Beijing mission is a priority, but Nepal has had no envoy there for 5 monthsNepal’s political parties have made ambassadorial posts a tool to appoint people of their choice disregarding ethical and political principles.
Foreign missions, which are the country’s face in the respective countries, for years have become a tool for Nepali political parties to “manage” and “adjust” leaders and others close to them. This is why, every new government almost without fail has recalled ambassadors appointed by the previous government.
On September 22, the Sher Bahadur Deuba government recalled as many as 12 ambassadors who were appointed by the erstwhile KP Sharma Oli government under the political quota, leaving 23 out of 33 missions abroad vacant.
One of the ambassadors to be recalled was Mahendra Bahadur Pandey from China, who was appointed by Oli after recalling Leelamani Paudyal.
Though the government has appointed ambassadors to India, the United States and the United Kingdom, it has yet to decide on who to send to Beijing.
Experts, observers and politicians say Nepali leadership’s failure to appoint an ambassador to China does not go in line with the importance they attach to the northern neighbor.
“Beijing is a priority of course, as is New Delhi,” said a Nepali Congress leader. “The government, however, has not been able to appoint an ambassador to China because two communist parties
—CPN ( Maoist Center) and CPN (Unified Socialist)—in the coalition have failed to reach a deal.”
Traditionally, ambassadors for the countries like the US, the UK and India have been picked under the Congress quota while leftist parties choose the ambassador for China.
The government has already appointed Shankar Sharma, Gyan Chandra Acharya and Sridhar Khatri as ambassadors to India, the UK and the US, respectively.
Government and party sources say the Maoist Centre has staked claim to the ambassadorial post in Beijing.
Paudyal, who was recalled in March, 2020, senior Maoist Center leader Lilamani Pokhrel and human right activist Bishnu Pukar Shrestha are some of the names being considered for the post.
“It is actually quite embarrassing that we don’t have our ambassador in Beijing at a time when the Chinese foreign minister is visiting Nepal,” said Milan Raj Tuladhar, who advised former prime minister Jhalanath Khanal on foreign relations issues. “Keeping an important mission without an ambassador may send a negative message to the host country.”
Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi is arriving in Kathmandu on a three-day visit on Friday. Since Pandey was recalled from Beijing, just around six diplomatic and non-diplomatic staffers are serving at the Beijing mission.
A Nepali diplomat who had served at two different missions said that in the absence of a dedicated ambassador, it is difficult to get access to several ministries including the foreign ministries of the host countries.
“Even if parties divide the ambassadorial positions among themselves, they should do it on time so as to ensure that missions do not remain vacant for a long time,” said the diplomat. “Some ambassadors have been recalled in six months. Some missions are run by officials. This trend has not sent a good message about our country.”
Of the 20 missions that are vacant, the Foreign Ministry has demanded that career diplomats be sent to at least seven. This leaves coalition partners —Congress, Maoist Centre, Unified Socialist and Janata Samajbadi Party—with 13 missions to divide among themselves.
“Political parties’ preference to their people over capable people and unstable politics are some of the reasons that Nepal has failed to send ambassadors on time,” said Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, a former foreign minister who is also a former ambassador.
After political parties failed to maintain the sanctity and dignity of the ambassadorial posts, the Supreme Court in April 2018 issued a writ of mandamus to the government, ordering it to fix the criteria for ambassadorial appointments and follow it in letter and spirit. It also directed the government to maintain transparency while making such appointments, ensuring that only capable people are selected.
In early 2019, the Oli government did issue a criteria for ambassadorial appointments. Even the Oli government did not follow it.
Foreign Ministry officials say some ambassadors appointed under the political quota often fail to stick to the protocol.
“Most of the time, instead of reporting to the foreign secretary or the division head at the ministry, some ambassadors directly reported to their political bosses,” said a Foreign Ministry official who wished to remain anonymous. “Some ambassadors tend to be accessible and helpful only to those organizations which are close to the party that appointed them.”
Pradyumna Bikram Shah, a former ambassador, said appointing ambassadors under the political quota is fine but the way the posts are split among parties has made a mockery of diplomatic appointments.
“The government has developed the criteria. It should stick to it,” Shah told the Post. “Political leadership should stop treating foreign missions as their fiefs where they can send their cadres and members at will. Diplomacy needs finesse. It needs careful handling.”
Thapa, the former ambassador, said Nepali leadership has failed to pay heed to the fact that frequently recalling ambassadors sends a negative message and such moves could hurt bilateral relationships.
“The Nepali leadership should understand diplomacy is a serious matter,” Thapa told the Post. “Leaders must make a strong commitment that ambassadors will be allowed to complete their terms and no ambassadors will be recalled prematurely. For this, we need to be careful about the appointment process.”