Down and out

Nepal’s bid for a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) ended tragically on October 16 when the General Assembly voted to elect five new members to the 15-member council. Indonesia, replacing Japan for a two-year term, which begins on January 1, became the new Asia-Pacific entrant, along with Italy and Belgium (Europe), South Africa (Africa) — these last three uncontested — whereas Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela will have to go for yet another round of contest with the US-backed Guatemala for the Latin American-Caribbean quota as neither has been able to collect the minimum required number of votes of 128 at the 192-nation world body. It is not surprising that Nepal lost, but that it suffered a humiliating defeat — its 28 votes against its rival’s 158. Not many of some four dozen countries which had promised support for Nepal, perhaps not all SAARC members, backed it at the secret ballot. The question arises why Nepal chose to stay in the race despite all indications to the contrary. Wise decision-makers would have withdrawn the candidacy rather than be humbled, as India did for the post of UN secretary general recently.

For Nepal, even Indonesia had provided a window for a graceful exit when the latter requested it to withdraw its candidacy a month ago. Nepal has served two stints at the SC — in 1969 and 1988. Now it has transpired that those diplomats and foreign-policy operators who had spoken favourably of Nepal’s bid till the other day were either too naive or they deliberately concealed the truth. Leaders like deputy prime minister and foreign minister K P Sharma Oli and finance minister Dr Ram Sharan Mahat were claiming that, after the restoration of democracy six months ago, Nepal’s stock had gone up in the world.

DPM Oli in Jhapa blamed the “Maoists’ activities and false publicity of Nepal by the foreign media” for the outcome. His remarks seek to hide the utter failure of the government, and of his own as foreign minister, to muster support, and failing which, to read the situation and act accordingly. The fact that Nepal itself has invited the UN to help resolve its own conflict might not have inspired international confidence in its prospective trouble-shooting role.

It may also be due to its fluid domestic political situation and the uncertainty about its future. Oli, returning on October 6 from an extended foreign tour, ahead of the crucial UN vote, had told Nepali journalists about his favourable assessment of Nepal’s candidacy. This diplomatic debacle makes a strong case for reviewing the performance of those supposed to lobby for Nepal. The government, which has left unfilled the 13 ambassadorial slots, including in the five permanent SC members, had hardly launched anything close to a campaign while Indonesia had gone all-out to drum up world support. It would do Nepal good for the future if the government leaders took this defeat as an occasion to reflect on Nepal’s foreign policy goals and objectives, as well as on the strategies for achieving them.