Harbinger of development (KTM Post interview with Kul Guatam)

Dec 12, 2015- Kul Chandra Gautam, former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, is a distinguished diplomat and development professional. In a career that spanned over three decades, the man from Gulmi has actively worked in areas of child rights, global health, education, and development. With his book, Lost in Transition: Rebuilding Nepal from the Maoist Mayhem and Mega Earthquake, set to hit the stands this weekend, he hopes that after decades of seemingly endless transitions, Nepal will finally find the stability to earnestly move towards development and prosperity. In this interview with the Post’s Sanjit Pradhananga, Gautam talks about his career, his book, his inspirations and hopes for Nepal’s future.

Excerpts:  You are one of Nepal’s most eminent international diplomats and development professionals. Were you always set on pursuing a career in diplomacy?

For me, it was not planned. It was a series of accidents. I was a student in the US in the late 60s which was at the height of the Vietnam War. All over the US, university campuses were buzzing with anti-war activism, and I also became involved. At that time,  I became deeply interested in Vietnam. I wanted to know who these Vietnamese were who could take on the world’s mightiest power and defeat them. I wanted to go to Vietnam and began learning French—their colonial language. In 1973, as I was finishing my graduate school, the war ended. At that time, UNICEF was working with the women and children in post-war Vietnam. I wrote to them, had an interview, and was offered a job. Back then, I had thought the job would only last for a short while, but I ended up staying with the UN for 35 years.

Your book is aptly titled Lost In Transition. Nepal has been mired in one crisis after another overthe past decades. What are some opportunities that have been missed along the way?

I was fortunate to work in different countries over my career. If you look at many countries that are comparable to Nepal, it would seem that Nepal is one of the most fortunate countries in the world—with tremendous resources, natural beauty, sandwiched between industrial China and India, and with boundless goodwill of the international community. So, we have what it takes to take off and become a very developed country in a short period of time. But unfortunately, we have not made much progress, despite our vast potential. We have remained in search of the right political system and identity, and we have been in constant transition. It is a theme I have extensively talked about in my book. It is time for these transitions to stop, and for Nepal to earnestly move towards development.

Your book also includes an unsent letter to Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Under what circumstances was it penned, and why did it remain unsent?

In June 2005, I had a kidney transplant. When I was with the UN, my work had kept me very busy. But when I was hospitalised, I was forced to take some time off. That gave me the time to think deeply about  Nepal. At that time, I had a few health complications and wasn’t entirely sure if I would even make it.  The donor was my younger sister—a simple village woman from Argakhanchi—and we spent a lot of time in the hospital together. On July 7, 2005, there was the terrorist attack in London and I remember her asking, ‘So there are Maoists in London too?’ In her simple mind, something so violent and extreme could only have been perpetrated by the Maoists.  So as I was explaining the situation to her, I decided to write a letter to Prachanda. I wanted to express to him that regardless of his intentions, the path he had chosen was not going to lead us to where he thought it would. I wanted to tell him that the Maoist social agenda of empowering the disenfranchised was justified, but violence was not the way. But, just as I was about to send the letter, the Maoists decided to change course and move towards ending the conflict. I, like the rest of us, was very hopeful and thought maybe the letter was not necessary. So it remained unsent. But 10 years later, in retrospect, maybe I should have sent it then.

You wrote this book while you were preparing your memoir. Why did you pen this book instead?

As most of my adult life has been spent outside of Nepal, my memoir would largely be about my life outside the country. When I began writing my memoir, I wanted to include at least a chapter on Nepal. I began writing and the chapter just got longer and longer. By the end, I felt that it didn’t fit into the memoir. So I decided to turn it into a separate book.  I have, however, finished writing my memoir, and will be publishing it in the coming years.

What readership is this book aimed at? What can an everyday Nepali take away from it?

I hope that the everyday Nepali will read the book. But because it is in English, not everyone will be able to access it, unless we do a translation in due course. I wrote this book mainly to expound on my own feelings, but the book is primarily for three types of readers: Nepal’s policy makers and development planners, friends of Nepal in the international community, and Nepal’s younger generation.

And lastly, in your long career, you have met and worked with the movers and shakers of the world. Who are some leaders who have left a lasting impression on you?

There are several. I am a strong supporter of military disarmament. In that respect, I have a huge admiration for the former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias Sanchez. Vaclav Havel, former president of Czechoslovakia, who preached politics that glorified peace and not violence, is another one. Nelson Mandela, who promoted a rainbow coalition in post-apartheid South Africa—which is extremely relevant in today’s Nepal—is someone I greatly admire. I thought Mikhail Gorbachev was wonderful. He had the  wisdom to see that communism wouldn’t work. He was open to new ideas and had the courage to bring about change. I am  also very impressed by with current pope. He inspires me