Remarks by Kul Chandra Gautam
Seminar on Foreign Policy of Nepal
Organized by the Institute of Foreign Affairs
Kathmandu, 14 June 2013
I feel honoured but also humbled to be asked to make this presentation on Nepal’s foreign policy, as I am neither a practitioner nor a scholar of this subject.
Unlike our chair and other presenters, and many participants at this seminar, I have had little first-hand experience in Nepalese diplomacy.
While I have had considerable exposure to multilateral diplomacy at the United Nations, my direct exposure to Nepalese diplomacy was limited to a brief period in 2010-11 when I was made Nepal’s candidate for the Presidency of the UN General Assembly.
Of course, as a concerned citizen, I have generally observed the functioning of Nepalese diplomacy, particularly at the United Nations. But that limited and indirect exposure certainly does not qualify me as an expert.
So I hope the veterans of Nepalese diplomacy here will forgive me if my remarks sound rather shallow and superficial.
Securing recognition of Nepal’s independence and sovereignty
The concept note for this seminar states that Nepal started showing its visible presence in the international system in the early 1950s.
It was apparently a tough beginning for Nepal, as many countries at that time were not very sure about whether Nepal was a truly sovereign and independent country. This was reflected in the reservations we encountered when Nepal first applied for membership of the United Nations in 1953.
That was apparently a bit of a wake-up call for Nepal. So King Mahendra as well as other Nepali leaders made widespread international recognition of Nepal’s independence and sovereignty as the prime focus of Nepal’s foreign policy in the late 1950s and 1960s.
King Mahendra’s participation at the Afro–Asian Conference, in Bandung, Indonesia in April 1955, was Nepal’s first foray into the international arena. This was followed by Nepal’s admission as a member of the UN in December 1955.
Thereafter, Nepal used the UN General Assembly as well as the Summits of the Non-aligned Movement as important forums for asserting its status as a truly sovereign and independent country.
At the United Nations, Nepal initially assigned some high profile Ambassadors as our Permanent Representatives. These included – Rishikesh Shah, Matrika Prasad Koirala, Gen. Padma Bahadur Khatri, and Shailendra Kumar Upadhyaya.
Each of them made a mark showing Nepal’s strong interest on global issues beyond our own parochial concerns.
Rishikesh Shah led the international commission to investigate the tragic death of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold in a plane crash. Matrika Koirala was rapporteur of the UN’s special committee against apartheid in South Africa.
Padma Bahadur Khatri ably led the Nepali delegation when we first became a member of the UN Security Council. Shailendra Kumar Upadhyaya played a leading role in negotiations at the Law of the Sea Conference.
Nepal’s active participation in the Ministerial and Summit-level meetings of the non-aligned movement allowed Nepali leaders to rub shoulders with diplomats and politicians from many countries with whom Nepal had not even established diplomatic relations.
Expanding diplomatic ties
Let us recall that when Nepal became a member of the UN in 1955, it had diplomatic relations with only 5 countries in the world – the UK, India, USA, France and China. A decade after joining the UN, we managed to establish diplomatic relations with about 2 dozen countries.
Currently we have diplomatic relations with some 140 countries, most of them non-residential and therefore relying on rather infrequent contacts in their capital cities. Our regular diplomatic contacts with most countries are, therefore, carried out by our missions at the UN in New York and Geneva, and a few other capital cities.
Hence our UN missions carry out a disproportionately important role in both our multi-lateral diplomacy and even in keeping the bilateral contacts afresh with many countries.
Zone of Peace and Realpolitik
Perhaps not having residential embassies in many countries did not matter much so long as the main focus of our diplomacy was trying to get the world to recognize that we were truly a sovereign and independent country.
For example, in the 1980s, we managed to get over 100 countries to endorse King Birendra’s proposal to declare Nepal as a “Zone of Peace”. In the end, that proposal flopped completely because we did not manage to convince the one country that was critical for its success – India.
Even worse, Nepal was subjected to a prolonged economic blockade by India in 1989, and no other country came to our defence.
Therein lies an important lesson of realpolitik for us. Yes, we must try to cultivate good and broad international relations, but when it comes to the real or perceived vital interest of our two large neighbouring countries – and particularly the southern neighbour – it is counter-productive to provoke them to play hardball.
The foolishness of Nepal trying to score points by playing off China against India, has been amply demonstrated numerous times – such as when King Birendra approved purchase of military weapons from China, or when King Gyanendra tried to play the China card before Jana-andolan 2, and when Chairman Prachanda launched a “tunnel war” and roared against the “Bideshi Prabhu”.
