Foreign policy : Making it people-oriented

Incessant clamour for making every political action and behaviour people-serving has been resonating in Nepal. Massive

people power exhibited against the authoritarian royal rule in April has induced politicians to talk of the people’s concerns as a matter of top priority. But how far the people’s status has been strengthened remains a question of debate. The spirit then and the feeling now seem to have drifted apart visibly with the political situation remaining fluid, much to the people’s discontent. Which direction the political scene will take is uncertain.

Despite such uncertainty, the tendency to speak of the people’s wish as a pivotal concern has drawn much attention.

A case in point is the pronouncement of making Nepal’s foreign policy people-oriented. This idea seems very appreciable as it gives an impetus to the hopes of the common people. However, the big question arises in what way and to what extent foreign policy would actually work as people-centric. Vagueness is no use. The idea must be thoughtfully conceived and well-construed before its pronouncement. If not, the concept will not materialise.

Understandably, it is not the question of making the foreign policy people-centric, but it is the activities of diplomacy that have to be made people-centric. Foreign policy provides guidelines to extend and deepen external relations, whereas diplomacy is the means to accomplish the objectives of those relations. Conscious people are aware that diplomacy as a useful tool for executing foreign policy can work effectively in realising the people’s wishes and aspirations even in a complex situation. This is the area where our attention and actions need to be concentrated for Nepal’s goal of attaining a place of honour and dignity in the international community, while fulfilling the society’s desire for socio-economic transformation

To make our diplomatic activities truly people-oriented, we need to adopt at least two approaches at the people’s level. First comes the conduct of public diplomacy and second is the initiation of citizen diplomacy. These two forms of diplomacy, if well charted, can certainly contribute to making Nepal’s diplomatic activities truly people- serving. For this to happen, the government and its appropriate agencies at home should gear up to address the concerns of Nepal’s external relations to the people and public-oriented organisations and take up people’s interests in particular. The external activities through diplomatic efforts should so enlivening as to reach out to the foreign people to win their hearts and minds for the larger benefit of Nepali society.

Undoubtedly, this is a quintessential factor to make our diplomacy people-attracting abroad. Appropriate steps need to be put in place in conducting public diplomacy to meet the people’s aspirations. However, especially in political circles here, things are easier said than done. Wiser would have been those people, if they had measured the situation well in advance before announcing to make diplomacy people-oriented. Effectively, citizen diplomacy or Track Two diplomacy should be encouraged and supported by the government, if it really desires to make Nepal’s diplomacy people-centric. Enlightened ordinary

people, especially academicians, professionals, activists, freelancers, etc., should be alive to the need to start citizen diplomacy to make the conduct of diplomacy truly people-centric for a larger democratisation and greater socio-economic advancement, because conscious people as initiators need to take on the government to bring attention to the problems and their solutions. They can build bridges between people, increase trust and foster understanding. Certainly, they can contribute to finding a niche for Nepal in the global community to genuinely conduct diplomacy at the people’s level.

Political parties and civil society on their own can play an effective role in enhancing people-oriented diplomacy with the peoples of foreign countries for the greater good of Nepal. Empowering the people through public diplomacy and encouraging them to embrace citizen diplomacy are the two main tools that can prepare the way for genuine people-oriented diplomacy. Surprisingly, Nepal neither has public opinion survey organisations, nor reliable media to accurately gauge people’s opinions on the question of diplomatic activities. But we do have people’s strong desire and determination to consolidate democratic gains, which truly reflect the people’s soft power — the strong ability of Nepali society to draw the attention of others. This impressive power — very dissimilar to other powers — would certainly be the centre of attraction to conduct people-oriented diplomacy. There should, however, be no conflation but clarity in concept and dealing that the conduct of foreign policy will centre around national interests, whereas only the diplomatic activities undertaken at the people’s level can remain truly people-centric.

Shrestha is ex-foreign ministry official