Personal tools
You are here: Home News Analysis and Views Nepal's Diplomatic Deficiency: Legend and Lessons
Log in

Forgot your password?

Nepal's Diplomatic Deficiency: Legend and Lessons

Issue 31, August 2, 2009

Dr. Katak Malla

Foreign policy is known to be the reflection of national interests; meeting the national interests demands sound strategies and skilled diplomats. Diplomacy is an art, a vocation and a project, influencing others for the fulfillment of one's own national interest. Such art, vocation and project do vary from one State to another, depending on the geo-political situation and military as well as economic strength. A few, but important, questions arise concerning Nepal's current diplomatic approach, or lack thereof: Is there any lesson to learn from Nepal's past diplomats? Are there such diplomats in Nepal, who understand the art of diplomacy and service as vocation, rather than just reaching a position? Above all does the country have such project? If not, a serious discussion on diplomacy must start, the sooner the better. 

Nepal's geographical location, size and state of economic development do not prevent her from adopting an independent foreign policy, and claiming the just principle of international law, resisting the big power bully and/or opposing foreign interference in internal politics. In doing so, the political house of the country must be kept in order. Currently, some groups in Nepal are whipping up nationalistic feelings against the foreign involvement in the internal politics, and others are openly becoming aligned with the foreign powers to hold back their domestic opponents. "National consensus" seems to be the key word of Nepal's current political leaders, but who is preventing the political leaders, to make a joint declaration opposing foreign interference?

Diplomatic wisdom of a legendary statesman Rishikesh Shaha is worth repeating in the present context, "Foreign policy, however successful, cannot itself deliver the goods to the people, nor can it alone achieve the positive end of nationalism." Thus, the interests of the people must be at the heart of national and international policy. In this, a distinction must be made between the interests of the people, whom governments in Nepal and the neighboring countries claim to represent, and their policies, which, more often than not, contradict the people's interests. One of the main reasons for failing to make this distinction is the fundamental failure or lack of democratic systems in the region.

Rishikesh Shaha's courage is also noteworthy for Nepal's career diplomats as well as policy makers. Shaha stood up against all odds to the then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, and told him from the rostrum of the General Assembly, "he had no right banging his shoe on his desk and thereby showing disrespect for an organization that belonged first of all to small nations." When I met Shaha for the last time in the late 1990s, he said that he made both friends and foes at home and abroad by challenging the Soviet leader. Shaha was admired in the diplomatic circles. Nonetheless, he was called back from his position—never to return to the diplomatic service—but his diplomatic career continued as a writer, and he has remained as one and the only person influencing Nepal's foreign policy during his time.

In addition to the enhancement of Nepal's honor at the UN, Rishikesh Shaha's statesmanship was considered only second to the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Lal Nehru in promoting the cause of the Non-Alignment Movement, which is currently going through a crisis of definition and direction. Time Magazine of October 24, 1960 wrote that the most effective work to make "Neutrality" respectable "has often been done by second-echelon diplomats…..Nepal's Rishikesh Shaha….." Shaha may have been somewhat politically controversial, but remains as a legendary statesman of small power diplomacy.

Unlike the powerful States' diplomacy, the small power diplomacy depends upon the adherence to just principles and the use of diplomatic wisdom and courage, more so at times of crisis. Just as in the colonial times, the control of resources and lives of other people has remained the objective of powerful States. When needed, powerful States—in the name of diplomacy—often use threats, persuasion, sanctions or force as well as overt and covert internal political operations, ultimately in some cases leading to change or restoration of the political regime in weaker States.

Except for a few honorable exceptions, the European diplomacy in Nepal continues to follow a "the carrot and the stick" diplomacy of the US. The Chinese and the Indian diplomats are openly engaged with Nepal’s internal politics so much that they look as if they are the Nepalese super political class. On the other hand, Nepal's diplomacy abroad, primarily seeking foreign aid, is becoming less significant, since the donors themselves are residentially present in Kathmandu not necessarily to address Nepal's needs, but to execute the donor's interest. The internal political interference by foreign diplomats is illegal according to the basic principle of international law. Such diplomacy is being practiced, forming and/or toppling the governments. Now, it is time for the foreign diplomats either to abide by the classic norms of diplomacy, keeping themselves aloof from internal matters, or to let Nepal's ambassadors abroad have the same right in the respective host countries. After all, reciprocity is the golden rule of diplomacy, i.e. either the foreign diplomats have to "shut-up" or Nepal's diplomats have to "put-up" their rights. Both the Indian and the Chinese foreign policy makers must recognize this reality and renounce the policy that David Van Preach describes as "Dragon and Serpent" toward Nepal.

Neutrality is the strength of small power diplomacy, especially in Nepal's circumstances. But is Nepal’s geography stupid or its diplomatic leadership stupid, or both? Which of them is the problem or the solution in the relations with the northern and southern neighbors? The country's geo-location serves as a natural defense or détente for its northern and southern neighbors, and has been described with a misleading metaphor: "Yam between the two rocks."  The Nepalese politicians and diplomats continue to act as waiters, pleasing the masters at the South Bloc, New Delhi, or the Northern Lower Block, China Resources Building, Beijing. Nepal's foreign policy makers (somebody may also wonder if there are any) continue to suffer from the "Yam-syndrome" or the small nation inferiority complex. This has contributed to the current policy of submission and sense of resignation to the situation, without critically assessing Nepal's strengths and weaknesses.

There can be no match between Nepal and China or between Nepal and India in terms of power configuration, e.g. territory, population and economic and military strength. Nonetheless, the mutual benefit is apparent in the triangular relations. Nearly thirty million people of Nepal are a considerable strength of the nation. Nepal has become a large market for the Chinese apples, garments and electronic equipment. Some might also remember that in the late 1980s China explored the market for its arms in Nepal. Traditionally, Nepal has also been a market as well as a resource for the Indian economy, ranging from water resources to the outsourcing of the Gorkha army.

What is lacking in Nepal is diplomatic wisdom and courage. One of the first steps to fill the void would be that the past and present rulers of Nepal including political party leaders must make a joint declaration against foreign interference, committing to sort out the internal political differences of diplomacy through genuine national reconciliation. Failure in this would be considered as the historical betrayal to the nation. Given the involvement of the two giant neighbors in the internal politics of Nepal, the rest of the international community must take note that China and India will be held responsible for any resurgence of political conflict in the country.

Document Actions