Despite these realities, there seems to be a certain pathological appeal of strident anti-Indianism as an expression of Nepali nationalism especially when our political leaders and parties are out of power.
Perhaps MadhuRaman Acharyaji will dwell on this subject when he speaks about enhancing the effectiveness of Nepal’s foreign policy in dealing with regional issues and institutions.
Diplomacy and Development
Until the 1980s, Nepal’s trade and commerce were limited to just a handful of countries, and very few Nepalis lived and worked in other countries. The Nepalese diplomacy was basically focused on political issues like securing recognition of our independence and sovereignty, and reinforcing our policy of neutrality and non-alignment.
As a least developed country facing daunting development challenges, securing international assistance for its development was, of course, always a part of Nepalese diplomacy. Given its strategic location and the mystique of its Shangri-La like image, initially, some donors themselves showed interest in helping Nepal with minimal effort by Nepali diplomats.
Nepal started receiving bilateral aid in the 1950s and 60s, initially from USA and India, and the UK in the form of the Colombo Plan. They were later joined by China and USSR. Besides helping in Nepal’s development, all these countries were also trying to influence Nepal’s foreign policy in their favour during the global Cold War.
Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan became important donors in the second wave. Grants and technical assistance were the key form of aid in the 1950s and 60s.
It was in the 1970s that multilateral aid through UN agencies, and later the World Bank and Asian Development Bank began to play a prominent role, and Nepal started receiving loans as well as grants. By the end of the 1980s, the bulk of the grant aid and soft loans Nepal received were from multilateral sources.
The European Union and individual European countries, especially the Nordics came into the picture in the 1990s and the first decade of 2000, with their interest in issues of conflict resolution, human rights and inclusive development.
The open atmosphere created by the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1990 also led to many international NGOs opening their shops, and supporting local NGOs that have become important players in Nepal’s development process.
With the opening up of the economy in the 1990s, we began to see the emergence of a more robust private sector and some foreign direct investment.
But the decade of conflict, insecurity, political instability and extremism generally dissuaded optimum growth of the private sector and FDI, and public-private partnerships that could really unleash Nepal’s immense development potential.
Nepal’s Effectiveness in International Organizations
Now, focusing on the international system, which is the topic given to me, since Nepal joined the UN in 1955, it has sought and received much technical, financial and policy advisory support from various UN agencies in different sectors.
Some of these activities reach every Nepali household. Examples of some great success stories include the eradication of smallpox, polio and drastic reduction in vaccine preventable diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, etc. carried out with the help of the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees helped Nepal cope with the burden of caring for Bhutanese and Tibetan refugees. The High Commissioner for Human Rights helped monitor and publicize human rights violations – in the context of the conflict.
Various specialized UN agencies provide normative advice and technical support in their areas of expertise.
Frankly, much of such support from the UN system to Nepal was not secured by our diplomats skillfully negotiating special projects for Nepal, but it came rather effortlessly as part of these agencies’ global programmes which automatically gave priority to developing countries, and especially, LDCs and LLDCs like Nepal.
Nevertheless, our diplomats, supported by technical experts and programme managers from various ministries, have made their presence felt in many international organizations.
One area in which Nepal has made a significant contribution to the UN is in the field of peace-keeping. Besides contributing to world peace, service in UN peace-keeping missions helps Nepal’s military and police personnel improve their professional competence.
And remittances of Nepali soldiers and police personnel who serve in UN peace-keeping operations, like those of the Gurkha troops, are of great help to our local economy in many communities.
More recently, we received UN’s support in Nepal’s own peace process in the high visibility work of the UN Mission to Nepal (UNMIN). Though not without some controversy, UNMIN did help us in setting up cantonments for the Maoist combatants, monitoring their arms and diffusing potential tensions in the sensitive task of integration and rehabilitation of a large rebel force.
In the international arena, it is not easy for countries like Nepal to have huge impact. Yet, we have seen some relatively small countries like Jamaica, Guyana, Ghana, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Qatar and even tiny Lichtenstein exercising leadership roles in the governing bodies of multilateral organizations and in important international conferences.
Many nationals of such countries occupy high profile senior positions in various UN agencies. By comparison, Nepal has been clearly less influential.
While Nepal has been a member, and occasionally one of many vice chairs of various Committees, Commissions, Councils, and Executive Boards of UN agencies and the UN General Assembly; it has rarely been the Chair or President of such bodies, with a few notable exceptions as in the case of the leadership role we have managed to play in the context of LDCs, or on other rare occasions as when our Permanent Representative, Dr. Shambhu Simkhada, chaired the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.
