Elusive consensus

Minister for Foreign Affairs Ramesh Nath Pandey has said that Nepal’s foreign policy is guided by its national interests reflected at present in its goal of restoring peace in the country. He has stressed the need to evolve a national consensus on matters related to foreign policy. Nepal, with its geopolitics, cannot afford to determine its foreign policy on considerations other than national interests. But every country shapes its foreign policy to further its national interests. However, the factors constituting national interests may vary from country to country. Some countries may have clearer foreign policy goals and strategies than others. Without clarity of goals, more often than not the means adopted lose direction.

Unfortunately, Nepal has yet to define its foreign policy objectives and strategies. No doubt, these need to be adjusted whenever internal and external dynamics change. For instance, it would not be wise now for Nepal to follow the foreign policy of the 1960s, not even its domestic policy of that period.

Obviously, there is excessive foreign influence over its domestic politics, for reasons such as its geopolitical location and its heavy dependence on foreign aid. Even to deal with some of its domestic issues, apart from development, Nepal has to depend on foreign assistance. The present military means against the Maoists may not go very far without foreign support. So, selling the internal conflict as a ‘war against terrorism’ may be a good strategy for the establishment. The absence of such a consensus may explain the lack of focus and the inconsistencies seen from time to time in Nepal’s foreign policy dealings. Such consensus is even more important in the case of such geo-politically positioned countries as Nepal. Even India, the largest and most powerful in South Asia, has developed a consensus on foreign policy, even in dealing with a much smaller and less powerful country like Nepal. The Indian government, the opposition and the media, by and large, seem to take a common position, also reflected in Indian response to the recent developments in Nepal. Nepal should learn from this. But the Nepali political forces are so sharply divided even over the kind of polity the country should have that they are not much bothered about foreign policy consensus. No regime or political force in Nepal has been immune from the unhealthy tendency to welcome foreign support if such support furthers its vested sectarian interests and to shout foreign

interference if foreigners back its rivals. No regime or force should conveniently equate noble things like patriotism with itself. Unless there is a change in such attitudes, a national

consensus on foreign policy will elude us.