Foreign Policy Review Report: ‘Parleys with foreign officials should be recorded’

Kathmandu, February 8

Expressing serious concerns about ‘institutional memory gap’, the High-Level Foreign Policy Review Task Force has recommended that the government ensure proper documentation of meetings with foreign officials for future reference.

In its report titled ‘Reorienting Nepal’s Foreign Policy in a Rapidly Changing World’ submitted to Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba today, the task force has recommended that those holding high public offices or those who held the offices previously, including presidents, prime ministers, ministers, political leaders and government officials, should be accompanied by representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs while holding meetings with foreign officials on issues of national interest.

Amid serious concerns about the institutional memory gap, the task force recommended that the government should have records of every such meetings to ensure transparency and to make sure that a successor of a public office holder could follow up on issues taken up by his/her predecessor, according to a member of the task force. “The report has categorically mentioned that maintaining proper institutional memory is a must,” said the task force member.

The 16-member task force, which included former foreign secretary, former ambassadors, economists, foreign policy, peace, security and labour diplomacy experts, also recommended institutional reforms, such as capacity building of officials concerned and assigning specific jobs only to those who are capable of dealing with them. The 67-page report has also recommended that neighbourhood policy should be accorded utmost priority ‘as Nepal does not have alternative to maintaining harmonious relations with neighbours due to its strategic geographical location’.

Given a situation of ‘cooperation and confrontation’ between India and China and the latter’s increased engagement with South Asian nations, Nepal should ‘adopt sensitivity’ while engaging with these two giants, according to the report.

“As we have an open border on one side and high Himalayas and Tibetan sensitivity on the other, the report has recommended that we need to be very sensitive towards the issue,” said the task force member.

The report has also advised that political parties should not use foreign policy as a tool for political gains, such as exhibiting ‘tilt’ towards certain foreign power for electoral gains, because such activities would result in polarisation and would be against the national interest. The report also includes measures to tackle security issues, both at internal and external levels.

According to the report, the foreign policy should be pursued keeping economic prosperity at its heart, and the country should be very specific about what type of relationship should be maintained with which country.

Given that Nepal is one of the major labour exporters to middle-east and Gulf countries and more than four million Nepali migrants are working there, the report says the government has to pay proper attention to their security, safety and welfare. “We have analysed every aspect of foreign affairs critically and there’s no such issue that has been left out,” said the task force member. “We prepared the report after consultations with all the stakeholders, including incumbent and former security personnel, diplomats, bureaucrats, politicians and foreign ministers.”

The report, which has been categorised under political, security, economic, and institutional aspects of foreign policy, has also proposed formation of a mechanism to monitor its implementation.

On behalf of all members of the task force, its member Sridhar Khatri presented a copy of the report to PM Deuba. Receiving the report, PM Deuba thanked the task force members and noted the report contained various recommendations for consideration by the government with a view to improving conduct of Nepal’s foreign policy in the days to come, according to a foreign ministry statement.

The prime minister then handed over the report to Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi. The ministry will study the report for future course of action.

The Cabinet had set up the task force in April 2017 under the minister for foreign affairs with mandates, including identifying determining factors of Nepal’s foreign policy in the changing context, reassessing different dimensions of foreign policy and diplomacy and its sectoral policies, including bilateral, sub-regional, regional and multilateral diplomacy, and recommending measures to strengthen coordination and collaboration between Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other sectoral ministries and departments, among others.