In terms of senior executive positions in the UN system, we are very proud that recently a very competent Nepali diplomat, Gyan Chandra Acharyaji has been appointed Under Secretary-General of the UN. It took us 57 long years since Nepal became a member of the UN to secure a top UN post. But better late, than never.
I understand that until now, only two Nepalis, one in UNICEF and the other one in ADB have been in senior managerial positions in those international organizations. In addition, we have had a few Nepali force commanders in UN peace-keeping missions.
I am told that at different times, there were several Nepali candidates who were considered eminently qualified for and had good prospects for being elected or appointed to senior executive positions at UN-ESCAP, WHO, IFAD and the UN Secretariat itself. But apparently, there were some serious shortcomings in the manner in which Nepal lobbied or did not lobby for these positions.
Although Nepal has been one of the top contributors to UN peace-keeping forces for four decades, we have not secured any top executive positions in the UN’s Peace-keeping department, and recently even as force commanders in the field.
This too seems to indicate some shortcomings in our capacity and approach to playing a more influential role in the international system.
Experience of PGA contest
Perhaps it would be appropriate here for me to share some reflections on what I consider to be a very educational but ultimately unsuccessful campaign for the Presidency of the UN General Assembly two years ago.
I have made an incomplete attempt so far to document what actually transpired during our PGA campaign, but this is not the right time or forum for a detailed discussion of that experience.
Today, I would only like to share a few highlights with a view to drawing some lessons on how we might pursue and be more successful in such efforts in future.
Nepal had filed its candidacy for President of the 66th session of UN General Assembly (PGA-66) citing its long and loyal commitment to the principles of the United Nations, and its significant contribution to the UN’s mission of promoting international peace and security, universal human rights and socio-economic development.
Nepal was the first and only country to file its candidacy a decade before the time of election, when there was a clean slate. There was a tradition in the Asian Group at the UN that normally positions like the PGA rotate among various sub-regions of the continent, and different typologies of countries.
Our competitor, Qatar, filed its candidacy several years after Nepal, without any compelling reasons – other than the argument that it was a rising economic power determined to play a leadership role in all aspects of the UN’s work.
Except for making an early announcement of its national candidacy, Nepal lagged behind Qatar in many other respects. We nominated our specific candidate for the post much later than Qatar. We had made no budgetary provisions for the election campaign, and it took many months for a very meager budget to be approved and released – too late and too little to do much.
Even after the announcement of our candidacy, it took many weeks before we officially notified UN member states. It also took many weeks before our own embassies were officially notified and asked to lobby for our candidacy.
I discovered that our Foreign Ministry has many capable and competent diplomats, but nobody is authorized or encouraged to take any decisions or take any initiative.
Even on seemingly simple and routine matters, of no policy consequence at all, every decision was delegated upwards – to the Foreign Secretary, and often the Foreign Secretary sought written instructions from the Prime Minister’s office and even the Cabinet.
What I found amazing was not just that we have an incredibly centralized system of decision-making, but that even after a Prime Ministerial or Cabinet decision on a seemingly important and urgent issue, a Joint Secretary in the Finance Ministry could effectively veto, delay or re-interpret such decisions, triggering a whole new round of review and paper trail that took not hours or days but weeks and months to travel from Singh Durbar to Narayan Hiti and from there to our embassies.
We needed to plan visits to some capitals and seek appointments with some important officials. But there was a chicken and egg problem: we could not seek appointments, or book hotels, or even reserve airline tickets until the travel budget was approved. And the travel budget was rarely approved earlier than a day or two before the actual date of travel.
I suppose for most of you who have worked in or with the government of Nepal, this may not be new, and you may know of short-cuts to get things done. For me, it is a miracle how we get anything accomplished in a timely manner in this country.
I have been told that these nitty-gritty issues would have been non-issues if there had been a stronger commitment for our candidacy in the Foreign Ministry and higher up.
I have no way of judging this, but let me say that with a few exceptions, I found most MoFA officials and many diplomats in our embassies and missions to the UN very supportive and enthusiastic about our candidacy.
And although we had a fragile coalition government and a polluted political environment, political leaders of all major parties supported our candidacy, or at least I am not aware of anybody who opposed it or tried to sabotage it.
After a change of government in Nepal, and close to election time in New York, when a senior Qatari minister visited Kathmandu to persuade Nepal to withdraw its candidacy, the new Prime Minister, his Cabinet colleagues and other political leaders stood firm in support of our candidacy.
