The appointment of ambassadors seems to be clearly on the basis of the political parties’ strength in the parliament, sidelining professional expertise in the selection. Loyalty of the ambassador-designate towards one particular political party without diplomatic maneuvering skills will hardly bring the results desired by the government
The functioning of an ambassador in the host country constitutes an integral component of managing the foreign affairs of any nation. Working as per the broad policy guidelines of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs led by the country’s foreign minister, the ambassador represents the nominating government abroad that has a great bearing on enhancing the bilateral relations by way of accelerating mutual cooperation.
Such an assignment abroad demands relevant academic qualifications, professional training, communication skills, including command of language, executive experience, required expertise and diplomatic skills on the part of assigned ambassadors. But the current trend of Nepal seems to be moving in reverse direction.
At a time when Nepal is traversing through a path of many hardships since the last few years, including the COVID-19 pandemic this year, the issue of appointing Nepali envoys abroad may not seem relevant in the present context.
But the selection and appointment of envoys have many more consequences and implications - both immediate and long-term - as the country’s image, promotion and projection in the external world and garnering support of the friendly countries for Nepal’s development largely depend on how a diplomat displays his skills.
Obviously, good performance from the ambassadorial position to the extent desired by his country demands high level skills in representation, negotiation and public relations by establishing links with people from various walks of life, involving academics, media, business community, civic societies, professional associations, celebrities and intellectuals of the host country.
On top of all these, thorough knowledge about the main core and instincts of the country’s foreign and defense policy, development priorities and need for external assistance are the pre-requisites demanded of an envoy. However, the appointment of ambassadorial positions seems to be clearly on the basis of the political parties’ strength in the parliament, sidelining professional expertise in the selection.
Loyalty of the ambassador-designate towards one particular political party without diplomatic maneuvering skills will hardly bring the results desired by the government.
During the erstwhile Panchayat regime and before the restoration of multiparty system, envoys were appointed at the discretion of the king on merit basis - loyalty coupled with high caliber professional expertise and past profile. The candidates were selected from among the senior joint secretaries, secretaries of the regular Foreign Service cadres, or career diplomats, and from those who had served the country in various top positions — in the bureaucracy, army and Tribhuvan University, among others. The other consideration in appointing ambassadors included persons considered suitable for securing the host country’s support on some specific issues of national importance.
The current process of selecting the candidates apparently appears to be more rigorous, but the quality of the nominees displays a degrading trend.
Starting first at the party stage, then to the cabinet through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then to the Parliamentary Special Hearing Committee, though its efficacy remains debatable, then only to the final appointment after getting the green signal, called the Agreemo, from the host government. Yet hardly any ambassador in the present context is reportedly hailed as successful, thanks to the quota system at the cost of efficiency.
Nepal has had many appreciable examples of ambassadorial excellence in the past worth citing. Major General Padam Bahadur Khatry in the late 1960s had played an instrumental role in getting Nepal elected to the Non-Permanent Seat of the UN Security Council. Dr Bhesh Bahadur Thapa, who served as envoy to the US twice, succeeded in garnering the support of the US for the Peace Zone Proposal of Nepal, considered to be a national gain for Nepal at that particular period.
Late King Birendra’s state visit to the US was also arranged due to his diplomatic skills and also in arranging appointments for Nepali premiers with two US presidents.
Interestingly, only three Nepali prime ministers, namely B P Koirala, Dr Tulsi Giri and Sher Bahadur Deuba have had appointments with US presidents.
Likewise Dr Trailokya Nath Upreti was credited for his immense role as ambassador to France and UNESCO. Similarly, as Nepal’s ambassador to India, Bedananda Jha was able to have separate treaties of Trade and Transit between Nepal and India in the interest of the former. During late Jaya Pratap Rana’s tenure as the permanent representative to the UN, Nepal was able to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the second time. Kedar Bhakta Mathema, as Nepal’s envoy to Japan, succeeded in having the then Japanese premier pay an official visit to Nepal. Professor Surendra Bahadur Shrestha successfully represented Nepal during the Gulf War.
While tracing the few past achievements made by the country’s ambassadors abroad, the Nepali intelligentsia and media would like to again see their ambassadors impart a new dimension.
In the absence of competent ambassadors, among others, Nepal lost an opportunity to be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2006 and chairman of the UN General Assembly. It also failed to maneuver even a short visit of the US president during his visit to South Asia. Also there have not been visits of heads of state or government to Nepal from influential countries since quite a long time due to diplomatic failures, including those of ambassadors.