Monday, 8 March, 2021

Need Of Revamping Foreign Policy

Anushila Bhattarai


Relations between Nepal and India have now been at the crossroads due to the dispute over their territorial claims. Nepal government last month updated a political and administrative map by incorporating Limpiyadhura, Lipulek and Kalapani. The move was taken in response to the inauguration of a road to Kailash Manasarovar by India. The road passes through Lipulek that belongs to Nepal. The federal parliament also amended the constitution to include the new map in the coat of arms. The government deployed the Armed Police Force (APF) at the border with India to protect the country’s territories. With these political and security back-ups at home, now is the time to move forward with highly effective diplomatic measures to settle the longstanding border issues with the southern neighbour.
On a realistic ground of international relations, circumstances of being vulnerable cannot be avoided by any state. However, the state should always be ready to turn its weakness into strength. Since 1969, Nepal has been dealing with the territory dispute surrounding the Kalapani region diplomatically. But unfortunately, the country has not been successful to settle it because of India's apathy.

Mutual diplomacy
Dealing this issue at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) could have been another solution for Nepal, but India has already expressed its reservation on dealing with territorial issues while signing up for the membership for ICJ. This reservation disables the chance of Nepal to present the case to ICJ which leaves the latter with no option other than mutual diplomacy. Nepal must take significant additional steps to deal with the asymmetrical power and deleterious regional geopolitics.
A country's foreign policy must be able to identify itself with the current socio-political transition, national interest and security. The emergence of nationalism linked with independence and pride alone cannot help diplomacy to solve this dispute. The current rise in the anti-Indian sentiments may further complicate the relations in terms of security, economy and trade. Both the sides might suffer from a sour relationship.  No doubt, lots of elements of security and sovereignty are at stake and the only option that Nepal holds to solve this issue is diplomacy. The Sugauli Treaty of 1816 has clearly marked the border between the two neighbours. To resolve the border issues associated with the entire Kalapani region, the two countries should hold comprehensive negotiations.  
Nepal's foreign policy has not undergone any overhaul since the beginning. The country has been the victim to politics that chooses to pursue personal interest over national one.  In the present perpetually complex global structure, the nation can accomplish its objectives only by enhancing its quality of foreign policy execution through a reasonable international strategy that utilises all accessible instruments and resources.
Foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy of a country in relation with other nations and international agencies. They include the country's diplomacy, security policy, international human rights, economic policies and environmental policies. Like all government policies, foreign policy has goals of providing security and prosperity.  The Constitution of Nepal has defined our foreign policy in its directive principles which abide by the UN Charter, Non-Alignment Movement (NAM), Panchsheel and international laws. But these are not found being followed properly. Furthermore, the NAM, which was formed against the backdrop of the Cold War to maintain neutrality between the USA and the USSR) used to be the foundation of foreign policy but it appears to be outdated
Nepal must engage a fully resourced body to have our foreign policy's impact wider. Holding on a lopsided treaty such as the Mahakali Treaty and 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty, not being able to stand against many impositions like the undeclared economic border blockade in 2015 shows Nepal’s vulnerable position with India. These are two likeminded nations sharing sentiments together but differences in the relationship have risen time and again due to India’s negative attitude towards Nepal. 
The current situation demands an urgent execution of diplomacy and security policy. Nepal's foreign policy is not so coherent and comprehensive. Changes and continuity are key to strategic diplomacy.  Therefore, there is a crucial need for upgrading the existing strategies on international relations.  The absence of agreement on issues of national interest among the governing party, international relations pioneers, diplomats and scholars are the main obstacles to prioritising foreign policy. 
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) plays a vital role in moving diplomatic discourses ahead. The MoFA must be strengthened for its more effective functioning. For this, the ministry must stay away from unnecessary political influences. Foreign policy that does not serve the interests of political alliance will be more stable even in the international system. Institutional strengthening, qualified staffing, and encouragements to research and think tanks should be prioritised.

Diplomatic discourses
The country's diplomatic missions abroad seem to be weaker. Ample diplomatic discourses and debates to enhance knowledge and skills of diplomatic staff are still lacking. Few debates such as AIDIA Dialogue exist but they are not enough. Fewer funds for research scholars and less incentive for research institutions make it impossible for researchers and think tanks to dedicate themselves and have a productive outcome. The only existing think tank of MoFA is the Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA), which is practically inactive and is unable to work as the resource powerhouse. Its capability to produce research papers, scholars, and training are also not enough to boost knowledge of the existing diplomats and staff.
Think tanks should be able to support MoFA so that it can function as an entity of the state. Nepotism should not prevail in selecting high-ranking diplomats and ambassadors. Such key positions are to be filled in by highly professional human resources. Track records and training should be considered in the selection process. Tribhuvan University is the only university in the country to run Master's Degree programme in International Relations. Scholars who have studied abroad and returned are limited. Time has come for MoFA to appreciate the work and contributions of these few existing think tanks.

(An M.A. in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, Bhattarai is a freelance writer and rights activist.  

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