That was a rare and remarkable message of unity that surprised some Nepali doubters, the Qatari visitors and many New York diplomats.
During my visits to New York, we actually felt the momentum was building up in our favour.
Based on our face-to-face meetings in New York, and feedback from our embassies in various countries and some capitals, the DPR of the Nepal mission to the UN developed a confidential matrix showing which countries were likely to support us, which were supportive of Qatar and which were undecided. We updated the matrix weekly and even daily.
It was clear that initially, most countries were undecided, a few were supportive of Qatar and a similar number were supportive of Nepal. As time went on, the number of undecided shrank and those in the Nepal and Qatar columns increased, generally in neck-to-neck proportion.
The feedback we got fairly consistently from both Asian and well-informed non-Asian countries, was that Nepal’s candidacy was considered stronger on the basis of merit, logic, and the credentials of its candidate.
But Qatar had the advantage of almost unlimited budget, stronger outreach to various capitals of Asian countries, some solidarity of the Gulf States and Islamic countries, and what was euphemistically called its ability to exercise “check-book diplomacy”.
As the race was tightening, the two candidates were invited to address the Asian Group on the 22nd of February 2011. The feedback we got from many delegates afterwards was that Nepal’s statement was much stronger and convincing than that of Qatar. A few delegations that had remained undecided until then conveyed to us that following the two candidates’ presentations, their government had decided to support Nepal.
Seeing the momentum tilting in Nepal’s favour, Qatar went on over-drive in the last 72 hours before the scheduled poll among the Asian countries. Top Qatari leaders from Doha personally approached leaders of many countries that were undecided or tilting towards Nepal. There was much wining, dining and arm-twisting by the Qatari mission in New York, especially targeting Islamic countries and the Pacific islands.
Nepal certainly could not match Qatar either from our capital or the New York mission.
After a long and spirited campaign, and as agreed within the Asian Group at the United Nations, an election through secret ballot was held on 25 February 2011 to decide on the nominee of the Asian Group for PGA-66.
As Nepal secured slightly fewer votes than Qatar, Nepal withdrew its candidacy, thus enabling the Qatari candidate to be the unanimous nominee of the Asian Group.
It should be noted that despite many constraints, Nepal ran a strong and positive campaign which led to a very close vote.
Most objective diplomats in New York surmised that Nepal’s defeat in the PGA contest was the result of Qatar’s exceptional strengths rather than Nepal’s weaknesses.
Indeed, it was widely acknowledged by many diplomats in New York and elsewhere that Nepal’s case was very strong in terms of merit, logic and credentials of its candidate. But Qatar had other unique advantages.
Qatar prevailed over Nepal based, among others, on its very focused and targeted advocacy invoking solidarity among the 25 members of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), and its good relations and resourceful lobbying with a dozen or so small Pacific island countries which comprise important constituencies within the 53 member Asian Group at the United Nations.
Nepal had a disadvantage as it had no formal diplomatic relations and embassies in many countries of the Pacific, Central Asia and the OIC which collectively constitute significant voting blocs at the UN.
Our informal feedback was that Nepal got overwhelming support of countries outside the Islamic and Pacific groups which voted on the basis of merit, logic and the strengths of Nepali candidate’s credentials. Nepal came tantalizingly close to winning, and got support of countries comprising the vast majority of Asia’s population, including most of the SAARC countries, a majority of ASEAN countries, all of the Northeast Asian countries, and a sprinkling of Arab and Pacific countries as well.
Although Nepal also managed to get some votes from the Islamic and Pacific countries, that was not enough to muster a majority in the Asian Group.
As indicated earlier, Nepal’s PGA candidacy had across the board support from leaders of all major political parties at home. That support remained unchanged even when the government changed. Many countries were impressed and even awed by the tenacity of Nepal’s campaign against great odds.
This PGA campaign was probably the most dedicated diplomatic campaign mounted by Nepal in its recent history of international relations. Within their means, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nepal’s Permanent Mission to the UN, and Nepalese diplomatic missions worldwide spared no efforts to promote our candidacy.
Now, I am aware that some folks in Kathmandu, perhaps even some who are here today, had expressed some doubts about the credentials of Nepal’s candidate, and some even speculated that Nepal might have fared better if we had chosen a different candidate.
Obviously, it is inappropriate for me to comment on that speculation. But I can tell you quite confidently that the credentials of the candidate were not a matter of any doubt outside some Kathmandu circles.
