Foreign delegates’ visits : Misplaced apprehensions

A flurry of diplomatic activities, especially the visits by foreign government representatives in quick succession, is generally described as chalkhel (activities). And motives of such visits are generally read as a threat to the interests of the nation. Many also try to repeat the mantra of old-fashioned nationalism vis-a-vis the southern neighbour. Why and how have the foreign powers become active in a country like Nepal? One of the principal reasons is the increased attraction of the country for such powers as their own vital national interests are inter-linked to Nepal’s stability, security and progress. Moreover, political and other upheavals that occur every now and then have the potential of being hostile to the interests of these countries.

An increased US interest in Nepal, for instance, is nothing more than a fraction of its overall global interests that it wants to maintain as the sole superpower. The US tries to preserve its status internationally by either containing other rival powers or by wooing the smaller powers so that they might not be able to create hostile environment for its great power status. Frequency and motive of visits cannot always be read as increased interference in Nepal’s internal affairs. If the visits are for expressing solidarity and support for the consolidation of federal democratic republic and development of the country, it is a positive gesture. If such visits are undertaken in order to counter the influence of other powers, then the Nepali side should be on guard to protect its own primary interest which is the preservation of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

A sound diplomacy is the only reliable tool for realising these objectives. One important aspect of recent developments is that certain powers that always take interest in Nepal’s developments are more vociferous in their remarks on developments in Nepal. It has been reported in the media that some ambassadors were/are more vocal in passing critical comments on subjects that have the potential of triggering off more distrust among the Nepali people. Whether or not certain features of the polity are suitable for Nepal is a subject to be decided by the Constituent Assembly. But if some foreign governments’ representatives offer their views against the agendas set by the nation, it may be negatively taken by the people.

Similarly, the issue of integration of Maoist combatants in the Nepal Army is to be settled by the political leaders. But if the politicians want to take the help of foreign experts and government, there should be no misunderstanding. The word chalkhel used by certain quarters connotes negative meaning which aims at harming Nepal. But, if the visits, unless proved otherwise, are taken with the mission of easing Nepal’s tangled problems of peace, security, democracy and development, why should Nepalis always be fed by such wild guess or rumour that shows the lack of confidence and vision for the making of “new” Nepal.

Now it is not only the big and powerful countries that attract visitors, but countries like Nepal can also draw foreigners whose missions might vary. The American capital Washington is the much sought after capital in the world where foreign dignitaries take pride in visiting. Moreover, in the hierarchy of powers, more visits to Washington, Beijing, Moscow, Tokyo, London, Paris, Berlin, Delhi, Rio etc. would be taken as recognition of those countries. It shows how status becomes both a symbol and substance in international politics. Why has not a single US president visited Nepal during his incumbency as yet? Its simple answer is that for the United States, Nepal is inconsequential, despite being located between China and India.

In recent years, the US has given more importance to Nepal but not to the extent of recognising it at par with other powers like China and India. It has also been observed that in important cases, the US approaches Nepal via New Delhi because of the convergence of interests of both the powers. China, a next door neighbour, is not likely to impose coercive bilateralism on Nepal as it fully understands the geo-political claustrophobic situation of the latter. However, Nepalis are the better guarantor of Nepal’s own interest which can be preserved by developing a sense of confidence, understanding of the emerging regional and global trends and above all by departing from the classical strategy that used to be played one neighbour against the other.

Gone are the days when similar strategies were adopted for short-term gains. Since all powers are preoccupied with thwarting the menace of internal, regional and global terrorism or in managing economic crisis, they need to develop a common approach to tackling them. For Nepal, if there is any threat to its existence, it is fragmented politics, quarrelsome leaders and lack of direction. Above all, internal security, peace and development are the only guarantees to national and human security.

Prof Baral is executive chairman, NCCS