Venezuelan vertigoDahal’s statement supporting Nicolás Maduro is proving to be a bitter pill to swallow
The political statement on January 27 by the co-chair of the ruling Nepal Communist Party Pushpa Kamal Dahal with an ‘imperialist coup’ jibe at the US and in support of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is proving to be a bitter pill for Nepali foreign policy mandarins to swallow. The US reaction and diplomatic demeanour, expectedly, have been ominous. What was originally thought to be a mere faux pas is turning out be a well planned exposition aimed at ‘global communist solidarity’. Contrary to the general expectation that the Nepal government’s official position would try to diffuse the tension with Nepal’s important ally, the US, the press statement by the Foreign Ministry last Tuesday only endorsed Dahal’s position. In addition, the tone of the headline in the Chinese government mouthpiece, The Global Times, ‘NCP denounces the coup attempt in Venezuela, Expresses solidarity with President Maduro’ on its January 29 issue is also something to be adjudged in the ‘solidarity’ context.
Some routine criticisms like Dahal’s inadvertent fascination with using Marxist jargon akin to his underground days, or, his flippant overlook of the depth of Nepal-US relations alone perhaps would not suffice to explain the intended modus operandi that the Nepal Communist Party government is adopting purposefully. The government’s recalcitrant approach to correct Dahal’s misadventure, despite the US government’s official protest at the statement and a sort of furore among the intelligentsia back home, raises concern on several critical fronts beyond bilateral diplomacy.
First, it is indicative of the communist government’s foreign policy plank and priorities. Suppose, even if the Foreign Ministry was convinced that the US was erring, ‘the principle of protecting the nation’s vital interests in diplomacy’ would have restrained it from offending America, Nepal’s long standing development partner. Besides, in view of exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela forcing millions of its population to flee the country, the international community had but no alternative to explore ways to contain Maduro from further excesses in his bid to save his regime. Nepal should have instead spoken for the Venezuelan people, if at all it had to, to be part of the rational global community. Now, there is growing apprehension that pulling out from the global arena as such and confining our diplomatic operations to consolidating the ‘camaraderie’ among a handful of communist nation-states would also further slant our neighbourhood diplomacy towards China. Is that the way Nepal should now go about?
Second, the temerity of Nepal’s entire ruling outfit to defend Maduro, despite the appalling humanitarian and economic catastrophe his party had ‘engineered’ over a period of two decades since the days of Hugo Chavez, manifests the Nepal Communist Party’s true passion to emulate him back home. At the core of it lies the political design of shamming democracy with orchestrated elections and, effectively, running elected dictatorships. This development also disproves the fact that Nepal transitioned from communist violence to rule-based democracy and that the erstwhile communists, from their hearts and minds, have accepted democracy as an indispensable future policy paradigm. In a majority of erstwhile communist-ruled nations, elections have proven to be quite an attractive cloak to validate intrinsically dictatorial rulers as democrats. The monolithic pursuit of elections without due regard for democratic values and norms is actually defaming democracy itself. Lately, this malpractice has had a contagion effect on the non-communist sphere as well. Nepali communist rulers surely have got some impetus from these examples too.
Guided by vested interests
Third, this episode hints to the possible fate of Nepal’s transitional justice. Dahal and his Maoist brigade (‘former Maoists’ yet seems to be an inappropriate qualifier for them) from the very beginning were keen to derail the transitional justice process. Or, he has been trying to settle it according to his petty plan, exonerating his chosen cadres from all their crimes against humanity, but with little to no success except for procrastinating the process. They fear that any impartial enquiry is sure to put hundreds of them behind bars for their inhumane activities during the decade-long conflict. What triggered Dahal’s statement is thought to be the joint statement by 10 resident diplomats in Kathmandu, including the US ambassador, who two days earlier had demanded that the transitional justice process be concluded by ensuring justice to the victims. Rightly or wrongly, Dahal and his entire ideological school strongly believe that all Western powers and institutions, including the United Nations, dance to the tune of the US. Therefore, he chose to ‘teach a lesson or two’ by issuing a ‘red’ hot statement against this global superpower.
Fourth, by antagonising the US and other developed countries with a series of similar policy flaws on several fronts, the government is compromising Nepal’s vital economic interests as well. In recent years, US economic engagement, including export trade from Nepal, has substantially increased. The $500 million US financial support provided through Millennium Challenge Corporation is under implementation mainly to support Nepal’s energy sector infrastructure development. The US hosts one of the largest Nepali diasporas in the world, and is also one of the largest foreign direct investors in Nepal. It is also apparent that support from the Western world is, more often than not, contingent upon the democratic credentials and human rights records of the country. Diplomatic immaturity, support for undemocratic regimes and dictatorial ambitions at home are sure to prove a heavy burden on an already rapidly crumbling Nepali economy.
Lastly, it may sound a bit trivial, but it is important to note how petty vested interests of a few political operatives can misguide and push the country’s foreign policy to a point of no return. The Maduro government has allegedly invited a group of Nepal Communist Party leaders and parliamentarians to Caracas to participate in a conference on ‘growing relevance of socialism’. Needless to say, a bunch of ideologues considered close to leaders like Dahal are constantly selling the idea that Nepal now has ‘the most powerful elected communist government in the world’. They are often invited to countries with a ‘left’ government, like Venezuela, to explain the recipe for success. This group, before travelling to Venezuela, perhaps wanted to show to the Maduro regime how passionate Nepali communists are about supporting the ‘Marxist’ regime. Otherwise, except for such weird interactions, Nepal has very limited business with Venezuela.
Unfortunately though, even before they could embark on the junket, a Pandora’s box, both at home and the host countries, seemed to have sprung open. This is the same group of people who reportedly prevented the Foreign Ministry from coming up with a clarification that could assuage the US. This begs the question: Can Nepal afford to have its foreign policy be hoodwinked by people with such petty interests?