Nepal's Foreign Policy : Then and Now

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Nepal's Foreign Policy : Then and Now

The Oxford Dictionary explains the word ‘Diplomacy’ as the ‘management of international relations by negotiation’. It is a skill in dealing with people without offending and upsetting them. In other words, diplomacy is also the ability to control a difficult situation without upsetting people.

The word was derived from the French ‘diplomatie’ which itself came from the word ‘diplomatique’ and Latin ‘diploma’. ‘Diplomatic’ is from modern Latin.

‘Diplomaticus or diploma means a ‘charter’ or ‘licence’. During Roman Empire ‘diplomas’ were passports issued to citizens to travel to other countries.

Negotiation and bargaining for the interest of the nation are the core characteristics of diplomacy. A good diplomat is he/she who possesses the qualities of an excellent arbitrator but also acts as a messenger for peace and understanding between the nations. The role of a diplomat is more indispensable during times of war and trade conflicts. Donna Lee and Brain Hocking (2011) state that diplomacy involves the etiquette of human affairs by virtue of peace, maintaining the techniques of persuasion and negotiation. Through the logical usage of such techniques, it is supposed to be one of the key processes characterising the international system and a ‘defining’ institution of the system of sovereign states right after the ‘Westphalian’ system after the 1684 peace accord of Westphalia after which the geographical boundaries of the world emerged. It had some important distinctions. First, at the state level, which is known as ‘Foreign Policy’ in diplomatic history. Second, it was viewed as an institution of the global system. Over time, there have been various policies applied and practiced which is known as 'International Relations'.

Sending official envoys to foreign political jurisdictions to represent a sovereign political entity was first practiced by countries including Greece, Persia (Iran), India and China in ancient times through activities like exchanging messages, gifts, or even forging alliances through marriages between members of royal and aristocratic families of the countries. Thus, it will be safer to say that the principle of diplomacy existed before it was written by philosophers and thinkers and people refer to diplomats collectively as a class. Over time, the trends of diplomatic relations have kept on changing as per the pace of time, changes in politics and relationships between the countries, and with the development of technology.

After the First World War, diplomatic relationships paved the way to usher in a new paradigm shift in international relations. These were the times when new channels and modes of diplomacy opened up. New diplomatic procedures strengthened with the inclusion of multilateral diplomacy, public debates, international parliamentary procedures, and collective decision-making.

The Inception of Nepali Diplomacy  
Gopal Khanal, a journalist who writes mainly on issues related to foreign affairs, argues in his article 'Foreign Policy of Nepal: Continuity and Changes' that it was king Prithvi Narayan Shah who sowed the seeds of modern diplomacy of a united Nepal based on the geopolitical situation of the country. Shah described Nepal as "a yam between two huge boulders” citing the two neighbours India and China.

In the course of history, Nepal has gone through various ups and downs in its relationship with neighbouring countries. It is believed that after the Sugauli Treaty of 1816 AD, Nepal became weak and India-centric. After King Tribhuvan fled to India for shelter in November 1950 and the democratic movement freed Nepalis from the clutches of Rana oligarchy, the influence of India in Nepal grew further. In the first general elections in 1959 AD, Nepali Congress, under the leadership of BP Koirala emerged victorious with a two-thirds majority. After Koirala became the country's Prime Minister, he garnered international fame through his diplomacy. The then prime minister of India Jawahar Lal Nehru could not tolerate Koirala's popularity and started playing foul games against Koirala.

King Mahendra also was ambitious for power. On December 15, 1960, the king dissolved the first democratically elected government and imposed the partyless Panchayat system that lasted for 30 years.

Nevertheless, King Mahendra was clever in his approach to foreign affairs. He significantly expanded Nepal's international relations with the rest of the world and strengthened relationships with major global powers like the United States and China. During his reign, Nepal became a member of the United Nations, one of the founding members of the Non-aligned Movement which came as a result of the 1955 Afro-Asian Bangdung Conference. It was king Mahendra’s wisdom and wit that drew the attention of western countries to Nepal. So, he is known as the architect of the modern foreign policy of Nepal despite his autocratic tendencies. Nepal had not formulated its foreign policy till 1955 AD and Delhi used to represent Nepal in international forums. The reign of King Mahendra from 1955 to 1972 brought transformative changes in our foreign policy.

During his tenure, King Birendra also give priority to promoting Nepal as a non-aligned nation and declared the country a “Peace Zone”. China and Pakistan were ready to endorse the proposal but India flatly rejected it. The only reason behind the rejection was that the King had decided it without consulting India and the southern neighbour thought that it would add a new dimension to the foreign policy of Nepal which would result in the waning of Indian influence.

Weak Foreign Policy after 2046 B.S.
After the reestablishment of parliamentary democracy in Nepal in 1990, there has been considerable progress in our relationship with other countries. But our foreign policy has become much weaker. With the country going through political crises over the years, the country's foreign policy did not receive importance. However, the then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli developed a much better mutual relationship with China following India’s economic blockade in 2015.

Given the fact that the world's major economic and military powers are interested in Nepal, political parties must have a unilateral understanding in terms of the country's foreign policy approach.

The Millenium Challenge Compact (MCC) has become a controversial issue due to the myopic vision of the political leaders.

Taking everything into account, the weaker the economy of the country, the more we have to endure the hegemony of our neighbours. Generating strategic plans and policies for the economic growth of the nation is the ultimate way to bargain and negotiate with other countries which will strengthen our foreign policy footing too.

(Koirala is a PhD. scholar. He can be reached at [email protected])

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