Lack of response to President’s letters for vaccines a diplomatic failure, observers sayThere has not even been ‘reciprocal response’ to the President’s letters requesting for vaccine support.
In the last week of May, President Bidya Devi Bhandari was busy writing to several heads of states, including those of India, China, US, UK and Russia, seeking their help in procuring Covid-19 vaccines for Nepal.
After the President's letters to them, the then Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali announced that there would be a breakthrough on vaccine procurement within 15 days and that the government was planning to procure five million vaccines each from China and the US.
But nothing has come of it yet.
And now Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Raghubir Mahaseth has written to his British counterpart Dominic Raab, seeking Covid-19 vaccines following the British government’s announcement of supplying vaccines to poorer countries across the world.
As soon as this announcement was made, a letter was sent so that Nepal would be a priority, sources at the Foreign Ministry told the Post.
Meanwhile, even as the second wave of the pandemic continues and most of the country is in lockdown to check the spread of the virus, Nepal has yet to get credible assurances from vaccine manufacturing countries when and how vaccines are coming.
Besides the President and the foreign minister, the prime minister, health minister and Nepali ambassadors have also been trying to procure vaccines.
Not only has there been no response on vaccines, there has not even been any “reciprocal response” on the President's letter from any heads of states, according to officials at the Office of the President and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“We have not received any written response,” Lalbabu Yadav, an adviser to President Bhandari, told the Post. “But there has been some verbal communication from some of the countries that they will provide vaccines to Nepal and the process for this is underway.”
According to Yadav, the countries that the President wrote to have taken her letters seriously but since all countries are badly affected by the pandemic, the first priority goes to their own citizens.
“We are hoping for some kind of breakthrough in this regard very soon,” he added.
Officially, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is unaware if there has been a response to the President’s letters.
“I have not been updated on whether there has been a response to the President's letter or not,” Sewa Lamsal, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Post. “Writing letters is a regular process and these are normal diplomatic processes, so we are waiting for the response from those countries.”
Observers, however, say that not receiving any response to the President's letter for weeks is a diplomatic failure.
“When you do not get response and reciprocity, then you should understand this is also a part of diplomacy,” Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, former minister and ambassador, said. “The President sending a letter is not like you and me sending a letter. It attaches serious meaning.”
When President Bhandari had written to the heads of states of different countries as well as to Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, observers had criticised the move as an attempt at improving her image following her complicity in Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s dissolution of the House of the Representatives on the night of May 21-22.
The President, however, got a call from Chinese President Xi Jinping on May 26 when the latter announced 1 million vaccines to Nepal as a grant. Before speaking to Xi, the President had dispatched a letter to her Indian counterpart Ram Nath Kovind seeking Indian assistance for Covid-19 vaccines.
India has not only not responded but Nepal is yet to get the 1 million doses of Covishield vaccines from Serum Institute of India that Nepal has already paid for, as the Indian government restricted the export of vaccines after suffering a devastating second wave of the pandemic in April and May.
“Our first priority is to get 1 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine from Serum Institute of India, for which we have already paid,” a Nepali diplomat based in New Delhi told the Post over the phone on condition of anonymity. “It has been more than 12 weeks since people were inoculated with the Covishield vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute. If they do not receive the second dose, then it will be useless.”
Some 1.4 million Nepalis over the age of 65 were given the Covishield jabs between March 7 and 15 with the 1 million doses of the vaccine that the Serum Institute delivered along with vaccines received from the COVAX facility of the World Health Organization. With no signs of the second delivery arriving, authorities have decided to expand the gap between the first and second doses to 12 to 16 weeks from the earlier 8 to 12 weeks.
Virologists have said that the antibodies present in the body will be useless if the gap between the first and second doses is too long.
Nepali diplomats in New Delhi say they have lobbied in almost all power corridors, including the President’s Office, the Office of the Prime Minister, Home Ministry, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s headquarters and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, for the delivery of the 1 million doses of Covishield vaccine.
Nepal’s Ambassador to India Nilamber Acharya is meeting with Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla this week, a Nepali diplomat based in Nepali Embassy told the Post over the phone.
Nepal is also expecting vaccines in a grant from the US. President Bhandari wrote a letter to the US President Joe Biden after the US announcement last month that it would distribute 7 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Asian countries, including Nepal.
“The status of other vaccines that we are expecting from the US is not known yet,” a Nepali diplomat based in Washington DC told over the phone on condition of anonymity. “We are expecting delivery of the first tranche of the donation and further decisions on more vaccines in coming weeks and months.”
The US and other rich countries have announced plans to donate the Covid-19 vaccines to the poorer nations but they have failed to provide the timeline and quantities of the vaccines, said former ambassador Thapa.
“We are feeling the heat of the ‘vaccine hoarding’ by the rich countries as well as neighbours,” Thapa said.
According to an official at the Ministry of Health and Population, the hope of getting vaccines as a donation by writing to the heads of states or governments is misplaced, with the demand for vaccines world over.
Observers blame Nepal’s diplomacy.
“This is the result of failed diplomacy,” Dinesh Bhattarai, former foreign relations adviser to two prime ministers and ambassador, said. “Our proclamation to be ‘heard, seen and be visible’ in diplomacy is becoming so for the wrong reasons.”
“There must be a response to the President’s letter. There must be an acknowledgement. If we do not get a response and there are no results, then we are losing our credibility in diplomacy. Credibility and trust are great assets in diplomacy,” Bhattarai said. “If no one is responding and no one is listening, then what is the meaning of writing letters?”