On the contrary, the Nepali PGA candidate’s long UN experience and strong credentials as a development professional, his personal contacts and friendship with political leaders and diplomats in many countries, his first-hand familiarity with development programmes in many Asian countries and worldwide, and his communication skills were much appreciated by all our interlocutors.
Nepal was matched against perhaps the toughest competitor of all the 53 nations of the Asian Group. In the past decade, Qatar has demonstrated its capacity to win virtually all elections it contested at the UN. It even defeated such powerful competitors as Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea and USA in its bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Many observers, therefore, considered Nepal’s competition with Qatar as very ambitious and challenging. Yet, Nepal put up a truly honourable competition with a shoe-string budget but with a great sense of purpose and national unity.
Although eventually unsuccessful, Nepal earned much respect and goodwill in the international community by sticking to its principled stance, exhibiting its self-confidence, making an eloquent and convincing case of the merits of its candidacy, and not succumbing to a defeatist mentality.
Both Nepal and Qatar emphasized throughout the campaign that the PGA contest would not in any way impact negatively on their friendly and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship.
The campaign was run in good spirit and Qatar expressed its sincere appreciation and continuing solidarity with Nepal both before and after the elections.
Contrary to some exaggerated fears that it might be harmful for Nepal to compete with a rich and powerful country that provides jobs to many Nepali migrant workers, Nepal actually earned greater respect and goodwill of Qatar which, I hope we can harness for further benefit of Nepal and Nepali migrant workers.
Enhancing Nepal’s Effectiveness in International System
My experience during the PGA campaign has given me a little deeper insight into the working of our diplomacy and how it might be made more effective particularly in dealing with international organizations.
Diplomacy, of course, reflects the overall situation of the country, and it is not easy to have an exceptionally well-performing foreign service, when the rest of the country is caught in the quagmire of political instability and administrative inefficiency.
Still, I believe that among the various ministries of the Nepal Government, MoFA is probably staffed with relatively well educated, better trained, more competent and motivated personnel.
It is my observation that most of our diplomats perform well below their potential. But with the right kind of incentives and a supportive leadership, MoFA could be turned into a centre of excellence among our government ministries.
Many diplomats in MoFA have had exposure to the functioning of better managed foreign services of other countries, and therefore greater openness to change.
MoFA is a relatively small ministry with a fairly focused mission. It would, therefore, be more amenable to reform and innovation.
As part of the government’s civil service, it may not be easy or possible for MoFA to do things very differently from the normal practices in the rest of the government. But I hope that some reforms can be introduced in MoFA as pilot testing or as a precursor to reforms in the rest of the civil service.
Here are some house-keeping type of reforms I would recommend for MoFA first, and then I will suggest some policy reforms that might help enhance our effectiveness in dealing with international agencies and international affairs:
1. Introduce principle of subsidiarity – Subsidiarity is an organizing principle whereby decisions on most issues should be taken by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Only when there is uncertainty about rules or legality, real risk of abuse or loss, need to make an exception or for decisions above a certain budgetary threshold, should those decisions be handled by a higher authority.
This principle is now being applied quite systematically in the European Union and in many administrative services of advanced countries. It takes time and courage to implement such system in most bureaucracies that are habitually risk-averse and where bureaucrats like to play it safe.
Some checks and balances are needed in particularly corruption-prone environments. But the principle of subsidiarity can do wonders in empowering staff, increasing efficiency, and improving service delivery.
2. Institute system of rewards and retribution – At present there seem to be no rewards or recognition for well-performing staff, nor any retribution for poor performers.
It would be desirable to have some annual or quarterly goals and performance indicators for every unit of MoFA, including our embassies and missions. Well-performing individual staff as well as teams that meet or exceed their goals in terms of both quantity and quality of work, should be given recognition and rewards which can be points accumulated for promotion, monetary bonuses, training opportunities, etc.
Wherever possible, feedback by customers, colleagues and supervisees should be given due weight to complement the supervisors’ assessment.
3. Inculcate reading habit and language skills – Many of our diplomats do not seem to have reading habit. Except in very general terms, many diplomats do not seem to be knowledgeable about basic facts and figures of the Nepalese economy; Nepal’s own development plans, progress reports on Nepal’s performance in terms of the Millennium Development Goals, and important Nepal-related reports by international agencies or NGOs.
There should be a required reading list for all our diplomats at different levels. If economic diplomacy is going to be the focus of our diplomats’ work, they should certainly read some of the annual flagship reports of the World Bank, UNDP, UNCTAD and other current development literature.
