USAID’s Power side-steps geopolitics, emphasises enduring partnershipThe US invites Dahal to attend the Summit of Democracy.
Rather than geopolitical rivalry and security considerations, the US support for Nepal is in keeping with a spirit of enduring partnership, mutual respect and Nepali people’s right to choose their own path of progress, a visiting US official said on Wednesday.
Before wrapping up her two-day Nepal visit, Samantha Power, administrator of the USAID who holds a cabinet-level position in the US government and is a member of the US National Security Council, acknowledged that American engagements across the world including in Nepal were being questioned. But “our support to Nepal is for democracy, strengthening the democratic process and institutions, supporting education, healthcare facilities, as well as in combating climate change and global warming.”
Speaking with reporters at the end of her visit, she said US officials are often questioned about the objective of US engagements and people get confused. “We care about the Nepali people for their own sake…. We are supporting Nepal in its aim to be a middle-income country,” said Power while carefully sidestepping queries over “geopolitical rivalry” and “security considerations”.
She was responding to back-to-back questions on where Nepal fits in US policy and if there was any geopolitical rivalry and security concerns attached to the US assistance given to Nepal. Of late, the controversy behind the Millennium Challenge Corporation compact, a $500 million grant to Nepal, emanated in light of growing geopolitical rivalry and perceived US attempts in Nepal to contain the rise of China. But US officials who visit Nepal try to brush off such allegations as “malicious” and filled with misinformation and disinformation.
A section in Kathmandu saw the previous US proposal for Nepal to be a part of the State Partnership Program (SPP) and the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) as linked to the larger American geopolitical interest and intended to check China’s rise. But Nepal had clarified that there were no immediate plans to join the SPP or the IPS.
Power, who has served in several high-profile positions in different administrations and academic institutions, said an independent and sovereign Nepal is in American interest.
“We respect what we are partnering with Nepal but we support the Nepali-led development process. Our concerns and commitments are for the sake of Nepali people so we have been here for the past 75 years,” she said at the press meet.
“I think of the depth, links and scope of our enduring friendship and partnership between people of the two countries. Geopolitics was there during the Cold War and it is there now. But our focus is work. We do partnerships for the well-being of Nepali farmers, and building schools and health centres. We will also focus on your efforts to build back better. All these contributions we make in Nepal are not a product of geopolitical dynamics. These are the products of decade long partnership and friendship,” said Power.
In her meeting with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the two discussed strengthening democracy, institutionalising the federal system and impact of climate change on Nepali farmers. She also invited Prime Minister Dahal to the Summit of Democracy to be held on March 29 and 30, which will be hosted by US President Joe Biden.
Despite reservations from various quarters, former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba had attended the summit last year. This year too the US expects Prime Minister Dahal to take part in the summit that will entail both virtual and in-person participation.
“The invitation is very much extended to the prime minister,” said Power. “This gives an opportunity to the prime minister to reinforce and continue what the former prime minister had committed to. He [Dahal] will also get to talk about his plans to strengthen the democratic process and rule of law. It is an important summit.”
I had a very productive meeting with the prime minister, where we committed to fostering democracy, completing the remaining task of the peace process and his ambitious reform plan, she added.
Dahal and Power also discussed bringing more foreign investment in Nepal by relaxing legal and taxation provisions, as well as promotion of entrepreneurship, agriculture, tourism and clean energy.
The US official also said that the American support was aimed at protecting Nepal’s sovereignty.
Power, who met Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel, Foreign Minister Bimala Rai Paudyal, civil society leaders and entrepreneurs discussed a range of issues including strengthening democracy and promotion of inclusive democracy, economic growth and partnership, engagements with Nepali farmers and entrepreneurs, fostering support in areas like agriculture, climate change and its mitigation, health, education and promotion of the civil society and media.
With Deputy Prime Minister Poudel, she discussed implementation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Nepal compact where the US side was assured Nepal’s full commitment on timely execution of MCC projects within the given deadline. The American grant will come into force from August and projects under it should be completed within five years.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations 76 years ago and USAID engagement in Nepal for 60 years, she said that US assistance and support to Nepal has changed profoundly while also pointing out that foreign aid, while it can help a country develop, should be seen as a means and not the end.
“Our foreign aid is to support structural change, not to make you dependent, but to make you independent. We are bringing the private sector in our support system and development journey,” said Power. She began her press conference by offering condolences to those who died in recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria and praised the Nepali people for rising from the devastated earthquake in 2015.
Over 9,000 people died in the 2015 earthquake and rebuilding damaged private and public properties is yet to be completed. In her meetings with government leaders, she looked for their strong commitment on strengthening democracy and rule of law.
Since the formation of the Pushpa Kamal Dahal government on December 26, this is the second visit from the United States after Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland completed her two-day Nepal trip only last week. More US officials are visiting Kathmandu in days to come, according to government officials.