Nepal’s diplomatic frivolityNepal’s bilateral diplomacy has been marked by glittering rhetoric
Any radical transformation of a country’s political identity, as Nepal underwent some thirteen years ago, is subsequently followed by several reformatory measures introduced into its national life. If innovation in governing mechanisms shapes the internal political dynamics of the newly transformed state, appropriate reorientation of foreign policy planks enable it to effectively expand the basic structure of its international relations in the changed political context. These systemic changes, as we may call it, will certainly have a profound bearing upon the nation’s survival as an independent political entity.
Over the last three decades or so, Nepal’s bilateral diplomacy vis-à-vis its two contiguous neighbours, among others, has simply been marked by glittering rhetoric and hyperbolic platitudes. The overall performance of many of Nepal’s diplomatic missions stationed abroad has not been on par with global standards. Barring a few personalities, most of Nepal’s diplomatic envoys simply represented their personal political mentors at home.
Analysing the complexities that swirl around Nepal’s bilateral relations with India demands treatment detached from prejudice, presumptuousness and political expediency. The ever-widening gulf of mistrust—created by a number of irreconcilable differences and glaring irritants—continues to divide the two countries politically, psychologically and diplomatically.
With the passage of time, these differences have been either spuriously identified as having a profound bearing on their national interests or are associated with India’s ‘concerns’. These unfortunately, form the bedrock of its policy towards their neighbouring countries, especially Nepal.
The most conspicuous failure of Nepal’s diplomatic affairs with India is in relation to several protracted obstacles. One of them is India’s intransigence towards Nepal’s initiatives to resolve the issue of India’s physical encroachment onto Nepali territory at more than fifty border points. This issue has remained a major impediment in restoring the much-needed spirit of mutual trust and confidence between the two nations. Similarly, India’s unilateral construction of river dams and roads along the border—affecting agricultural land in several districts of Tarai during the monsoon season—is again a major irritant that is likely to remain an irreconcilable bone of contention at least for the foreseeable future.
The other issue that has seriously dampened Nepal-India relations is concerns over the unequal nature of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship (1950) between the two countries. The glacial tone of India’s response to Nepal’s initiatives towards revising the provisions that affect Nepal’s long term national interests has further escalated into growing anti-Indian sentiment.
By taking advantage of the lopsided provisions under Article VI and VII of the Treaty, a phenomenal influx of Indian nationals is practically overwhelming many of Nepal’s economic and commercial hubs in recent years. Though a section of the Nepali intelligentsia is eagerly awaiting the final outcome of the embryonic report by the much hyped Eminent Persons Group, the euphoric optimism initially generated by its formation is being progressively diluted. Given the pathological ambivalence that sadly characterises the mood of Nepal-India relations today, it will not be surprising if the two countries return to square one again.
Nepal’s inept handling of the twenty-five-year-old humanitarian problem created by the mass expulsion of Bhutanese citizens of Nepalese ethnicity by the Himalayan kingdom is yet another disgraceful diplomatic debacle on its bilateral front. Bona fide Bhutanese citizens were denied their inalienable right to return to their homeland with dignity and honour. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 13) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 12) were all blatantly flouted by Bhutan. By citing an equivocal excuse of it being a bilateral issue between Nepal and Bhutan, India remained a tacit collaborator to this enormous human tragedy throughout the barbaric process that began in the early nineties, when Nepal was deeply embroiled in its internal political unrests.
After several rounds of bootless rendezvous between the two SAARC members at different levels, over one hundred thousand displaced Bhutanese refugees had to be eventually resettled in third countries. Nepal failed to invoke the international community against this inhumane act perpetrated by Bhutan. The puerile and frivolous concession made to the latter’s chicanery by the Nepalese delegation—headed by the then Home Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba during the ministerial level meeting held in Thimpu in 1993—was in fact the beginning of an end of the enormous human tragedy. The decision to categorise the displaced Bhutanese citizens into four groups was a big score for Bhutan towards making Nepal bite the dust eventually.
On the international fora:
Despite its obvious financial constraints, Nepal maintains a couple of missions overseas to look after the affairs related to the United Nations and its specialised agencies. They mostly carry out the stereotyped functions and do not require the type of prescience and skills as other ambassadorial missions do. Nevertheless, after fairly long intervals some occasion arises when the diplomatic acumen and network of the mission chiefs are put to a litmus test.
But to our utter disappointment, Nepal’s envoys to the United Nations headquarters in New York and its Geneva-based representative pathetically failed on two occasions to prove their diplomatic network and dexterity. Nepal’s bid for the UN Security Council’s non-permanent seat was excruciatingly defeated in September 2007. With instances abound, have our failures not exposed Nepal’s diplomatic frivolity and incipience on its international front?
Khanal is a retired Chief of Protocol at the Foreign Ministry.