Preventive diplomacyTrack two diplomacy can resolve the current Nepal-India imbroglio, but it is a skill Kathmandu lacks
Nepal pushed the constitution through in September despite the agitation in Madhes. The statute has ended a centuries-old feudal system and established the three pillars of modern democracy: federalism, protection of individual rights and the concept of civil society. Nepal is the first country in South Asia to guarantee lesbian and gay rights, 33 percent reservation for women in Parliament and an advanced proportional representative system that fairly addresses the weakness of majoritarian democracy. Still, Nepal’s new constitution has been heavily criticised by the Madhesis and more loudly by the Indian government for not ensuring the rights of marginalised communities such as Madhesis and Tharus.
The mainstream political parties have defended their move by saying that they had a moral obligation to promulgate a constitution from the second Constituent Assembly (CA) as the first one failed to do so. Immediately after the constitution was promulgated, Nepal’s trusted neighbour India reacted with an economic blockade, crippling life across the country. India has rejected the new constitution and wants several amendments made to it before it will lift the embargo. Kathmandu will not budge and strongly believes that an imperfect document is better than nothing. Besides sticking to its views, the government has not made any efforts to resolve the ongoing crisis. It thinks that asking China for immediate help and opening a dialogue with the agitating Madhes-based parties will solve the problem. Signing new trade agreements with China will produce benefits in the long run, but it is not enough to resolve the ongoing problem.
Meanwhile, the ruling political parties and the Madhes-based parties are having ‘fixed pie’ negotiations with both claiming the maximum amount for themselves.
Thus, the talks are sure to fail unless they enlarge the size of the pie. Even though only a small section of the Nepali population is unhappy with the constitution, the agitation is mounting because of Indian interference. There are two options to resolve the ongoing conflict: dialogue and preventive diplomacy. Unfortunately, the first option is not working, and the second option is not moving forward because of Nepal’s weak diplomacy and self-image.
Karen Rasler and William R Thompson, contributing scholars in the field of democratic peace and international conflicts, have demonstrated five propensities that address external threats, domestic power concentration and disputatious foreign policies. According to them, when we observe a correlation between democratic dyads and reduced conflict propensities, several possibilities exist. Democratic regimes, such as the former government and the past two CAs, are responsible for the reduced conflict in the Madhes and other regions with ethnic minorities to a certain extent.
This, indeed, is a very well known practice that has been implemented elsewhere, particularly after the 1980s. Alternatively, reduced conflict propensities, like the promulgated constitution, may be responsible to an extent for democratic regimes, like the current government and power-sharing agreements between formal adversaries. This is sometimes called the reversed causal arrow hypothesis in the sense that it changes the direction of causality in the democratic peace argument by 180 degrees.
A third possibility is that both the interpretations are correct. Democratic dyads produce less conflict within their dyads, and reciprocally, the reduced conflict propensities encourage democratisation within the dyad. Or it may be a sequential relationship in the sense that relativity peaceful neighbourhoods encourage democratisation which, in turn, increases the probability of reduced conflict within their democratic regimes. A fifth possibility is that the linkage between democratic dyads and reduced conflict propensities is simply spurious. Some other unidentified factors are causally responsible for generating both democratic dyads and reduced conflict propensities.
Conflict resolution is a never-ending process. When a violent conflict ends with a peace agreement, the parties enter into different conflicts, and such conflicts can be resolved through democracy. If the conflict becomes destructive, smart parties take advantage of preventive diplomacy to resolve conflicts. The goal of preventive diplomacy is to respond promptly and effectively to contain conflicts before they erupt into large-scale violence and difficult life conditions. This new emphasis on preventative diplomacy is coupled with efforts to make better use of a variety of techniques for conflict avoidance and resolution.
Preventive diplomacy can benefit from a form of mediation, shuttle diplomacy or unofficial diplomacy, which is often called track-two diplomacy. Unfortunately, this is something that Nepal lacks.
The international community has witnessed Nepal’s entire constitution-making process. For the last eight years, many international forums have mentioned that both the structure and procedures of the CA are absolutely democratic and inclusive. If Nepal’s political stability is the greatest concern for India, why does it not, as the largest democracy, engage in preventive diplomacy by putting democracy first in its foreign policy, and remove this shameful embargo? The blockade has only exposed that democracy has never been the central principle of Indian foreign policy.
Sources in Kathmandu said that the government believed that India would not choose a trade embargo as a means of applying pressure for two reasons. First, Kathmandu knows that it has the right to promulgate a constitution on its own, and that it is not any of India’s business regardless of the proposals it has sent. Second, an economic blockade against a landlocked country is illegal as per international laws, thus India as the largest democracy will not choose this route. The weakness of the Nepali government to educate the international community about the problems caused by the blockade has deepened the crisis. This has convinced India that Nepal is unable to effectively ask the international community for help.
Meanwhile, Nepali embassies have been waiting for the government’s formal decision and instructions instead of advising it to go for preventive diplomacy. If geopolitics is the central cause of this problem, the Nepali government must take advantage of unofficial diplomacy and mobilise its embassies abroad. The Nepali diaspora, development agencies and non-governmental organisations can engage in unofficial diplomacy to resolve this conflict.
Paneru is a faculty member at Strayer University, the US