Downplaying diplomacyGovt needs to appoint competent ambassadors so that Nepal can handle international challenges successfully
The post of an ambassador is well-respected and considered prestigious all over the world. This is because ambassadors are the diplomatic face of their country when they are abroad. Even in the case of political nominees, once the appointment is formally endorsed by a country’s constitutional process, they become the nation’s ambassador and are supposed to put national interest first. Ambassadors should not be guided by partisan political thinking or represent the interests of a political party. The moment ambassadors are perceived to be carrying out orders from the politicians who nominated them rather than from the government, they become controversial and lose face. The government will stop trusting them.
Nepal’s continued loss of face and trust abroad is the outcome of its continued downplaying of the role of diplomacy. The recent recommendation of questionable candidates for 14 different missions abroad for ambassadorial positions is a glaring example. Ever since envoy appointments have been divided among the ruling parties under the infamous quota system, all sorts of irregularities have become apparent. Lately, recommendations have increasingly been made at the whim of the ruling parties, throwing all diplomatic norms and standards to the winds. What is more disturbing is the rise in these irregularities, despite the continued criticism. The government has remained impervious to calls to pick deserving candidates.
The government has also closed its eyes to the fact that international relations are not as lenient and liberal as they look and that power is the main instrument determining them. For a weaker country like Nepal, international credibility is earned through a display of consistent and reliable conduct. Nepal is dismally failing at this. Ambassadors are one of the means of earning or maintaining a country’s image and credibility abroad. It is their effective performance—not their mere presence—that largely helps make or break the diplomatic profile of a country.
Normally, such appointments would not have become controversial. However, as soon as the names were announced, the government had to face harsh public criticism. This reaction was natural given the lack of competence of many of the nominees. Clearly, nepotism and ‘purse power’ were more important considerations. A mother-in-law, controversial manpower agents, NRN diplomatic greenhorns and those possessing deep purses have been recommended, with only a few notable exceptions. This demeaning of the role of diplomacy comes at a time when Nepal needs its faltering international image to be rebuilt by capable representatives.
Wasting money on embassies
Every year, new embassies are being opened in the most expensive European countries, without considering costs and benefits. Last year, the KP Oli government opened a new embassy in Austria, and recently, a decision to open one in Spain was taken. Both decisions show the insensitivity of the government to the actual need, appropriateness and enormous cost involved in their upkeep.
These are times when many wealthy countries are closing unproductive embassies as a cost cutting measure. Pakistan, Israel, Canada and even the USA have already begun this retrenchment process. Missions opened without sufficient cost and benefit analysis are nothing but an exercise in futility. Nepali missions opened in countries like South Africa, Brazil and Canada have failed to justify their existence other than offering job opportunities for a few. Experts have therefore suggested a review of all the embassies.
Needless to say, Nepal is presently at a dangerous crossroads—both domestically and internationally. Implementation of the new constitution is the biggest domestic challenge ahead. Balancing relations between our two giant neighbours with competing interests in Nepal is another monumental challenge. Managing regional challenges in ways that help us protect our vital national interests with diplomatic dexterity and tact is not as easy as it may appear.
Two important developments in our regional relations deserve delicate handling in the days ahead. China is emerging as a global economic and military superpower. Western powers are trying to stop China from acquiring this status and are active in forging a strategic partnership with another rising economic power, India. These will be the premises for a diplomatic game to increase their sphere of influence in the future. Fomenting troubles in Tibet, China’s soft belly, through Nepal, seems to be the leitmotif of Western powers. To our disappointment, India is being lured into that grand strategy.
Thus, it must be inferred that India’s strategic interests in Nepal, defined and pursued since the British rule, will be further strengthened rather than relaxed in the days ahead. A politically unstable and economically India-dependent Nepal could advance Western interests in China. That is why neither India nor the Western powers would want a heavy Chinese presence in Nepal. They would make every effort to keep Nepal under India’s thumb. Hence, there can never be a noticeably positive shift in Nepal-India relations, even if the present Indian political leadership wanted it. These are indeed dangerous times for Nepal in terms of protecting its national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Careless handling of foreign policy by downplaying diplomacy will lead us nowhere. Our forefathers displayed impeccable ingenuity, wisdom, foresight and diplomatic tact to preserve and protect our national independence, territorial integrity and national identity. We must strive to act similarly. Our internal unity is an important ingredient of our national strength and international credibility.
Hence, domestic challenges can and should be tackled by all political parties without further delay by thinking and acting alike for the interest of the country. As such, leveraging our diplomatic prowess is absolutely imperative. This would mean augmenting, not downplaying, the role of diplomacy and choosing the smartest brains in the country as ambassadors. The pathetic pick of ambassadors and the continued political deadlock over the constitution’s implementation offer a pessimistic picture. It seems our government wants to continue downplaying the national and international challenges the country faces at this critical juncture.
Thapa is a former Chief of Protocol at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs