Litmus Test Of Nepal’s Diplomacy


The four-day visit of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has thrown a renewed spotlight onto Nepal’s two burning issues – severe impact of climate change and inordinate delay in ensuring the transitional justice. It is yet to see how Nepal will capitalise on this diplomatic mileage achieved with Guterres successful trip to muster global support to fight climate crisis or how the UN chief will help the country to this end. However, the day Guterres left Nepal, the country suffered a diplomatic humiliation. Nepal’s candidate for World Health Organisation regional director for South-East Asia, Sambhu Acharya, lost election to Saima Wazed of Bangladesh. Acharya just received two votes against eight votes out of total 10 cast. 

Acharya had ‘the best credentials’ for the post compared to Saima, the daughter of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed. Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials have claimed that they made every effort to get him elected but the country’s medical sector’s personalities and civil society members, who lobbied for Acharya, have criticised the government for not wholeheartedly canvasing for him. Dr. Bhagawan Koirala, chairman of the Nepal Medical Council, termed Acharya's defeat as ‘an intentional failure of our diplomacy.’ The mere two votes Nepal received also reveals Nepal’s weak diplomacy. It is said that Prime Minister Wazed made optimal use of her office and position to tip the scales in the favour of her daughter. The international media outlets such as The Lancet has insisted that ‘nepotism’ was at play behind Saima’s victory. 

Release of hostages

Nepal’s diplomacy awaits another litmus test in West Asia. The Foreign Ministry should now prove its mettle in rescuing Nepali student Bipin Joshi taken hostage by the Hamas militia. It should negotiate with Hamas through the Qatari government that has maintained working relations with the former. Qatar has allowed operating a political office of the militant group to open a communication channel in coordination with the United States since 2012. Recently the US and the UK managed to free their two citizens each from the Hamas's captivity with the help of Qatar. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited Qatar and thanked Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the ruler of Qatar, for its role in releasing British hostages. The release of US and British hostages have given a hope that the captives from other countries can also be freed if right course of diplomacy is pursued. 

Why shouldn’t Nepal use its good office to release Joshi through the help of Qatar with which Nepal enjoys sound diplomatic ties since 1977. Qatar is a popular labour destination for Nepali workers. The two nations have also inked labour agreement to protect and promote the interests of Nepali migrant workers there. A few days back Nepali Congress general secretary Bishwo Prakash Sharma, speaking in a meeting of House of Representatives, urged the Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs to take serious initiatives for the rescue of Joshi by negotiating with Hamas through the Qatari government. If the government succeeds to bring back Joshi from the Hamas's clutch, this will not only enhance Nepal’s diplomatic strength but also increase public trust in the government that it is serious about saving the life of its citizens. 

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Guterres has not only appreciated Nepal's afforestation covering almost half of the country's territory that is crucial to fight carbon emissions but also realised that the Himalayan nation is bearing the brunt of the devastation of climate change despite the fact that it contributes just a fraction of a per cent to the global emissions. The country's a third of ice has melted away in the last over 30 years. "What is happening in this country as a result of climate change is an appalling injustice and a searing indictment of the fossil fuel age," he said, adding that the United Nations stands with Nepal in ensuring the climate justice. No doubt, Nepal that sets a target to achieve zero emissions by 2045 needs financial support from the rich nations and international organisations. 

Last month, Guterres proposed an SDG Stimulus at the General Assembly to generate at least $ 500 billion annually to support the poor and affected nations for sustainable development and climate action. Given that the rich nations have not yet fulfilled their promise of $100 billion a year for the adaptation finance, it is difficult to believe that they will promptly translate the SDG Stimulus into reality. The UN chief has also called for operationalising the landmark Loss and Damage Fund at COP28 this year to build climate resilience of the most vulnerable. It is up to our government's diplomatic competence to cash in on Guterres's assurances to secure the climate aid. 

Lingering TJ

The lingering process of transitional justice (TJ) process also came into focus during the sojourn of Guterres. It appears that Nepal government wants to conclude the TJ process with the support of UN that also played an important role in transforming the Maoist rebels into the civilians. But the TJ issue has become an albatross around the neck of political parties which have been sharply divided over it. The ruling CPN-Maoist Centre thinks that main opposition CPN-UML wants to procrastinate and use it as a bargaining chip against the former. On the other hand, the UML suspects the Maoist Centre wants to grant blanket amnesty to those involved in the grave human rights violations such as murders and rapes committed during the insurgency period in the name of TJ. 

The UN head has stated that it stands ready to support Nepal to develop a process that meets international standards, Supreme Court’s rulings, and the needs of the victims. But he put it on the line: 'transitional justice has the greatest chance of success when it is inclusive, comprehensive, and has victims at its heart.' Nepal's peace process has often been touted as home-grown and indigenous. Then why are the political parties split over concluding the last leg of peace process? Instead of inviting the external players, the domestic actors must demonstrate their unity and capacity to resolve this tricky and complex issue without further delay. 

(The author is Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)

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