( This article can also be found in Nepalnews.com )
It should come as no surprise that the extension of the Constituent Assembly has taken place. The extended period is not enough for implementing the 5-point agreement except the one concerning the continuation of the Constituent Assembly. As debate indicates in the wake of May 28 deadline, the Nepali people see no credible reason to believe that the parties would settle their differences unlike in the past. With such loss of people’s confidence in the ability of the political parties, the danger of unraveling the fragile peace process looms large.
The failure to produce new constitution by the so-called representatives, who were elected in 2008 April for two years has provided conducive environment for foreign meddling. When the political parties quarrel among themselves showing fractured relations foreigners capitalize on this scenario. Unsurprisingly some of Nepal’s neighbors have been assuming the role of king makers, which has been made possible by the Nepali leaders’ incompetence. Nepal has been the victim of this political polarization leading to outsiders’ intervention in the formation of government. This has become more frequent after the election of the Constituent Assembly.
Truly speaking some political leaders try to shamelessly represent the foreign interests only to perpetuate their political life in the country. The robust media has exposed some of them who acted on behalf of foreigners in the recent extension drama staged inside the CA hall. How foul is it or how rational is it to raise the slogan of foreign interference in Nepal’s affairs will be determined by the history. The people while choosing their representatives would give a fitting answer to such questions. How long they have to wait for this opportunity remains uncertain at the moment.
Geography has offered Nepal advantages and placed limitations too in terms of her capabilities to cultivate balanced external relations, particularly in the immediate neighborhood. The ground reality that Nepal is a yam between two boulders is uncontestable. Its location is uniquely strategic viewed through the lens of security of India and China, Nepal’s neighbors to the south and north. Since both of them have acquired enviable significance wielding power to influence global agenda, the conduct of a prudent neighborhood policy for Nepal has become a Herculean task.
Backed by growing international clout which they have possessed by making great strides in the economic front, India and China have been assertively demanding the safeguarding of their narrow national interests from Nepal. The frequent visits of the country delegations to Nepal from north and south substantiate their increasing concerns about the promotion of their interests in Nepal. No prime minister from China has paid a visit to Nepal for about a decade and in case of India such visits have been rarer. It shows that Nepal is not accorded the importance she deservedly has.
A few weeks earlier Nepal sent her foreign secretary to Delhi to supposedly prepare the groundwork for our prime minister’s official visit to India. As reported in the press he wasn’t able to make any progress on the said agenda meaning India is less inclined to welcome Nepal’s prime minister now. Does it not reflect the attitude of the Indian government and vindicate the increasing allegation that Khanal government in Nepal has not been of their preference? Would this not prompt skeptics to draw a conclusion that the issue of resignation in May 28 agreement was included at the behest of the benevolent neighbor? If so, that will constitute the latest instance of meddling in Nepali politics.
At a time when Nepal needs proven diplomatic skills to cultivate her relations with neighbors in promoting the national interests, the handling of foreign affairs in the country is accorded the least priority. Ironically, this is evidenced in the choice of the foreign minister, whose appointment was shelved until May though the beleaguered prime minister took his oath of office in February, 2011. Furthermore, the incumbent foreign minister, despite his promotion to the level deputy prime minister, faces mounting moral crisis in the aftermath of split in his party preceded by the investigation of corruption leading to the arrest of some of his party colleagues on charges of selling diplomatic passports.
Foreign ambassadors seem less constrained to follow diplomatic norms when the ministry of foreign affairs becomes dysfunctional. They may be inclined to bypass this ministry in not only adhering to protocol matters but also in touring the remotest parts of the country without informing the host government. But if the government asserts Nepal’s interests as it should, no foreign power can dictate, let alone their representative in Nepal. History testifies that an epoch-making incident in Nepal’s diplomatic history occurred in 2006, when the foreign ministry was instructed to lodge a strong protest against the world’s lone super power on the ground that its envoy to Nepal had made derogatory remarks against the government.
Unfortunately, the most undiplomatic behavior was exhibited in late 2009, when the then foreign minister of Nepal argued for the case as if the concerned minister had more allegiance to the powerful neighbor and struggled for months to award the passport printing contract to them. Such lobbying was done even in total defiance of the directives given by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee. Consequently, Nepal government was forced to repeatedly request the International Civil Aviation Organization to grant grace period to switch to machine readable passports and it took almost an extra year for Nepal to comply with the international obligation. This painful history of machine readable passport printing only demonstrates how we invite foreign meddling ourselves. The selfish politicians are blinded by the illusion that interference from their foreign benefactors on their behalf will help them realize their personal political ambitions at the cost the national interests. Here in lies the crux of the problem of foreign meddling in Nepal.
Nepal should take care of the security sensitivities of her two immediate neighbors. As the rising emerging economies India and China have the possibility of having the trading relationship unmatched by any other two countries. Their relations too have been characterized by ups and downs. China and India went to war in 1962. They have unresolved territorial disputes and possessing nuclear weapons makes them nuclear-armed strategic competitors. Such rivalry also makes Nepal, situated as it is in between them, more vulnerable especially at times of their likely tensions in bilateral relations.
The delayed peace process has become our liability. Nepal’s security situation is fraught with peril. This makes our neighbors more concerned about their security. Understandably China fears that more pro-Tibet movement will be the order of the day. Similarly India looks concerned about terrorist activities directed against her using the territory of Nepal. Allaying these genuine fears is the Achilles Heels for Nepal. Unless political destabilization is addressed, the security scenario will likely be precarious. Under these circumstances Nepal does not afford to leverage one neighbor against another and hence will continue facing foreign interference. Keeping foreign meddling at bay necessitates political stability.