Most of our diplomats have poor language skills. The Ministry should provide training opportunities and language allowances for staff who acquire proficiency in the language of their host country of assignment and in the official languages of the United Nations.
4. Enhance Communications and IT skills – I am surprised how inarticulate many of our diplomats are. Public speaking is an essential skill for a diplomat who has to represent Nepal and be a salesperson for attracting investment, tourism and projecting a positive image of the country.
Similarly, many of our diplomats do not seem to have even minimal IT skills that are so essential in the modern world. Diplomats who are political appointees are often pathetically primitive in these skills, but even professional diplomats need to be more proficient.
5. Make MOFA staffing more inclusive – Among Nepal’s key ministries, MoFA has been historically a predominantly male Bahun-dominated institution. In keeping with the changing times, the ministry’s recruitment and promotion practices must be proactively more inclusive.
I understand that recently, many young and well-qualified women professionals were recruited as junior diplomats. A policy of fast-track career development must be instituted for such new recruits from historically marginalized communities, without compromising on essential qualifications.
6. Increase staffing, and greater use of NRN interns, volunteers and experts – We hear many Nepali Ambassadors complain that they do not get enough budget and staffing support to do a good job. While the need for more staffing and investment is clear, as we are likely to have continuing budget constraints, our diplomats should be encouraged to be more creative and innovative in harnessing non-conventional sources of support for their work, including from the growing Nepali diaspora and from friends of Nepal in many foreign countries.
In many countries with a sizeable Nepali diaspora, the NRN community can be of great help to Nepali diplomats and official delegates. There now are many highly successful, world class Nepali professionals in different fields in quite a few countries. Nepal should be bold enough to use them as our informal Goodwill Ambassadors, advisors and experts.
One way to do so would be to systematically include NRNs with recognized expertise and experience in different countries as members or advisors of Nepali delegations when they are visiting a country or preparing and negotiating important trade and investment projects.
In some countries, the NRN movement might be able to help our embassies with networking with influential host-country institutions, and in some cases even offer equipment, and part-time volunteer staffing, if the embassies were deliberately made more NRN-friendly and welcoming.
I have seen, for example, embassies of many small Latin American, Caribbean and European countries tapping into the pool of their expatriate compatriots as interns and volunteers to supplement the staffing shortage of their embassies and missions to international organizations.
Increasingly, we can find many expatriate Nepali NRNs in the capital cities of most countries where we have Nepali embassies and missions. I am sure we can get some first-rate graduate students, professors and even professionals who would happily volunteer to help the Nepalese embassies, often free of charge or at nominal cost, if we reached out to them and offered them a mutually beneficial professional experience.
In some cases, creative use of such bright, young interns and motivated NRN professionals would help our Ambassadors better than whole-timer bureaucrats transplanted from Singh durbar.
7. Upgrade and invest in embassy premises – Even a casual visit to many of Nepal’s diplomatic missions abroad shows obvious areas for improvement. Many Nepalese embassies look physically shabby and dilapidated, poorly furnished, and inadequately equipped. We need to upgrade the physical infrastructure of Nepal’s diplomatic missions to a more presentable level. It would be a worthwhile investment in the long run that will pay for itself.
8. Discourage/disallow visitors to stay at Ambassadors’ residence – There are a few seemingly minor but deeply distracting and corrupting practices which compromise on the work and efficiency of our Ambassadors and senior diplomats which must be ended.
We must develop some guidelines and code of conduct whereby visiting delegates and politicians (and their family members) from Nepal are not allowed to stay at the residence of our diplomats or to ask or expect our Ambassadors to provide them with unofficial hospitality or help for their medical care, sight-seeing or shopping expeditions. That would allow our Ambassadors and senior diplomats to focus on their job.
These are my 8 house-keeping reform proposals for MoFA and our missions abroad. I would now like to make 8 substantive and policy recommendations to enhance the effectiveness of our foreign policy to derive maximum benefit for Nepal from the international community.
9. Focus on Economic Diplomacy – We have formally adopted economic diplomacy as the centre-piece of our foreign policy, but have a long way to go to make it real.
To make economic diplomacy effective, there is, first and foremost, a need for broad-based national consensus on what model of economic development we want for the country.
So long as we have widely divergent views and vision of what model of development we want, and there are mixed messages coming from home depending on which political party or coalition group is in power, our diplomats abroad cannot be effective in promoting economic diplomacy.
For economic diplomacy to succeed, we must have more consistent and pragmatic national political consensus on issues of vital economic interests and development priorities, not opportunistic or ideologically driven positions pandering to hyper-nationalistic chauvinism.
