Diplomats are meeting political leaders but Foreign Ministry is unawareThe interest that foreign envoys show in Nepali politics during political instability is the result of political leadership giving them unhindered access, leaders and experts say.
As Nepal once again faces political instability, Kathmandu-based diplomats are back in business.
With the Nepal Communist Party fractured into two and the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-Madhav Kumar Nepal faction readying to file a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, a change in government seems likely.
With the Nepali Congress emerging as the kingmaker in the changed political equation, foreign envoys have been making a beeline for meetings with party president Sher Bahadur Deuba, to, presumably, understand the party’s position on which of the two factions it will opt to form an alliance with.
But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is clueless about these hush-hush meetings between diplomats and Nepali leaders.
Besides Deuba, the diplomats have also been meeting with second-rung leaders of the Nepal Communist Party to get a feel on possible party unity and leaders of the Janata Samajbadi Party.
“We came to know about the meetings from the news,” a joint-secretary at the Foreign Ministry told the Post on condition of anonymity. “Neither our leaders believe in us, nor are ambassadors following the system. It is the job of our leaders to inform us [of their meetings with foreign diplomats].”
As per diplomatic norms, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is supposed to record all diplomatic meetings and engagements and the diplomats themselves should inform the ministry.
In interviews with the Post, party leaders, Nepali diplomats and experts, said that though the job of a diplomat is to hold meetings with the highest authority of a country to understand what is happening, it is also the responsibility of party leaders and officials to inform the Foreign Ministry and they should think twice about giving easy access to the foreign diplomats at a time of rapid political developments.
Though time and again political leaders have been calling for a strict imposition of the diplomatic code of conduct. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs introduced one in 2011 but it never came into implementation.
“It is as good as dead,” said the ministry official.
It is not just the ministry officials but even party leaders that are unaware of what transpires in these meetings.
“Foreign ambassadors and diplomats directly call personal assistants of top party leaders to arrange the meetings and our party leaders do not make public their conversation,” Narayan Khadka, a senior Nepali Congress leader who is also the shadow foreign minister, told the Post. “And they don’t inform the Foreign Ministry either.”
Indian Ambassador Vinaya Mohan Kwatra held a one-on-one meeting with Nepali Congress President Deuba on Thursday, two days after the Supreme Court overturned Oli’s House dissolution move. Before Kwatra had reached Deuba's residence, Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi and other Chinese diplomats had already held talks with him.
The position of Nepali Congress, with 63 seats in the 275-member House of Representatives, is crucial in the formation of a new government. The Dahal-Nepal faction of the Nepal Communist Party has 88-90 seats while the Oli faction has 82-84 lawmakers. The magic number to form a government, or to pass the no-confidence motion against Oli, is 138.
Some leaders of the Nepali Congress, during a meeting of the office bearers on Thursday wanted to know what had transpired during Deuba’s meetings with ambassadors from India and China.
“But Deuba refused to share anything with us,” a Nepali Congress leader told the Post on condition of anonymity.
Kwatra also held meetings with Janata Samajbadi Party leaders.
An official at Indian Embassy in Kathmandu told the Post there is nothing new to share with the media about those meetings as these meetings are part of regular engagements from the Indian side.
Besides the government formation equation, the envoys, particularly the Chinese envoy, are also keen to learn about the prospects of unity between the two factions of the Nepal Communist Party, according to sources.
Besides Deuba, Ambassador Hou has also met Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, Standing Committee member of the Dahal-Nepal faction Janardan Sharma, and others and inquired about the dynamics inside the Nepal Communist Party and making the Chinese preference for unity of the party clear, according to two leaders of the party.
The Chinese ambassador has not been using her official vehicle but going around to meet the leaders in a car with a red number plate used by Nepalis, a senior security official said.
“Some of these meetings are taking place until late night so we are also not able to track and monitor all those meetings,” he told the Post on condition of anonymity.
When asked about the ambassador’s meetings with party leaders, a spokesperson at the Chinese Embassy said in a text message, “The Chinese side's position is clear and consistent, we want Nepal to maintain political stability and achieve economic development, and the change in domestic political situation of Nepal won't affect China and Nepal friendly relations.”
In May and July last year when the crisis within the Nepal Communist Party was at its peak, ambassador Hou and other diplomats in the Chinese Embassy had met with President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, Prime Minister Oli, Chairman of the Nepal Communist Party Pushpa Kamal Dahal and other leaders and stressed the need for party unity.
Although the party practically split with Oli’s House dissolution move, its reinstatement by the Supreme Court has come as another opportunity for the Chinese side to press for the two factions to reunite, according to the party’s leaders.
“This time Hou is not interested in who will be the prime minister. Her approach that the party unity should remain intact is steadfast,” a Nepal Communist Party leader told the Post on condition of anonymity.
A senior leader from the Oli faction of the Nepal Communist Party, who is familiar with the message that the India, China and the US are communicating with the Nepali leadership, told the Post that India and the US are on the same page on matters related to government formation to the unity of Nepal Communist Party while China is pushing hard in its pursuit for party unity.
“India and the US are weighing various options on government formation and quietly following developments inside the NCP as they are much interested in the split of the ruling party and the future strategies of both NCP factions,” the leader said on condition of anonymity. “The Chinese are also not confident that the NCP unity will remain intact even after the restoration of the House and therefore their concerns are mainly focused around NCP unification.”
But even leaders of the main parties are critical of the meetings of foreign envoys with their party leaders.
“I have been consistently saying that foreign intervention has significantly increased,” Narayan Kaji Shrestha, former foreign minister and spokesperson for the Dahal-Nepal faction of Nepal Communist Party, told the Post. “When the state is weak, the state apparatus is not working properly, and there is political instability, the foreign maneuvering increases. We are in that stage.”
Khadka of Nepali Congress is also concerned about the lack of institutionalisation in the process of meetings between foreign envoys and political leaders.
“There is a certain process that an ambassador should give two to three days for a meeting,” said Khadka. “And all meetings between the leaders and diplomats should go through the Foreign Ministry.”
In other countries, the presence of Foreign Ministry officials is mandatory in all meetings between party leaders and other government officials with foreign diplomats, Khadka said.
“But in case of Nepal, if the prime minister, President and senior party leaders snub the Foreign Ministry and deal directly with diplomats, what will be the morale of the foreign minister and the Foreign Ministry?” said Khadka.
The onus of ensuring that a system is followed and foreign diplomats are given access lies with the top political leaders, according to Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, former minister and ambassador to India and the US.
“It does not suit our top leadership to ignore the diplomatic code of conduct repeatedly. The way our leaders engage and meet with foreign diplomats, ignoring consultations within domestic actors or within their own political party, is totally against our own interest. It is us who gave the space to the diplomats,” Thapa told the Post.
“I do not see any fault of the diplomats because they always try to rub shoulders with top leadership like the PM and others. But the state or the Foreign Ministry should know what has transpired between our leaders and diplomats in those meetings. The Foreign Ministry is mandated to keep records of all meetings, communications and correspondences but it has been failing.”
Officials at the Foreign Ministry blame the attitude and culture prevalent in the country.
“Until we change our attitude, culture, behaviour and working style, we will keep on complaining but nothing will be changing,” said the joint-secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.