Reframing Foreign Policy


Madhavji Shrestha

Formation of a High-Level Foreign Policy Review Task Force is an appropriate step. By following an eclectic process, a heterogeneous group of task force of 16 experts drawn from various fields of official and non-official areas, and diplomatic and academic activities has been put in place. There is a need to keep heterogeneous bunch of persons properly juxtaposed in harmony to produce the desired outcomes. The task force started its works from the 2nd week of April to complete its job within four months.

The primary objective of formation of the task force is to submit productive ideas and suggestions to make the foreign policy of Nepal compatible and dynamic to suit the changed and changing regional and international environments. Such trend demands rapt attention from the authoritative people who are placed in the responsible position of the state power. There is no doubt changes take place with the change of man and situation effecting political and socio-economic landscapes.

We have come across a number of changes in the areas surrounding our country and beyond our region as well. Before doing anything perceptible, we need to dissect and study the nature and dimension of the change itself. We are aware that various changes have occurred over the years.  There is the change that endures; the change that floats and the change that disappears in the course of times and events. Understanding and identifying the change itself are the primary process that impels us to look forward.

Take for example from our own immediate neighbours, India and China. India has adopted the neighbourhood first policy since some three years back. China announced its own neighbourhood policy and neighbourhood diplomacy some five years ago. We need to closely understand our big neighbours’ policies and their concomitant strategies with eyes towards their implications and ramifications. Their policies and strategies do not come up in vacuum. Substances and contents are always present there. If we fail to carefully analyse them and do something perceptible, we are sure to meet disappointing fate from which we could not be able to come out as we aspire for.

Top priority, therefore, must be given to crucially knowing the impacts of their policies first and foremost. Such understanding would certainly help us make our policies and programmes vis-à-vis our two big neighbours very satisfying. Study of their policies and strategies would put us in a position to significantly know their self-interests and sensitivities relative to our position and posture that would enable us to formulate and execute our neighbourly relations sans queasy. Our primary concerns of foreign policy domain relative to their security questions definitely preoccupy various layers ranging from technical and economic co-operational terrains to the high level political contacts and relationships with them. In doing so, we are propelled to balance their interests properly and to gauge their sensitivity concerns correctly, which will prod us to maintain balance of relations with them. Primarily, we need to viscerally understand their neighbourhood policies and strategies to keep ourselves safe from their suspicions. Naturally, credibility and trust we can gain from them would be useful and helpful.

One important emerging question is posing challenge before us all. The creation of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) with regards to Nepal’s relations with India to study the entire gamut of Nepal-India relations and to recommend essential proposals to reform and improve our bilateral relations with India has indeed set our thinking and mindset tinged with some sort of partial behaviour and attitude.

If a true balance is to be truly maintained and diplomatically respected, the need to do something similar with regard to our relations with China is also felt in the political and diplomatic circles.

There would be no denying the logic that the dynamic elements and components of Nepal’s foreign policy are largely reliant on its correct and justified way of dealings with India and China, the two neighbours. Honestly saying Nepal’s relations with them will be well-balanced, if we take the balance of their interests and weighing of their security sensitivities on an even keel. Therefore, the services of eminent experts on Indian and Chinese affairs would be valuable in making prescriptions of suggestions acceptable and fructifying as well. 

As Nepal is strategically and sensitively located between India and China, it would be contextual to quote here two observations made by globally known foreign policy Pundit Henry Kissinger in his outstanding book “World Order” as stated in the following words on the emerging strategic importance of India and China in the contemporary world.

“India will be a fulcrum of twenty-first century order: an indispensable element based on its geography, resources, and tradition of sophisticated leadership, in the strategic and ideological evolution of the regions and the concepts of order at whose intersection it stands.”

“Beijing has become much more active on the world scene. With China’s emergence as potentially the world’s largest economy, its views and support are now sought in every international forum…… By any standard, China has regained the stature by which it was known in the centuries of its far-reaching influence.”

These quotes demonstrate regional and global significance of the two Asian giants in terms of politics, economy and security concerns. Seen from the observational views of Henry Kissinger, Nepal, a country strategically lying between them, is essentially required to know the nitty-gritty of their relationships. Both these Asian giants are competitors and co-operators simultaneously with each other’s national interests crisscrossing at some points, and mingling together at other points. Incisive diplomatic skills and cutting-edge knowledge on the part of the task force precede all others on par excellence for dynamism and progressiveness of foreign policy. Productive and affirmative suggestions enriched with pragmatic approach well- sketched would be of utmost importance to match emerging challenges of security sensitivity, economic connectivity and political statesmanship. All these are the expectations of the people of Nepal. May the task force engage their minds and hearts to do invaluable service to Nepal for its sovereign journey in the decades and centuries to come.

Today, the global scenario is so thorny and entangled with multiple crises that a well-known American foreign policy expert Richard N. Hass, the chair of the Council on Foreign Relations of New York, has, in his recently published work “A World in Disarray ”, commented  “The 21st century will prove extremely difficult to manage, representing as it does a departure from almost four centuries of history- what is normally of as the modern era – that came before it.”

The manifestation of white supremacy nationalist phenomenon in the United States after the election of President Donald Trump and the victory of Brexit in the United Kingdom and the forging ahead of similar forces in Western Europe has amply demonstrated the return to sovereignty1with negligence shown to sovereignty 2.

This should be the reminder to the experts and practitioners of Nepal’s foreign policy concerns as to how and what extent they should initiate in proposing ideas and suggesting plan of actions in making the foreign policy of Nepal correctly compatible and appropriately dynamic in consideration of what is generally labeled as the changed and changing situations. Discreet and prudent understanding of the change itself comes as the foremost priority. An urgent need to understand is that situational changes have taken place, but circumstantial factors have not yet. Objective identification of real changes is sine quo non to do some things substantive.

Nepal’s long pursued policy of non-alignment is certainly the product of circumstantial factors. Geography dictates us and the constitution guides us embrace the policy. It has grown; it has taken a form and people have recognised and accepted it with no eyebrows raised. Such policy cannot be overthrown and abandoned at anyone’s or group’s sweet will. Circumstances of security perception and principal fundamentals of core national interests have remained the shame. Neither aberration, nor distancing from the trodden path should come up as suggestions at least in our relationships with two immediate neighbours. No rebalancing of relationships until rebalancing and revaluating of their interests and appropriate gauging of their security concerns should be on the table, we understand that changes in the economic and socio-cultural arenas, and security perception, which merit new vision and strategies as well. The task force with responsibility to suggest new components of the vector and magnitude of Nepal’s foreign policy for adoption to expediently navigate the policy needs to give deeper insight towards changes taken place in our region and around the globe.

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