science student. “It has several holes and shortcomings,” he added.
The document states Nepal faces around 20 foreign policy challenges. “But can we cope with those challenges?” asked Khadka. “What was the urgent need to make it public?”
According to two joint secretaries at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the idea of drafting a new foreign policy was conceived after the national dialogue on foreign policy. Later, a team of joint secretaries headed by Ramkaji Khadka was formed to complete it.
Before the Cabinet approved the text on October 20, the policy draft was sent to various ministries for their inputs. The ministry said it also consulted some former ambassadors and experts. The ministry took into account whatever party representatives said during the one-day seminar organised by the ministry last year, and did not consult even leaders from the ruling party.
Shadow foreign minister Khadka said that though the foreign minister claimed that the document is a consensus policy document, the main opposition Nepali Congress may not own it.
“Why do we need such lengthy foreign policy dossiers at a time when alliance between the US and India is growing and there are attempts to corner China? Where do we stand?” asked Khadka.
“Does the Foreign Ministry have that profile or strength to cope up with these challenges? What are the resources at its disposal?” questioned the Congress leader. “The foreign ministry has no role to play even when the prime minister meets diplomats without prior notice. So how can we believe the ministry is capable of dealing with the challenges ?”
The policy broadly talks about Nepal’s engagement with its neighbours, major powers and its commitment towards multilateral organisations such as the UN, Saarc and others.
It has also emphasised economic and track-two diplomacy to resolve disputes, amend bilateral treaties and collaborate with friendly nations to pursue Nepal’s interests.
Commenting on the new policy, former foreign secretary Madhuraman Acharya tweeted, “ It would have been better to introduce [a] mechanism of integrating the foreign policy with national security and economic policies. Reference to “small” countries could have been avoided, as we don’t merit that. Would be better to have [our eyes on the] post-LDC policy scenario.”
The Oli government is now halfway through its tenure. Analysts say instead of strengthening its foreign policy over the last two and a half years, it has left it in a disarray. With the Foreign Ministry working on a new foreign policy document, it's a good time to orient it towards meeting domestic needs and promoting and defending the national interest.
The policy has touched upon a wide range of dimensions of foreign policy, including emerging issues of economic diplomacy, public diplomacy, labour diplomacy, climate change, soft power and track-two diplomacy to make it comprehensive, Geja Sharma Wagle, who writes on foreign policy and strategic issues for Kantipur Daily, the Post sister’s publication said.
But the new policy lacks a substantive vision and ideas to deal with the multidimensional geopolitical and daunting strategic challenges of the 21st century vis-à-vis the face-off between the US and China.
“It, therefore, is a new document that continues the traditional approach Nepal has been adopting for centuries. It is to some extent, a traditional, incomplete, and abstract document with some political colour,” he added.
The much-touted political slogan of Prime Minister Oli (“Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali”) is mentioned twice in the policy and this is ridiculous and bizarre, said Wagle.
Despite its shortcomings, the new document envisions some policies, strategies and tactics to achieve its goal and objectives, Wagle told the Post. “But there is an absence of the much-needed coherence among policies, strategies and tactics as proposed in the document.”
The Oli administration has faced criticism for its lopsided foreign policy, with critics saying it lacks orientation. Nepal’s foreing policy has traditionally revolved around neighbours India and China.But during Oli’s reign, coherence seems to be lacking even in the government’s dealing with the two countries, according to analysts.
While ties with Delhi were at a historic low due to Nepal’s move to publish a new political map by incorporating territories administered by India, Beijing has been making inroads into Nepal, observers say. The Oli government is also in a fix when it comes to its position on matters related to the United States, largely because of the ways leaders in the ruling party look at Washington.
Foreign policy or international relations keep changing, so this policy will change as time goes on, said Prof Khadga KC, former head of the Department of International Relations at Tribhuvan University said.
“Having a single and integrated policy is good. But besides holding one national dialogue on foreign policy, the foreign ministry should have organised one more wider consultation so that policy would get wider acceptance and ownership,” said KC.
“Various task forces commissioned by the government have prepared different reports on foreign policy after the 1990s. They need to be accommodated into our foreign policy,” KC told the Post.
“And, there are concerns about how the policy is implemented!” he added.