Foreign policy - The need to find a clear direction

Now that the interim constitution has been promulgated and the interim legislature formed, the question of instituting an interim government with the inclusion of the Maoists seems only days away. The political process has gained such a pace that even the United Nations could not match its speed in dealing with the issue of arms management and other related concerns on time. The momentum of the process is indeed remarkable.

Countries big and small that have some stake in Nepal have welcomed this development, most often with appreciation, and with caution in a few cases. It is now crucial that the incoming government forges ahead in its political and official activities to ensure a smooth running of the coalition government of the eight political parties. Seen in the milieu of less developed coalition politics in Nepal, difficult days may lie ahead, especially for the holding of free and fair Constituent Assembly (CA) polls.

The interim government, put together for this sole purpose, should guide the country toward an all-inclusive democracy and a self-sustaining society. To the outside world, Nepal is known as a country of endemic poverty, dotted with numerous ethnic and tradition-bound communities living in remote places. Meanwhile, foreign observers of the Nepali socio-political scenario see in Nepal a new political experiment. They are watching if the coalition of the people with previously diametrically opposed views and beliefs can work in concert. If Nepal’s experiment succeeds, the country will show the way forward for other troubled countries of the third world.

In the meantime, however, dissension and demands with regard to autonomy and even claims to separate states have sprung up in different parts of Nepal. If the past decade-long insurgency was characterised by incidents of terrorism and extremism, the current disturbances and violence, in particular in the Terai belt, appear separatist, threatening the very integrity of the country that has just come out of a long-drawn conflict. Such disruptive tendencies need to be addressed with great care and dexterity. If such developments go unheeded, the country may implode in the long run, causing irreparable damage to the Nepali society. Such explosive situation demands foresight and effective measures from the government and politicians to help heal old wounds and redress the grievances of those in question. The voices of separatism spell a great threat to the country. Given the seriousness and priorities shown by the now popularly-called SPAM (Seven Party Alliance and Maoists), a solution might be found before the undesirable elements, both external and internal, get a chance to fish in troubled waters. If the holding of the elections to the constituent assembly is a responsibility of historic significance, solving of the emerging crisis in the Terai belt will be a grave challenge for the incoming interim government, which will demand much of its time and energy.

Domestic concerns have attracted most of the attention of the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists, with no major initiative being taken with respect to Nepal’s external relations. This has sent a message to the people that the government is failing to perform on the external affairs front, in direct opposition to the huge amount of attention Nepal is drawing. People with a good reading of Nepal’s geo-politics realise that domestic efforts alone will never be sufficient for Nepal’s journey toward democratisation and development. Greater external cooperation is vital for quicker progress. The interim government, in order to prove its real worth and deliver on its promises to the people, must scrutinise the regional dynamics, especially the fast growing cooperative ties and closer understanding between India and China and also try to understand Nepal’s role in the global arena. If the politicians lag behind in this sphere, future generations will never forgive the current political leadership. The sympathy and support of other countries will immensely help Nepal build a stable and harmonised society by the country’s greater involvement in the fast developing regional organisations. No less important is Nepal’s preparation to enter into viable and profitable economic partnerships in the light of the irreversible wave of globalisation.

Our integration into new regional forums and an integrationist economic process would pave the way not only for our socio-economic progress but also ensure security and political cooperation for the development of democracy and still greater integration. The example set by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in its ties with our two big neighbours and the integration seen among the East Asia Community and ASEAN deserve a closer examination in light of the limited progress made by our involvement in SAARC and BIMSTEC. Nepal cannot afford slackness and vacuity in forging new ties in the region.

Shrestha is ex-foreign ministry official