NC’s Foreign Policy Deviation

Ritu Raj Subedi

In a reactive rejoinder, main opposition Nepali Congress has challenged the government’s statement on the political turmoil in Venezuela. NC’s siding with the United States over the development in the South American nation has surprised many independent observers as it goes against the spirit of country’s non-alignment and independent foreign policy. There can be political debate on the statement of ruling party chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s remarks on the Venezuelan episode but its criticism of the government’s balanced standpoint on the hot global issue exposes its height of ideological biasness and deviation from its foreign policy principle.

Located in the sensitive geo-sphere, Nepal can’t afford to engage itself in diplomatic adventurism that risks its national interest and security. Nepal has been pursuing the principle of non-alignment, Panchsheel and the UN Charter while dealing with neighbours and friendly nations. The country’s foreign policy stresses mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, respect for mutual equality, non-aggression and the peaceful settlement of disputes. Therefore, it is imperative for Nepal to follow the footsteps of United Nations when it faces a geopolitical dilemma caused by the international events. The UN is composed of both small and big nations, and stands for global peace, stability, cooperation, development and peaceful settlement of conflict among the nations.
It is essential for Nepal, its government and political parties to understand how the United Nations is handling the political developments gripping Venezuela. The United States and scores of right-wing governments of Latin America and European Union have recognised Venezuela’s self-proclaimed ‘interim president’ Juan Guaido. But United Nations has outright refused this move. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has rejected an aid request by Guaido, stressing that the body only cooperates with the country’s recognised government led by president Nicolas Maduro. In last week’s press briefing, Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for Guterres, said that the United Nations was ready to increase its activities in Venezuela in the areas of humanitarian assistance and development. “However, for this, the United Nations needs the consent and the cooperation of the Government,” he added. According to him, the UN has called for “lower tensions” in Venezuela and urged all relevant parties to commit to an inclusive and credible political dialogue.
Nepal’s government has maintained the UN’s line and spirit of Panchsheel (five principles of peaceful coexistence) while issuing its statement on the Venezuelan political stand-off. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “In line with its principled position, Nepal believes that internal political problems of a country need to be resolved within its constitutional parameters in a democratic manner, free from external interferences. The people of Venezuela have the ultimate authority to take a decision on the country’s political and constitutional course.” Nepal’s government further stated that it stood for peace, stability and unity of Venezuela and called for resolution of differences through peaceful means. The Ministry statement has widely been appreciated as diplomatically balanced but the NC has ironically termed it as ‘insensitive, immature and anti-nationalist’ to the bewilderment of many.
The NC has taken side in the Venezuelan crisis, undermining the UN Charter and faith its founding leader BP Koirala pinned on the world body. The NC must recall BP Koirala’s famous speech delivered at the 15th General Assembly of UN in 1960. Koirala said: “The foreign policy of Nepal is fully inspired by the principles and purposes of the UN Charter. We regard the UN not only as a bulwark of our independence and security but also as the protector of our rights and freedom.” BP was unmoved by the misleading campaign orchestrated by the powerful nations and refused to side with either power bloc: “We do not wish to be battered by propaganda or to have our minds made up for us or to reach our decisions in an atmosphere of suspicion and hatred. We do not want to be absorbed into the cold war or to become a tool of any power bloc.” Is that the NC has dumped this foreign policy guideline offered by its own iconic figure?
Venezuelans should have the right to self-determination to retain or topple the president of their country. The foreign powers must not be allowed to dictate their terms to the Venezuelan citizens. If Nepal endorses the intervention of external powers in the domestic affairs of other nations, it will lose moral power to protest similar meddling in its own internal matters. The foreign meddling has reached a tipping point in Nepal as it is trying to assert its role following the formation of a strong government. Shambolic economy, dysfunctional state agencies and India-locked position has made Nepal vulnerable to gratuitous activities of foreign powers. It is true the United States is an old friend of Nepal and the world superpower has been extending economic support to Nepal in various sectors but this does not mean that Nepal should compromise its independent foreign policy and toe its line on international issues. Meanwhile, it is quite irrational to conclude that Nepal-US relations have suffered a setback just because Nepal took a different position on Venezuela.
Even if Nepal is small in geography, population and economy, it has demonstrated guts in criticising the undue intervention of powerful countries in the affairs of small and weak ones. It had strongly condemned the military intervention of former Soviet Union in Afghanistan in 1979 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. In Venezuela, external forces are trying to oust the democratically elected president Maduro in collusion with his rival forces as the beleaguered nation is buffeted by continued street agitation, high inflation, joblessness and exodus of people. Its economy has nosedived owing to the continued US sanctions and decrease in the price of crude oil in the international market.
It appears that the NC has lost its ability to execute relations with foreign nations with courage and conviction. During the 2015 Indian embargo, it had spineless dealing with the southern neighbour and refused to call it a blockade. The big paradox was that the then NC-led government under Sushil Koirala even instructed the state-owned media, including this daily, not to use the term ‘blockade’ to describe the halt of supply of fuel, food and medicines from India. In the aftermath of the promulgation of new constitution, former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba committed before the Indian government that his party was ready to amend the constitution as per their suggestions. This flawed approach severely damaged the NC’s nationalistic credentials and it paid a heavy price in the elections.

Debt-trap theory
The NC is also going to commit another foreign policy blunder. It has begun to invoke the ghost of debt-trap theory to thwart the construction of Kerung-Kathmandu railway that is considered to be a milestone to enhance Nepal’s economic sovereignty, energy security and international trade. During its recent nation-wide protest campaign, NC spokesman Bishwo Prakash Sharma accused the government of pushing the nation into debt-trap by constructing the expensive trans-Himalayan railway. Nepal and China are yet to finalise the financial modality of the multi-million dollar project to be executed under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It is expected to be commercially viable and can accelerate economic activities. Once completed, it will drastically reduce Nepal’s dependency on India for the third country trade route as the former has already got access to the sea via Chinese territory. The NC should not see this railway connectivity merely with economic lens. It greatly boosts Nepal’s geopolitical leverage and ends the possibility of another blockade from the southern neighbour in future.
(Deputy Executive Editor of TRN, Subedi regularly writes on politics, current affairs and other contemporary issues.)

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