OFF-THE-RECORD TEA-TALK Need Of Pragmatism In Nepal’s Foreign Policy

There is no way that Nepal will benefit in having sour relation with India in unresolved border issues. Of course, there should be serious dialogue or negotiation with India, especially in Lipulekh issue, in which we have solid historical proofs to show to outside world.

Jan. 18, 2022, 8:42 a.m.

Presently, Nepal is among thirty countries in the world with least per capita income. Obviously, topmost priority of all two dozen ministries, including Ministry of Foreign Affairs, should be to increase per capita income of our 30 million population at any cost.Almost all SAARC countries and other developing countries in Asian region like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia have outpaced Nepal in economic growth. Unless we move faster, it will be impossible to catch-up with those countries. Physical infrastructure is a prerequisite for development. Huge investment is a must for building physical infrastructure. We need funds from not only agencies like World Bank, Asian Development Bank, etc. but also from developed world. So, focus of our foreign policy should be to take maximum advantage from developed world and neighboring countries India and China. Nepal cannot have luxury of romancing with ‘principled stand’ in the matter of foreign policy. The best principle in foreign policy for a country like Nepal is being immensely selfish. It is proven beyond doubt all over the world that most of the donor countries, especially powerful countries, shall give financial assistance with certain ‘strings’ attached. We can vigorously debate about those possible ‘strings’, and ways and means to manage those ‘strings’ without compromising country’s sovereignty. The sentiment of ‘national pride’ and so-called ‘we are equal’ syndrome may be good for essay writing, intellectual debates, and above all for winning elections. But it will not serve the main purpose of uplifting living standard of 30 million population.

The experts opine that for faster economic growth, a country needs to give priority in the development of physical infrastructure. To build world-class physical infrastructure, we need expertise as well as investments from international agencies like World Bank, Asian Development Bank as well as from developed world. Hence, we need paradigm shift in foreign policy. Due to obvious reason, so-called principles of foreign policy may not help. The crux of the matter in foreign policy is to be extremely selfish. Nothing matters more than bread and butter of the public at large, especially for countries like Nepal. Of course, sovereignty matters. But fact remains that when Nepal’s sovereignty is still intact for the last hundreds of years, will it not be foolish to talk about possibility of losing sovereignty in this age of Internet, globalization and in the context of Nepal’s geographical proximity with two most prominent countries of Asia- India and China?

Hottest topic in foreign policy of Nepal, at present, is the border dispute with India. Border dispute between two neighboring countries exist in many parts of the world. India and China already had fourteen rounds of bilateral talk regarding their border dispute without any tangible result. Japan has also unresolved border issue with China. India is having border dispute with Pakistan for the past 75 years. It is proven all over the world that border disputes cannot be resolved at the drop-of-a-hat. It must be emphasized here that almost all cases ofborder disputes invariably become highly sensitive and emotional issues in both countries. And in few cases, border disputes are deliberately made an election issue by stirring emotions of the voters. In democratic countries, it is natural that politicians like to bring up emotion in voters for political mileage. But it will not be in the national interest, if intellectuals and experts also go on adding fuel to fire in those emotional issues. There is no way that Nepal will benefit in having sour relation with India in unresolved border issues. Of course, there should be serious dialogue or negotiation with India, especially in Lipulekh issue, in which we have solid historical proofs to show to outside world.

When trade between India and China is growing unabated even after 14 rounds of failed border talks, there is no reason why Nepal cannot have good relation with India to get befit in economic issues. We must request both India and China for concession in bilateral trade to help Nepal in nation building activities. From Nepal’s foreign policy perspective, the third important country of interest is USA. Hence, we need more pragmatic foreign policy in dealing with three Big Brothers- India, China and USA. We must keep them in good humor all the time.

Diplomacy is defined as the profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations, typically by a country’s representative abroad. It also implies the practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of states. All official dealings with other countries emanating from Ministry of Foreign Affairs is considered as official diplomacy. Any other un-official dialogue or dealing with concerned officials or politicians or ministers are usually termed as Track Two Diplomacy. In fact, it will not be exaggeration to state that Track Two diplomacy is extensively used in relation between Nepal and India. Frequent visits of our leaders to New Delhi and other informal visits by high profile personnel of India to Kathmandu could be considered as Track Two diplomacy. But ground reality is that no major project or substantial investment is coming to Nepal from Indian side in the past. Same is true from our northern neighbor China also.And MCC fiasco is still unresolved. Nepal, therefore, needs more pragmatic down-to-earth diplomacy, focusing more on economic issues. Due to the fact that frequent one-to-one talks at highest possible level should be carried out with respective governments of three Big Brothers, it is imperative that Prime Minister himself should be in command. It is essential that Ministry of Foreign Affairs should have a separate powerful cell dealing exclusively with New Delhi, Beijing and Washington. Prime Mister’s office should make sure that at no point of time there should be any kind of misunderstanding between Nepal and government of each Big Brother on any issue. Grumblings and criticisms by opposition political parties, few politicians, few intellectuals and few media from time to time regarding major foreign policy matters are absolutely normal phenomenon all over the world, especially in Third World countries like Nepal. What matters most is the courage of leaders in the government to make bold decisions for the sake of prosperity of the country.

Due to unique geographical location of the country, it is certain that India, China and USA will have their own interests in Nepal. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be able to find one or more top priority issue of each Big Brother. Once those few top agendas of New Delhi, Beijing and Washington are identified, the Prime Minister’s office should step in to have overt and covert diplomatic dialogue with each country. Prime Minister’s office should initiate dialogue with all three with full-scale candor. It is certain that one or two rounds of talks may not click the matter. Prime Minister himself may have to intervene personally in each of those three separate dialogues. As of today, from a layman’s perspective, it is clear that India does not want to lose her domination in overallNepalese socio-political affairs, China wants Nepal to assist in everyway in Tibet affairs. Washington wants to make sure that Nepal does not enter head-on in the sphere of Chinese influence.

We must be candid enough to tell both China and USA that they should not be jealous of irreversible socio-cultural-political relation with India. Similarly, New Delhi and Washington must be told without mincing words that Nepal will be helping China in every way in the matter of Tibet affairs, even to the extend of signing extradition treaty. Washington must be told that Nepal will have absolutely no problem to continue extremely good historical relation between two countries, but at the same time Nepal cannot afford to have bad relation with neighboring giants India and China; and that Nepal will make sure that Nepal shall not be too much inclined towards China at the cost of relation with Washington.

One important aspect in foreign policy issue is to educate public at large about ground reality in international relation between countries.Due to various vested interests, there will always be dubious forces trying to mislead people-at-large. People must be told that there is no such thing as equal status between a less powerful country and a more powerful country. The principled stand of nonaligned movement did not succeed due to the fact that no country can ignore or sacrifice her self-interest in the name of principle. National interest like job creation, uplifting living standard and fast socio-economic development should come first. Hence, common sense dictates thatpragmatism must prevail in Nepal’s foreign policy. We must accept that India, China and USA as three Big Brothers. And we must make sure that on priority scale, India will come first, the other neighbor China second and then comes world’s super power USA. There is no alternative than to do this delicate balancing act so as not to antagonize any one of them at any cost. But the bottom line of foreign policy objective must be the highest possible, if not double-digit, GDP growth rate at the earliest.

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