Adaptation To Transitional World Politics


The five-party incumbent coalition government led by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda has unveiled policy priority and common resolution stating, among others, mobilization of new sources of foreign aid, achieve the rank of middle income economy and safeguard independent and non-aligned foreign policy.  Nepali constitution has self-consciously articulated these goals in its directive principles and policies of the state. They adore the preservation of national sovereignty and integrity. These goals can be attainable if the nation expedites its infrastructural progress to spur the possibility of connection and collaboration with many nations and international regimes for resources, respectability and recognition and endure the vitality of its own way of life. 

Rebuilding its polity, institutions and societies resilient enough entails leadership acquiring relevant insight and skill to exorcise all national evils, solve issues and unsentimentally drive the nation’s foreign policy in a cohesive and effective course.  They together spur the culture and aspirations of Nepalis to lift up its external profile and project national values and interests into a wider global audience. Its membership of many international regimes, orientation to multilateralism, participation in conference diplomacy and peace-keeping roles are locomotives.  For small states like Nepal, the emergence of a multi-polar world requires stretching and innovating multi-sided adaptation to all poles of power to seize opportunities from rival international regimes for freedom and wellbeing of people and exercise the guts of conviction.

Structural flaws

Nepal faces structural flaws of enormous complexity such as drain of resources which is vital to its adaptive parameters amidst the tumult of the state system.  Domestic polarisation, multi-polar geopolitical friction, de-globalisation and ecological, economic and technological stress constrain its policy of balance, resilience, adaptation and hale and hearty interdependence in the golden mean.  In this great transformative moment of history, a set of virtues such as innovation in statecraft, strategies, resources and willpower is critical to effortlessly navigate in transitional world politics and raise its global acceptability. Nepali leadership can create national resilience in this naked immorality of geopolitics beyond scientific sociability to learn from the old wisdom of unleashing the potential of self. 

National strategies to deal with the diverse prisms of neighbours and global powers can ease mutual adaptation.  Nourishing its physical proximity and cultural ties with them can improve its internal security, stability and progress and the hump of self-determination in world politics. Nepal has gained experience in adapting to both political changes in the neighbourhood and the effects of earthquake, floods, pandemics, etc. to move forward.  The effect of climate change has entailed a choice of a new economy of sustainability and planetary consciousness of progress.  The salience of community has surged as a model of society and politics with the capacity to cope with disruptions induced either by evolution or accelerating change in the world order. 

The model of democratic politics of Nepal demands constant feedback from the politically aware people as they know they are legally sovereign, source of legitimacy and have civic capacity to influence the operation of power, leadership and policy. They have gained knowledge about foreign policy issues through media, intellectuals and political leaders.  Nepal’s colossal neighbours — India and China, the Eurasian power — resurgent Russia and other revisionist powers, are using their glorious history, economic and scientific prowess to claim a pride of place in world politics. It too holds certain textures which can make its glittery distinction from other nations if leaders awake from historical amnesia.

The US claims that it is back in Asia and Europe to support allies and pushback rivals -- China and Russia. It is providing economic incentives such as MCC to connect Nepal in its Indo-Pacific strategy. The European Union promises to assist it in economic development, infrastructure, technology and connectivity to boost it into the rank of developing nation by 2026 but continues to bar Nepal’s air flights to Europe for reasons of no progress in air safety. Nepal’s sensitive strategic geography requires it to pursue national interests, not ideology or partisan preference, which may create a security dilemma. The best defense of Nepal’s sovereignty is to assure both neighbours of the nation’s reliability in security and its attunement to their legitimate concerns.  

Nepal’s leadership feels “comfortable” with India which helped it to set aside contentious issues for future negotiations and stressed on commonality of sharing connectivity, hydropower, development works, cultural cooperation etc. Top leaders surmise that without India’s blessing they cannot rise to power. Nepal has requested China to expedite development projects such as the second section of the Ring Road, construction of 220 KV international transmission line, cross-Himalayan railway project and operation of Pokhara and Bhairahwa international airports. China has agreed to send its investors to participate in an investment conference in Nepal in April.  The execution of the Belt and Road Initiative, however, is caught in a catch between Nepal’s interest in grants and China’s sweltering concern for a win-win.  

There are few strategies of adaptation for Nepal’s foreign policy. First, Nepal can prosper if it rears specialisation in certain products of comparative advantage especially to fit in the regional and global division of labour.  It has to find new niches and spur interdependence with different poles of power that are also its development partners, assisted in its aspiration to diversify economic and diplomatic relations and added leverage to play as an independent actor in world politics, not driven by other’s policies. Second, the nation’s adaptability rests on its ability to prosper in diverse circumstances and multi-polarity of world order. For Nepal, multi-polarity offers it practical choice to reduce one-way vertical dependency where powerful nations are the decision maker and Nepal decision taker, a consumer of conditionalised aid to meet its revenue deficits.

