Enhancing Diplomatic Skills
Hira Bahadur Thapa
Of late we have heard news that our diplomats are busy learning new skills in order to conduct diplomacy more effectively. In this regard the training of a few senior level officials associated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs onhow to play golf, a game largely confined to the most affluent members of the society, has attracted the attention of many interested inthe foreign relations of the country.It has been observed that diplomats of a country like ours hardly afford to participate in such lavish sports, which is expensive for a variety of reasons. First of all, membership of golf clubsis not affordable due to high fees. Moreover, the sporting materials related to this exclusive game involvehigher costs.
Despite this fact such games are useful not only for healthful purpose but also for better socialisingactivities. Therefore, this sport is gaining popularity even in countries like ours. Because the participants of golf gamecome from the high class of the society, including the top businessmen, high-ranking government officials, politicians and diplomats, there is greater chance of interaction with such people.The experience gained by our diplomats while they were assigned to different capitals of the countries should encourage them to learnskills of playing golf using which they can cultivate closeness, intimacy and friendship with people exercising influence in the society as well as in the government.
But the question is whether the training imparted to them concerning the game of golf is sufficient for them to play with other members of the golf club, who may be experienced players. There is no dispute that no one can master the skills in any field without spending due resources and time. Naturally, the Nepali diplomats, who admit themselves that they have not had any previous experience of playing golf, would need enough time to be able to enjoy the game and simultaneously capitalise on the opportunities of developing relations with the members of the golf club.
Acknowledging that learning golf is beneficial the government may have appreciated the interest shown by our diplomats. To benefit from association with the golf co-players we need to invest resourcesto help the diplomats acquire the required competence so that they can easily mingle with the higher echelons of the society in an environment, which is friendly and quiet.Short training may seldom be enough for them to have confidence to play the game. Without being a good player one cannot expect to socialiseeasily with the golf lovers.
Against this backdrop, it remains unclear whether there is any long term government thinking on the subject. It is doubtful if our diplomats would be keen to engage in the luxurious sports, that requires a lot of money and time.
One recent example of language training which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs started with much fanfare shows how the initiative is lost within a few months, if not weeks, when the programme is not perceived to be really advantageous by the trainees themselves.Very recently the ministry being aware of the urgency of learning a few foreign languages besides English by its officialsarranged classes on Arabic and Chinese with the cooperation of some organisations. Initially, there was appreciable presence of the language students. But as time passed on the ministry employees, who were the language trainees, started to drop out on one or another excuse. It is unclear if these classes are running any more.
If we truly analyse the reasons behind this we would find that there is lack of interest on the part of the trainees to learn the above languages. It is because our diplomats are fond of being assigned in the Western capitals, where they believe that Arabic and Chinese languages are not necessary. To some extent, they are right because they can survive with the command of English they have. There are comments that our communication skills even in English are not up to the mark.
Had the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made provisions through internal regulations that diplomats possessing Arabic and Chinese language skills would be incentivised further compared to their peers lacking such language skills, there would be no shortage of language trainees. Additional incentive can be monetary or an arrangement to assignthem to a place where many would vie after they serve in the Arabic or Chinese capitals or cities.In these days of increasing globalisation, we need to be smarter in terms of our familiarity with the new technology for which mastery of language is a prerequisite. Extra foreign languages are essential for any diplomat to be communicable to a larger audience. With this under consideration, Nepali diplomatsneed to learn extra languages.
With the highest concentration of our workers in the Gulf area, we must learn Arabic to efficiently run our diplomatic business there. Our consular services to the Nepali workers would be more effective at times of rescuing them, who often fall prey to exploitative practices of Arab employers and ourmanpower agencies, if we can deploy Arabic-speaking diplomats.Furthermore, our quality of interaction with the host country officials would improve with the knowledge of Arabic.
With our interactions with China on the increase for political, economic and other reasons, there is an urgent need for us to learn Chinese language. In the past, we used to have some diplomats who had Chinese language skills. Ironically, we haveneglected the importance of Chinese language at a time when China’s global prominence is on the rise. The prominence of China in the global arena due to its spectacular economic progress willhave greater impact on our bilateral relations as an immediate neighbour. Recognising the importance of Arabic and Chinese languages we should work out a framework that facilitates the knowledge of these languages by our diplomats.
One must not forget here that our English language communication skills also need improvement because most of our diplomats hesitate to express themselves in English while they interact with the foreigners. The only reason for this is that we do not have confidence in our own abilities to speak English fluently, if not persuasively.Diplomats with better language skills can definitely perform effectively.