Foreign policy - New context calls for new strategies

A country’s foreign policy is the expression of its national interests vis-a-vis other countries. Foreign policy cannot be understood unless the task of state building is allowed to illumine the objectives and motives of foreign policy. It is needless to mention how foreign policy was formulated and implemented during the King’s regime. But in the changed context, the Nepalis would like to see a better performance of the ministry of foreign affairs. This is because its role has an impact on national prestige and interests.

Serious wrongs committed by the foreign ministry in case of appointing some new diplomats came to light recently. It was an unprecedented event in the diplomatic history of Nepal that the names of new ambassadors are being published before the accredited countries have approved the nominations. It seems the behaviour of diplomats was itself undiplomatic. Such actions go against the nature and values of foreign policy. Had the matter concerned other ministries, there would have been no harm but in this case it relates to the highest level of political leadership.

In new Nepal, there is an urgency to shape the foreign ministry by introducing changes in organisational and functional levels. Gone are the days when the King’s personal attendants were sent as diplomats to guard their personal interests instead of the national ones. Thus, in the process of making a new Nepal, there is no dearth of expertise that would guarantee maturity in this field. It is a very sensitive and delicate matter. In this regard, whims and caprices will do no good.

Unlike under an authoritarian system of government, selection of diplomats in a democracy should not be based on loyalty to any party. Diplomats are the eyes and ears of the nation who produce results which are consummerate with domestic policies. A diplomat’s job is challenging in that he has to work to secure the prestige of his country and guard the security aspects in all dimensions — from boundary to socio-economic and cultural areas.

A diplomatic appointment should be made on the basis of eminence and excellence of candidates in the art of negotiating with the governments and leaders of receiving countries. Therefore, a diplomat must be well versed in the history and culture of the accredited country. If he knows that country’s language, the work is made all the easier. He should not be known as a man of the opposite political ideology or camp. It is pertinent to know that foreign policy often affects a regime’s domestic political position. Accordingly, it is but natural to expect that leaders will consciously design aspects of foreign policy so that domestic opposition does not win support abroad against the interests of the powers that be.

It is true that well-established nations have a fairly consistent view of their interests as these derive from their geographical location, their relative power vis-à-vis other states, and their traditional conceptions of threat and friendship. But, in the case of an LDC like Nepal, it could hardly bear the burden of non-functional diplomacy.

Nepal’s size and location and, often, policies of immediate neighbours as well as distant powers affect its priorities. Thus the success of Nepal’s diplomacy is closely related to the domestic political order.

Secondly, at home, the ministry of foreign affairs requires some immediate change at organisational as well as functional levels. This could be judged from the present nature and character of the ministry’s recruitment system. No other than people from a particular caste are representing most of the posts abroad. The ministry has been shaped according to the intents and purposes of the King’s courtiers. Therefore, the ministry should represent all castes and races at all levels. For this, under the Public Service Commission rules, separate criteria for selection of foreign service employees should be developed.

The question of national unity is the most urgent issue. It requires effectiveness and responsiveness of the bureaucracy which has been monopolised by a few special castes and classes of people. The same is the case with the ministry of foreign affairs.

However, in the present situation, as the country has to attract a large amount of foreign goodwill, calculated strategies are required in this area. Furthermore, if social transformation is of high priority and calls for dynamic change, greater equality and larger participation in the international conferences and diplomatic services are required. This will promote the national image of unity abroad. As religious habits and racial composition affect a country’s relationship with the outside world, as is the case with many Muslim member countries of the UN, this factor has contributed little to promoting Nepal’s interests in the past. For instance, though over a million Nepali workers are currently employed in the Middle East, not a single country of the region has a consular office in Kathmandu.

Prof. Habibullah is head, politicial science department, TU