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Nepal foreign policy: Diplomacy and the media

By Our Diplomatic Analyst Ranjan Thapa

Nepal is a small country with great political and geostrategic importance, not only for Nepal itself but also for the region. Located between two giant countries that have a long history of uncomfortable relations between themselves. Not only that, she is also an important player in the equation between traditional arch rivals India and Pakistan. Presently she is also the Chair of SAARC that gives her added importance and a player and stake holder in regional peace and stability.

A ground reality is Nepal’s geographical reliance on India, which together with India’s bullying attitude had historically remained a love-hate affair. Yes, a love hate affair, which after the 2015 blockade had become more of a forced marriage, rather than a love hate relationship.

In such cases crafting foreign policy is a herculean task. And yet, Nepali diplomats have historically done so with the perfection of a god gifted artist. In recent times, it followed an equidistant policy  in the recent Indo-Pak scuffle that had escalated to the level of Pakistan shooting down two Indian jets, without losing its quest for what all Nepal is long for; the promise and prospect of peace. Hung between two powerful countries, those at the helm of affairs must have felt the brunt of competing pressures from New Delhi and Islamabad for a position closer to their own or a greater tilt either for New Delhi or for Islamabad.

The balancing act at the height of tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad was an exceptionally difficult one. Diplomatically, Kathmandu played its innings extremely well; though Nepali media reversed the gains of its successful statesmanship.

When the news of Nepal-Pakistan foreign secretary level talks was linked by many section of the media to the Indian foreign secretary’s visit to Nepal, few realized that scheduling and rescheduling of such talks is a no that uncommon an affair in inter-state relations.

After all, Indian foreign secretary was himself visiting Kathmandu as a de-facto substitute to Indian External Affairs Minister Shusma Swaraj’s visit to Nepal which was to take place in February when the Indo-Pak tensions were climbing a steep uphill course. If one were to go by circumstances, it would be equally logical to say that Swaraj’s visit was cancelled by Nepal because of the then ongoing Indo-Pak tensions. But is that a wise statement to make? No. In international relations, speculation doesn’t pay. And that is logical even if one were to overlook the fact that foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale’s visit to Nepal well over a year after he assumed the office. This itself is a departure from the long standing tradition of his predecessors visiting Kathmandu soon after they took over that office.

As if that was not enough, the media came up with another report that the visit of the speaker of the Pakistani Parliament had been postponed at the last moment under the southern neighbor’s pressure just before the foreign secretary’s arrival in Kathmandu. As the things have now revealed, no visit by the Pakistani speaker was planned in recent times. There is hardly a need to comment on a theory that is based on something that does not exist.

It is not just the diplomacy but interplay of a country’s officials and its media that determines the final outcome. The two must supplement each other. One must not undo the gains of the other. Our media must realize that Nepal’s importance in the world stems from the balance it maintains between different powerful countries. Its quest for what Prime Minister Oli calls a sovereign and independent foreign policy would not only strengthen the country domestically but also provide strength internationally that it necessary for the credibility and weight of its voice internationally. n0 \lsdu

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