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Foreign Policy: Out of Step

By P. Kharel
pkharel1Will the 16-member Foreign Policy Review Task Force, formed in April, produce within the mandated time of four months a report that brings about qualitative changes in the days ahead?It all depends on how clear and specific the report will be and, more importantly, how the governments in the times ahead will show their commitment to it.
The terms of reference include the task to providing concrete suggestions for the implementation of the “dynamic foreign policy for the promotion of national interest” by adhering to the basic norms and values of the Directive Principles of Nepal’s Constitution.
Former ambassador to Britain, Jharendra Narayan Singh probably the most knowledgeable, experienced and with good contacts for decades, shines heads over shoulders all others recognised or asserting as foreign policy “experts”.Here, we miss PadamBahadurKhatri, Daman ShumsherRana, BhimBahadurPandey and YaduNathKhanalfor the knowledge and expertise they acquired through meticulous study and close observation for long spells. Rishikesh Shah too had talents. Most others proved to be pretenders hemming and hawing but known very little or nothing for “concrete” diplomatic successes or study. Easily the most knowledgeable scholar and scribe of more than 50 years of consistency, ManaRanjanJosseis deliberately overlooked among contemporary stable of talents in the business.
Initially, the review team’s composition generates hardly any enthusiasm.Even if it were to be of refreshing change and substance is even more unlikely, given the consistently reckless passivity, docility and stagnation that have combined to put Nepal behind by several decades even by the country’s own benchmark set and consolidated in the 1950s through the ’60s,’70s and ’80s.
In the first 30 years since the 1951 democratic revolution, Nepal not only entered the United Nations but forged diplomatic ties with the comity of nations across the world to the extent that 116 countries, including four of the five UN veto powers, supported King Birendra’s proposal that Nepal be declared a Zone of Peace which, however, was recklessly abandoned by parties that held the reins of power since the 1990s. This was solely to please India which, as did its patron the now-defunct Soviet Union, did not endorse the peace zone idea.
CAPACITY &CREDIBILITY: Leaders with vision are indisputably lacking in Nepal, as regularly confessed by major parties themselves. Without intellectual and professional credibility based on capacity and integrity, the disloyal, dishonest and riff-raff among pretenders cannot be culled. This is an aspect calling for compelling attention.
In practice, “wisdom” always flows from political hierarchy in Nepal. Important posts have been money making enterprises or purely favouring people close to the party hierarchy and its penchant for distributing on the basis of favouritismthe spoils of proximity to power. Ambassadors are appointed today, only to be recalled a few months later with the change in government in a country that has witnessed not less than nine governments and hundreds of ministers in 11 years of “milestones”. The latest Review team is announced when a tenth government is about to rear its head.
Marlin Fitzwater, the White House Spokesman for seven years during Ronald Reagan’s second term and George H. Bush’s lone term, writes: “Foreign policy is a process. It seldom is a final decision to be wrapped in ribbon and put in a press release.”
Staff and advisors need to look beneath and beyond the surface. Fitzwater notes: “When someone at the table spoke up to add that he could say that the Soviets have made great progress and reforms were very encouraging, the president snapped back, ‘I can fill in the bullshit portion, just give me the facts.’ I loved that line.”
Last November, a month after Chinese President Xi abruptly cancelled a visit to Nepal, Nepali Congress leader and former Prime Minister SherBahadurDeubaaddressed a conference in India, also attended by the “prime minister” of the Tibetan government-in-exile.Shedding diplomatic discretion,Foreign Minister Mahatheld a press briefing at his ministry to deny news reports as “a figment of imagination, false and motivated”.Mahat’sparty senior and general-secretary ShashankKoirala, however,described his party president’s “reported participation” as “inappropriate” and “to China’s irritation”.
VISION & SKILL: The task is to introduce timely and suitable changes.S.D. Muni, who many believe echoesand proxies for what the India’s External Affairs Ministry thinks, says: “In the evolution and operationalisation of the courses of action of Nepal’s foreign policy, the contributions of King Mahendra and Prime Minister B.P. Koirala (1959-60) had been significant. King Mahendra, being in the control of the Executive,for a long time had been responsible for the skillful operationalisation of the options. His contribution had been all the more important with respect to the ‘linkage’ between foreign policy and domestic politics.”
For a change, will members of the Eminent Persons Group and the Foreign Policy Review team choose (rather, dare) to learn from the past, especially the 1990s and after?

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