 In diverse situations if one site does not help it the other option is available to self-organise, shore up strength to gain the life of dynamism and participate in international relations.  Nepal’s flexible posture and astute balance in the past — between neutralism in the neighbourhood and non-alignment in the global sphere, helped it to dribble out from the spillover of Sino-Indian conflict and received respect for its dignity and destiny beyond survival impulse. Now the nation has to show adaptability in the pivoting of the processes of Easternisation and Asianisation of world politics where many nations are redefining their culturally rooted self-identity.

Third, Nepal’s adaptability hinges on becoming entrepreneurial to cope with new supply chains and benefit from opportunity brought by changing global economic and geopolitical order and incentives of various rival initiatives for development coming from India, China, the USA, the EU and Russia. But it should be amply sensitive not to undermine the legitimate interests, concerns and linkages of each. The ticklish diplomatic overture to get Nepalis repatriated from the Russian army has made no strategic sense unless fresh linkages are cultivated. The power of a small state stems from its intrinsic vigor and the nature of ties among great powers. 

Fourth, the nation’s unproblematic adaptation is likely if its epistemic community always updates and learns about new developments in diverse fields and provides insightful inputs to reshape habits and mode of conduct of leadership and foreign policy elites.  Persistent adaptation of its interacting structures, missions and embassies can ward off atrophies and disharmonies in the internal and external behavior. Adaptation is evolved from leaders’ ability to properly read the stimuli flowing in the regional and international circumstances. Nepali economists may boast of youth bulge and remittance as a part of economic diplomacy, the public feels concerned about the drain of critical mass of productivity and change agents of society. 

Nepal is gradually loosening the legendary bond of the people with the state for the reason of the confiscation of its capacity. It has marked the outflow of labour, capital and talents thus preoccupying the minds of the attentive public about the nation’s viable future. Nepali nation has also become heavily penetrated and dependent on external environments for survival, progress and resilience. Auxiliary organisations of parties, NGOs, professional groups and solidarity-based bodies uncritically internalise the external paradigms of progress and decry its own roots and heritage.  It is absurd to gear economic diplomacy for the exports of labour, not material goods and deploy the surplus resources of the nation for agricultural and industrial production and trade diversification. 

Nepal has moderate success in IT and clean energy but both fail to generate ample industrial productivity and employment. As a result, it has become a net importer of food.  The effect of globalisation has not made the world flat; nations are caught in hierarchy relative to their capabilities and the force of resilience. In this context, Nepal’s virtues lie in diversification of its dependence and its ability to defy penetration that cut its state’s capacity to pursue policy goals as per the moral superiority of its native wisdom of Panchasheel, the classic connectors of peoples and nations.

Nepal’s self-seclusion and active self-defense practiced during the unification days of Prithvi Narayan Shah, special relationship with British-India during the Rana regime, excessive reliance on independent India in the 1950s and diversification afterwards were its adaptive strategies. In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the cold war allowed it to fabricate neutralism in the neighbourhood and non-alignment in global politics. It sought to leverage its strength to escape from a buffer status and invented a zone of peace, the manifestation of an independent national identity. In the 1990s it followed a policy of neo-liberal globalisation and rushed headlong into one-sided structural adjustment to the Anglosphere more as a compulsion for regime compatibility and legitimacy than to boost national capacity. 

External dependence

The lack of economic and political balance has amplified the amount of external dependence, debt, deficits in trade and even scarcity of public goods. As a result, the legislative sovereignty of Nepali parliament is corroded which has set limits on its external freedom of manoeuver though it has successfully occupied the chairs of LDCs, BIMSTEC and continually holding the SAARC chair so long as India-Pakistan stalemate unfreezes the summit. Its associative leap has improved its credence in the South Asian public. After the convulsive change of 2005 Nepal’s foreign policy efficacy was imperiled by fixation with peace, power sharing, election, constitution and management of conflict residues. 

In the midst of the shortcoming of neo-liberalism and delusion of radicalism, Dibya Upadesh can still be a guide to vault over the middle path against extremes and engage with all powers where Nepal has vital stake.  Nepal’s soft power diplomacy can be an asset for its persistent links in Asia. The nation always remained a gravity of attraction for sages, researchers, mountaineers, artists, tourists, scientists, sociologists and cultural anthropologists to know its civilisation, natural environment, culture, art, bio-diversity and intellectual heritage.  Nepal’s syncretic culture, religion and language formed the core component of its centripetal forces for adaptation. Its heritage of tolerance of bio and human diversity is one of the greatest advantages while sanctuary to asylum seekers marks the legacy of civilisational values and symbol of adaptable coexistence in transitional world politics.

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)

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