Refurbishing Nepal’s Diplomatic Standing
Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
Throughout the history of human civilization, diplomacy has played a great role in negotiating terms for the peaceful co-existence among different human communities and introducing change that has ensured humanity’s progress towards modernity. Negotiation between heads of the conflicting tribes might have been the earliest exercise of the art of diplomacy for defining boundaries of tribal territories either for resources or for permanent settlement. The first conscious use of diplomacy as a tool of peaceful settlement of contentious issues in politics is said to have started from the Congress of Sparta in 432 BC. The Treaty of Westphalia 1648 is considered to have given diplomacy modern shape by instutionalising tolerance and secularism in inter-state relations.
Over the passage of time, diplomacy has undergone a sea change in its meaning and scope. In the 21st century, it has become one of the crucial instruments to further good governance by mobilising moral support and physical resources. It has also become an effective instrument of the international system to help build collaborative space among states and avert conflict through negotiations.
Diplomacy is a specialised function of a country, which its representatives abroad carry out to manage international relations for safeguarding their national interest, fostering understanding and negotiating beneficial engagements. It is utilised to spread policy influences of the government, help the international community to get an update on their policies and the initiatives taken to fulfill commitments to international law, human rights and promotion of peace.
Diplomacy is not a static formulation, it is a tool that needs to be constantly sharpened and remodeled in conformity with shifting power equations, technological advancement and other global geo-strategic dynamics.
In the words of Jose Calvet De Magalhaes, “Continuity of the diplomatic institution throughout thousands of years and in all known civilisations shows that diplomacy is an institution inherent to international life itself, one that may undergo transformations or may be used with more or less intensity, but cannot be dispensed with” (The Pure Concept of Diplomacy).
Nepal’s use of diplomacy as a tool of statecraft dates back to 1769 when Prithvi Narayan Shah set up the ‘Jaisi Kotha’ to look after international matters. Edward Gardner is considered to be the first foreign Resident Representative to Nepal who came to Kathmandu in 1816 a short time after the signature on the Treaty of Sugauli.
Nepal followed a closed door policy from 1769 to 1846.This was one of the most unstable periods of its history. During that period, colonial Britain tried hard to force open Nepal for wider engagements, and Nepal struggled tooth and nail to safeguard itself from the prying eyes of external powers.
After the rise of Jung Bahadur Rana to power through a grisly palace massacre of 1846, Nepal crafted a foreign policy which provided more leverage to British influence in Nepal. As a result, in 1951 Nepal had diplomatic relation with only Britain, India, the United States and France.
The emergence of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of India in the late 1940s introduced new power dynamics in Asia. The Charter of the UN promulgated in 1948 helped formulate universally binding principles for the operation of foreign relations.
In the 1950s, however, Nepal considerably expanded its diplomatic outreach by establishing diplomatic relations with many important countries of the world. Bilateral relations were established with China, Russia, Japan, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Poland.
Nepal’s diplomatic standing was quite high in the 1950s.
Late King Mahendra participated in the historic Bandung Conference of 1955, making Nepal one of the founding members of the Non-aligned Movement (NAM). NAM is considered as one of the most successful tools ever crafted in international politics for maintaining peace and neutrality in the world torn asunder by the cold war and military alliances. The Non-alignment Movement is still relevant, and the principle of Panchasheel, which underpinned the NAM, remains an indispensable ingredient of Nepal’s foreign policy.
The principle of Panchasheel and the commitment to a non-aligned foreign policy helped Nepal to survive the tumults which the Asian continent faced in the ensuing decades. During the period of more than half a century, Nepal has maintained strict neutrality and has succeeded to safeguard its sovereignty and independence.
The Nepalese people were able to shed the vestiges of autocracy through two historic people’s movements of 1990 and 2006. As a proud member of the community of democratic nations, Nepal has succeeded to establish diplomatic relations with 143 countries and has residential embassies in 29 countries.
Despite the expansion of bilateral relation and the increased presence of diplomatic missions abroad, the diplomatic isolation in which Nepal found itself following the promulgation of the constitution last September proved that our national capacity for diplomatic mobilisation has not been effective and that our national image has been greatly tarnished because of political instability and the failure of the successive governments to fill the vacant diplomatic positions on a timely basis.
It has been about one-and-a-half months since the Nepal government recommended the names of ambassadors for 22 countries where the highest diplomatic positions have been lying vacant for quite some time. But the process of their appointment has been stalled for lack of consensus in forming the Parliamentary Hearing Special Committee.
It needs no reiteration that managing international relations is a very sensitive and critical component of governance. The objectives, purposes and priorities of foreign relations remain the same irrespective of the political party that comes to power. If internal power tussles affect diplomatic functions, the country’s international image will be tarnished, paving the way for the international community’s understanding of Nepal from a wrong perspective.
The prolonged absence of diplomatic representation abroad has forfeited the country of opportunities for representation at important and historical ceremonies. Nepal could not send its ambassador to the bicentenary organised in London to celebrate the 200th year of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Nepal and Britain. The ambassadors’ absence was an awkward situation. So conspicuous that even British Queen Elizabeth is said to have taken note of this with dismay.
The EU, Britain and Scandinavian countries also appear to have a wrong assessment of the situation prevailing in Nepal. The reservation taken by Britain and EU against Nepal’s newly promulgated constitution in the joint communiqué issued with Indian Prime Minister Modi was a great diplomatic setback for Nepal. If adequate diplomatic briefing had been carried out beforehand from Nepal’s side, this situation could have been averted.
At present the Scandinavian countries also appear displeased with the way Nepal is handling relations with them and are said to be planning to terminate development partnership with this country. Denmark has already made known of its intention to withdraw its embassy from Nepal. If proper diplomatic representations were maintained in those countries, helping them understand Nepal’s issues with Nepalese perspectives, they could be shown the beneficial sides of their continued engagement in Nepal. These are our failures which stand out as the writing on the wall, which the political leadership should take note of before the country suffers deeper dents in its diplomatic armour.