We cannot send mixed messages begging for international cooperation on the one hand and spouting ultra-nationalistic slogans about self-reliance, foreign domination, foreign interference, etc.
In a democracy, people are, of course, free to voice their views. But we cannot have leaders of political parties signing aid, trade and investment agreements, and activists of their own sister organizations obstructing implementation of such agreements.
Economic diplomacy should not be left to diplomats alone. It is best carried out through a team approach involving different ministries of the government that deal with key issues of economic development, the NPC, and through public-private partnerships involving groups such as FNCCI, CNI, NTB and NRNA. But MoFA diplomats must be always ready, willing and able to play the lead role.
Consideration should be given to devising a system whereby the performance of an embassy or of key individual diplomats is measured partly based on feedback from such non-MoFA stakeholders as NPC, NRNA, FNCCI, NTB, etc.
10. Forget non-alignment; focus on migration and development – In our conventional diplomacy we continue to give undue attention to certain relics of the past and inadequate attention to newly emerging issues.
Thus, we seem to still attach more importance to meetings of the non-aligned movement rather than to forums that deal with the most burning and highly relevant issues for today’s Nepal such as the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD).
Securing better working conditions for Nepali migrant workers, and assuring their well-being, must now be a prime job of Nepali diplomats in most countries and international organizations.
With Nepali migrant workers now numbering close to 3 million and their remittances now constituting the backbone of the country’s economy, Nepali diplomats ought to be proactively involved in various international forums where issues of migration and development are discussed and negotiated.
We must, of course, do the minimum necessary to show our solidarity with our traditional NAM allies, but without overly aligning ourselves with leaders and regimes that increasingly fall in the global rogue state categories.
11. Stop the begging-bowl mentality – I have often attended international conferences where Nepali diplomats and delegates only present our problems and difficulties, whereas foreign experts attending the same conference cite some of Nepal’s great success stories – e.g. the commendable progress in reducing maternal and child mortality, increasing girls’ education, eradicating or controlling diseases, improving access to water supply and sanitation, immunization, community forestry, etc.
To attract international support, Nepali delegates must be able to give examples of Nepal’s successes against great odds, not just plead for help citing our poverty and backwardness.
Except for emergency humanitarian aid, why would any donor want to help a country that is good at citing its problems but not demonstrating success?
As part of our economic diplomacy, we must stop the begging bowl mentality of seeking charitable help from foreigners. Instead, we should be able to demonstrate, with examples, how investment in Nepal’s development can yield better results than investment elsewhere.
We should also be able to demonstrate how foreign aid, trade or investment can lead to mutual benefits for both parties, not just for Nepal.
12. Strive to make Nepal Premier Provider of UN Peace-keepers – Historically, Nepal has a good reputation in international peace-keeping, although some recent events, including laxity in our human rights screening and some fraudulent practices in procurement have tarnished our image somewhat.
Currently, Nepal is the 6th or 7th largest contributor to UN Peace Keeping forces. I would advise that we should aspire to be the world’s #1 peace-keepers by the end of this decade.
This would also be a smart way for us to make good use of our over-sized army which doubled in size during the decade-long civil war, but has not been downsized since.
We should aspire to be the premier contributor for international peace-keeping, not only numerically, but qualitatively as well. Accordingly, we must make our peace-keeping troops highly professional as well as more inclusive by enlisting a larger contingent of women soldiers and officers, which are in big demand at the UN, but in short supply in the Nepal Army and police.
I had so much hoped and advocated that as part of our peace process, we would give deliberate priority to integration of qualified women and combatants from other historically under-represented communities, such as Dalits and Madheshis when the Maoist “PLA” was disbanded.
That would have been a win-win proposition in Nepal’s best interest. Alas, that did not happen, but we can still take proactive measures to make our security forces more inclusive both nationally and in international peace-keeping.
As part of making Nepal a premier peace-keeper, we must also lobby hard to secure leadership positions for qualified Nepalis in the UN’s DPKO and as force commanders in the field.
13. Secure leadership role in UN system and IFIs – In the coming years, Nepal should judiciously and systematically compete for not just membership, but to become the Chair or President of governing bodies of some key UN councils, commissions, or boards of specialized agencies, and funds and programmes based in New York, Geneva, Rome or elsewhere.
Our participation in the governing bodies and policy-making entities of IFIs such as the World Bank, IMF and ADB has not been very significant or substantive.
