In the early days, ambassadors were appointed by the sovereign, namely the emperor or king, from amongst the courtiers and nobles, to represent the country abroad so as to maintain harmonious relations with the host country for maintaining territorial security and mutual cooperation.
The selection of any candidate for the prestigious yet sensitive position normally would be based on his contributions to the nation on the domestic front and future contributions he may make in the country stationed for the cause of the home country.
With the advent of the people-chosen democratic political system in many parts of the world, governments started appointing envoys to foreign countries to suit their foreign policy, primarily to boost security and improve economic relations.
While the basic tenets of ambassadorial tasks remain more or less the same, there is a big departure in the nature of the roles and responsibilities to be shouldered by the post holders in response to the situation in the changing context.
Nepal is not an exception to this universally prevailing phenomenon although the quality of the candidates is debatable, with a big gap between the expertise and skills required of the candidate and those appointed due to their political affiliation. This is the problem with ambassadorial appointments made by vested political interest.
Ambassadorial appointments began in 1934 with the appointment of Nepal's first envoy, Bahadur Shumsher Rana, to the United Kingdom. A younger brother of the then ruling Rana Prime Minister Judhha Shumsher, Bahadur Shumsher had helped in the country's governance before his appointment as envoy.
Since Britain was a world power, ruling nearly 86 percent of the globe, Nepal's opening a residential embassy in London was a right decision at a time when many issues needed to be dealt with following the Sagauli Treaty of 1816.
His ambassadorship of some 87 years ago has been succeeded by 20 successors in London as of now.
Currently, ambassadorial candidates make up career foreign service cadres and those who are close to the powers that be. Aspiring for an envoy's position is the ultimate goal of any Foreign Service career holder, while some candidates outside the Foreign Ministry staff may also have the expertise, skill and experience to represent the country abroad. The government must make use of such qualities by appointing them as ambassadors, which will enhance the Foreign Ministry's image abroad as was the case with Bhekh Bahadur Thapa in the United States, Kedar Bhakta Mathema in Japan, Bedananda Jha in India, Professor Surendra Bahadur Shrestha in Saudi Arabia, Trilokya Nath Upreti in France, Shailendra Kumar Upadhya in the United Nations, to name a few.
But the appointment of persons with such qualities as ambassadors reads like history now when one looks at the type of people who have been appointed in the past three decades, barring a few exceptions, of course. One feels sad when we look at the selection of ambassadorial candidates from the political quota in most of the cases, where priority seems to be given to those with political affiliation at the cost of relevant qualifications/ training, experience, expertise and skills, so vital for diplomatic assignments.
Whether an envoy comes from within the Foreign Ministry or outside is not the issue here. The thing is that the candidate must be in possession of required qualities like having thorough knowledge of foreign affairs, effective communication skills in both language and content, and negotiating capability with bilateral and multilateral counterparts on complex agenda with diplomatic acumen.
The ambassadorial appointee should also be a good steward able to lead the mission; have a clear understanding of the political, social, cultural way of life of the people of the host country; and be capable of bringing benefit to the home country through interaction between the peoples of various walks of life of the two countries –civic societies, media, academicians, business and trade communities.
The present political trend prevailing in the country is a clear manifestation of instability, since no party with or without majority has ruled for a full term even when mandated by the electorates like the recently ousted government led by KP Sharma Oli, owing to feud in his own party, paving the way for Sher Bahadur Deuba to lead a coalition government.
Under such circumstances, the job of ambassadors appointed through political affiliation automatically becomes shaky.
Conceptually speaking, such appointments are construed to act abroad by representing/implementing the foreign policy of the ousted government not of the incumbent government.
In such a situation, either of the two or both options should be adhered to. The government must have the guts to recall all the ambassadors appointed by the previous government as they are representatives of the preceding government not of the succeeding government.
That should be applicable to all appointees no matter which field they come from, except career diplomats.
Similarly, the post holders from the political quota should have the integrity to quit their job by tendering their resignation, citing they were appointed by the dissolved government. If the present government asks any of them to continue, that is most welcome.
Mohan Man Saiju was appointed by the king as ambassador to the United States during the erstwhile Panchayat polity. He resigned from the coveted post soon after the restoration of multiparty system, citing the reason that he was appointed by under the ousted government.
Likewise Professor Surendra Bahadur Shrestha, who was appointed by the king as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was reportedly asked to remain in the post despite his expressed will to quit after the advent of the new system.
When a government collapses, the job of ambassadors appointed through political affiliation automatically becomes shaky. So once a new government takes over, it should recall all the ambassadors appointed by the previous government while the post holders from the political quota should have the integrity to tender their resignation and come home
A version of this article appears in the print on September 7 2021, of The Himalayan Times.