Nepal-Qatar: Let it be a fair contest

Nepal-Qatar: Let it be a fair contest

On 25 February 2011, the Asian Group of Ambassadors in New York will be set to choose a new President of the upcoming year’s UN General Assembly, and Nepal’s Kul Chandra Gautam is a favored candidate. At this juncture, with Nepal not having a fully formed cabinet or a foreign minister, Qatar is sending a junior emissary with an “urgent mission” to meet Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal.

The visiting dignitary is Minister of State for International Cooperation Dr Khalid bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah, who is second from the bottom in terms of seniority in the current Qatar cabinet of 20 ministers. He is the second international visitor to get an appointment with the prime minister of Nepal. This red carpet is surprising, given that the government of Qatar did not show the courtesy of giving an appointment when a full cabinet minister of Nepal sought a meeting last month to discuss the matter of the presidency.

Speculation is rife in New York that Qatar will try to buy-off Nepal with promises of some development aid and some other pressure tactics to get Nepal to withdraw its candidacy in favor of Qatar. In recent years, with its overflowing war chest, Qatar has been buying votes from countries and contestants in many international fora. Its checkbook diplomacy has bought it success in winning many high level positions at the UN and even global sporting events, including the FIFA World Cup for 2022. Whether Nepal can resist such pressure and temptation could be the first test in the international arena of the Khanal government and its nationalist credentials.

In New York, the Nepal-Qatar competition for the 66th GA Presidency is viewed by many countries as a classic “David vs. Goliath” drama. The majority of Asian states have expressed support for Nepal and our candidate is bound to win in a secret ballot, given the backing of Asia’s major economic powers as well as small Pacific Islands, South and Southeast Asian countries and even some Central Asian and Arab/Gulf countries. This is why Qatar wants to avoid that possibility of defeat by pressuring Nepal to withdraw from the field.

Qatar has unlimited financial resources and is very ambitious and determined. Nepal, on the other hand, is desperately poor, recovering from a decade-long conflict and wracked with political instability. Yet, Nepal’s case for the position is much stronger than Qatar’s based on merit, logic and the credentials of its candidate. In recent months, Nepal’s candidacy has gained surprising momentum, even though many had thought that Kathmandu would be intimidated and simply withdraw once Qatar entered the fray.

A confident Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, the prime minister of Qatar actually wrote to the then Nepali prime minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal in April 2010 requesting Nepal to withdraw. Instead, Kathmandu wrote back asking Qatar’s support for Nepal’s candidacy, citing that Nepal was an earlier candidate, a much older member of the UN, and it was South Asia’s turn to be president after a 25 years hiatus. Qatar’s immediate neighbor Bahrain had been the president from Asia just five years ago. Additionally, every major South Asian country has become president of the Assembly in the last six decades other than Nepal. Our aspirations are seen as more deserving and long overdue.
In a gesture of goodwill and friendship towards Qatar, Nepal withdrew its candidacy from the UN’s Economic and Social Council last year, which enabled Qatar to get elected. Now it is Qatar’s turn to reciprocate in favor of Nepal.

Nepal has presented a candidate with outstanding credentials, Kul Chandra Gautam, Special Advisor to the prime minister on International Affairs and the Peace Process, and former UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. Gautam is a well-known international development professional, who has served the UN system for over three decades in positions of senior management and leadership. His mastery of issues range from humanitarian disasters and relief operations to the Millennium Development Goals, climate change and human rights. All of this is buttressed by his negotiating skills and knowledge of multiple languages.

Over the winter, Gautam and the Nepali Ambassador to the UN, Gyan Chandra Acharya, met with 48 of the 53 Asian ambassadors and more than a dozen non-Asian ambassadors. The Gautam-Acharya duo made an impressive and compelling case for Nepal’s candidacy, and a secret ballot is sure to give Nepal the seat at the General Assembly’s high table.

As the decisive moment nears, Qatar has decided to lobby only those countries that are likely to vote for it out of parochial solidarity or financial inducements. For this reason, it has not even reached out to India, China, Japan, Korea or Singapore. And now it is deploying its most powerful instruments directly on the newly formed government of prime minister Khanal. Qatar is perhaps aware that such a pressure campaign can easily backfire against its global reputation.

When Minister of State Al-Attiyah comes calling at Singha Durbar, prime minister Khanal must understand what Qatar is seeking to do. He must not allow Nepal’s imminent victory to be snatched away. Our success at the General Assembly has the potential of injecting much-needed confidence to our citizens. As a country which has not seen social and economic rehabilitation after the conflict years, the high profile achieved through the presidency will provide much larger economic and developmental dividends than the small projects that Qatar is likely to offer.

Nepal’s candidacy has been one of those rare occasions when all of Nepal’s major political parties and leaders have unanimous, as a matter of national pride and prestige. We are at the verge of a historic victory in Nepal’s international relations. The prime minister must ask Qatar to show the courage to go in for secret ballots, according to the tradition in the United Nations, rather than to engage in pressure tactics. This could be the singular achievement during the prime ministership of Jhalanath Khanal and Nepalis look forward to it.
Writer is a development worker with international experience, presently based in Kathmandu

Source: My Republica, Published on 2011-02-15