Although, some of these institutions have identified and tapped some talented Nepalis, including several retired senior bureaucrats, officially we have not promoted such professionals in positions where they could make substantive intellectual input in global development debate.
We must not be stingy in promoting such professionals who can make an intellectual contribution to global development debate whether or not that yields immediate benefits for Nepal.
14. Support Nepali Professionals in the UN system – Quite a few Nepalis now work in the UN system, but it is becoming increasingly harder to get more Nepalis to be recruited by UN agencies.
In promoting Nepali candidates for UN positions, let us cast our net more widely, including, but going beyond, MoFA diplomats and other bureaucrats, and looking for talent in our academia, civil society and diaspora.
To be more competitive, Nepal should encourage young Nepalis, including our diplomats, to acquire skills that the UN is looking for – e.g. knowledge of multiple UN languages, better writing and communications skills, basic IT skills, experience in working not just in government but with NGOs, the media and academia.
Nepal should also groom and present more women candidates for UN positions.
15. Prepare a Long-term Reconstruction and Development – At this time in Nepal’s history, perhaps the most important help we should seek from the United Nations, IFIs and other potential major donors and partners, would be to help us prepare an ambitious, long-term reconstruction and development plan, and to help mobilize international support for it.
Elsewhere in post-conflict countries, such international partners have helped governments to prepare such plans and to mobilize multi-billion dollars international support by organizing major donor conferences for countries such as Cambodia, East Timor, Afghanistan, Liberia, Mozambique, etc.
But this has not happened so far in the case of Nepal, partly because our political transition and the peace process have been long and convoluted, and our focus continues to be on political issues, while economic issues have been left for future consideration.
The time has now come for us to bring up the economic issues to the fore-front. Because we have delayed addressing the economic issues for too long, our own people have become disenchanted with the highly polemical and polarized political process, and we have already missed a prime opportunity to mobilize international support, while the world’s attention was still focused on Nepal’s unique peace process.
But it is still not too late. Nepal has very good prospects for achieving quite a few of the UN Millennium Development Goals, and positioning ourselves as a favoured partner for the post-2015 Sustainable Development agenda.
Given our still unsettled and prolonged political transition, what we prepare today might still be a provisional plan. But some of us development professionals and diplomats must be ready with such contingency planning, hoping against hope that our politics will soon put the economic agenda on the front burner as our politicians have promised us so often.
16. Focus on our neighbours – Finally, we do not have to go across the seven seas to test our prowess in economic diplomacy. The greatest opportunity for attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) and marketing our products lies just across our borders in India and China. These vibrant economies offer us extra-ordinary opportunities that would be the envy of many other countries.
But our foolish hyper-nationalism and suspiciousness especially vis a vis India prevent us from finding win-win solutions.
Many small countries have found creative ways to capitalize on the large economies of their neighbours – e.g. Switzerland with Germany and France, Paraguay with Brazil, Canada and Mexico with the US, Bhutan with India, Laos with Thailand, Mongolia with China and Russia – but we Nepalis seem to specialize in giving mixed messages rather than getting to “yes” when large investors from across the border come calling.
It is ironic that when in power, or trying to get to power, all of Nepal’s political parties try to curry favour with India, but when in opposition the same parties and their radicalized fraternal trade unions vilify most FDI projects.
A very poignant example of this is the signing of what I consider to be a wise and essential Nepal-India Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) by the Maoist author of the stridently anti-India “40-point Demands” of 1996, and its predictable opposition through the “70-point Demands” of 2012 issued by their dissident comrades.
But I will leave that topic for discussion in the next session by Madhuraman Acharyaji.
With some of these reforms both of house-keeping and substantive nature, I believe it is possible for us to make our diplomatic service world-class and our foreign policy effective and exemplary.
We realize there are daunting challenges to implement such reforms. The financial and human resources available to MoFA and at the disposal of our diplomatic missions are certainly meager and inadequate. But the biggest problem our diplomats face is not lack of resources, but that of unclear guidance, un-ambitious goals, no accountability for results and no encouragement for innovation and creativity.
This leads to a situation whereby even the best and brightest of our highly competent ambassadors and seasoned diplomats end up performing well below their potential.
We also face a larger national problem of projecting a good image of Nepal abroad, when back home we are mired in conflict, violence, intolerance, and ideological extremism of the kind that has been rejected elsewhere in the world.
The foundation of an effective foreign policy rests on our domestic peace and tranquility, respect for human rights, good governance and a vibrant pluralistic democracy.
Our hope and commitment should be to make MoFA and our diplomatic service a small but important pillar in building and branding that new Nepal of our dream.