Diplomacy acquires a new meaning as Nepal attempts a whole new political experiment. At this critical juncture, strengthening the Foreign Ministry (FM) with clear policies and competent people can make a big difference for a better understanding of and support for the new political developments as well as economic diplomacy supporting the country’s socio-economic needs.

Strengthening the FM presupposes understanding among the main political actors on major issues of foreign policy. A senior political figure and deputy prime minister as foreign minister is a positive sign. Greater coordination between the FM and the Office of the PM and overall parliamentary oversight are important. A good foreign policy team can make diplomacy more effective. To take on the new responsibilities with greater dedication and diligence, capacity building of the FM is also essential.

Defining the role of missions abroad and choice of ambassadors is the next challenge. Embassies in New Delhi, Beijing, Washington DC and the Permanent Missions to the UN in New York and Geneva are strategic missions. Their work can have significant political, security, economic, human rights and humanitarian implications nationally and internationally. Embassies in London, Tokyo, Berlin, Moscow, Paris, Dhaka, Islamabad, Colombo, Doha, Riyadh, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are functional missions with significant political, economic, international and regional cooperation roles. The rest are representative missions with valuable roles in strengthening existing and expanding new relations with other countries for greater understanding on matters of bilateral, regional and international cooperation. Functional missions in Seoul, Canberra and one of the Nordic capitals are also urgent. Representative missions in southern Africa, probably Pretoria and in South America, possibly Brasilia, could further strengthen and expand relations with Africa and Latin America.

Besides providing services to Nepali citizens, pro-active missions can play an important role in enhancing the quality of bilateral relations and influence governments and NGOs and INGOs in international and regional organisations on issues affecting Nepal. Ambassadors with commitment to, understanding of and ability to articulate the achievements of the people’s movement, particularly in the strategic missions, can play a valuable role in defence of democracy and peace back home. Confidence of the PM, access to the foreign minister, support of the secretary and the FM are critical to fulfil the vital mandates. Knowledge of economic diplomacy and language skills will help promote trade, investment and tourism, loan forgiveness as well as strengthen Nepal’s role in regional and international forums better.

Developing the Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA) as a think tank, centre of excellence for creative ideas on foreign policy and training of diplomats is another priority. A team of scholars can be brought in the IFA, which the FM can utilise as needed.

Image and identity of the nation, goodwill and respect for the people are the most important permanent national interests on which other areas of cooperation depend. Promoting them is the most important role of the FM and missions abroad. In this, Nepal’s new envoys have many challenges.

The beauty of the Himalayas, Buddha’s message of peace, bravery of Nepali soldiers, hospitable and tolerant nature of the Nepalis combined with distinguished work of some Nepalis abroad have earned reputation and respect for Nepal in the international community. But with the start of the 21st century, tragedies began to tarnish Nepal’s image abroad. With the country’s most important institution mired in massacre, many political leaders caught in corruption and incompetence and Maoist violence, many Nepalis and their well-wishers outside started wondering what was happening to Nepal and the Nepalis. Misdeeds of some rulers and leaders, violence and counter-violence combined with apathy of the elite and helplessness of the people led to questions of viability of Nepal as a nation-state. Thankfully, some of our political and civil society leaders woke up, the media took up, people listened and well-wishers in the neighbourhood and beyond helped in trying to end the politics of self-destruction. The 12-point agreement stopped the march of folly and the people’s movement turned Nepal back from the brink.

But we are not out of the woods yet. Everything hangs on the question: can we resolve our problems ourselves peacefully and democratically? Diplomacy of creativity and credibility can restore the respect Nepal once had. But this is possible only with political leadership committed to preventing Nepalis killing Nepalis for ethnicity, language, culture or religion, and dedicated to peace and democracy at home.

Dr Simkhada is visiting fellow, Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva