Chasing shadows

  • Far-reaching reforms in foreign service must be considered before appointing ambassadors
- Gopal Thapa
Chasing shadows

Aug 24, 2014-

The media seems overly obsessed with the issue of outstanding envoy appointments these days. Perhaps, this issue has been given more prominence than it deserves. This restlessness, particularly in the media, is strange and inexplicable. Many reputed national dailies have even offered editorials on this issue, pummeling the government for its apparent nonchalance. Strangely, some have gone as far as to equate this issue with lowering Nepal’s national image and prestige in the international arena. One would assume that the government should have been sufficiently sensitised by now. Strangely enough, however, the appointments have yet to materialise.

Last year’s lessons

One wonders why an issue as simple as the appointment of ambassadors is being given such repeated national focus by the media. In other countries, ambassadorial appointments never become significant national news, even in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, not to talk of India and the Western countries. Furthermore, this is a wrong time for the media to raise this issue. There was similar rooting last year for the need of a representative government to hold general elections. However, the bureaucrat-led government of Khil Raj Regmi, at the end of the day, was able to hold free and fair general elections, and handed over power peacefully to elected representatives, belying all prophecies.

This event should have taught us that we must not rush to make judgments without first examining the cost and benefit of certain issues in terms of time, relevance and context. The clamour last year, that democracy is always safe only in the hands of elected representatives, proved wrong. Such a parochial and blind belief in democracy is what undercuts democracy and democratic values. BP Koirala once said, “Democracy is about compromise, it is more of a balancing act. Anyone who thinks and preaches too much about democracy without concomitantly practicing it is a potential dictator.” It is not my intention here to belittle the elected representatives and their professed faith in democracy. Nor should this be misconstrued as undermining the crucial role of the media as a perennial defender of democracy and democratic rights of the people.

Little substance

It may sound preposterous, but a detached inquiry into some recent events may be enough to convince that the long absence of ambassadors in a number of missions abroad doesn’t make much of a difference in terms of substance. At least, the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Nepal has proven this point. When something as important as a visit of the Indian Prime Minister could take place successfully in the absence of our ambassador in New Delhi, why make such a hue and cry over the outstanding appointment of envoys?

The presence of an ambassador in New Delhi, many believe, would have added very little value to the visit. It is to everybody’s knowledge that the visit of Indian Prime minister, after a hiatus of 17 years, has taken place, even without the presence of an ambassador or any arduous diplomatic efforts from the Foreign Ministries of both the countries. Simply put, there was little diplomacy at play in making this visit happen. It was the fruit of Prime Minister Modi’s ‘neighbours first’ policy that Nepal was able to reap and relish. Equally true, the presence of an ambassador now in Delhi may have little bearing on the success achieved or setbacks suffered on the agendas the two governments have agreed upon.

Still one doesn’t certainly feel comfortable with this kind of a situation. But both the Foreign Ministry and ambassadorial posts have, of late, lost much of their sheen. A continued lack of focus and inept handling of the operational aspects of foreign policy is largely to blame. The absence of ambassadors for long in the missions is not at all good news. However, appointing them without fundamentally defining their roles and responsibilities can make things even worse. Such appointments, whether or not made in time, may make no material difference. In substance, they neither enhance nor erode national prestige in the international arena. At least, a lack of serious evaluation on how much Nepal stood to gain or lose on its international image in the absence of an ambassador in New Delhi during Modi’s visit proves this point well enough. It lends credence to the widespread public perception that appointing ambassadors, without first putting in place far-reaching institutional and operational reforms is like chasing a shadow.

Pressing issues

These are very unsettling times for Nepal, which must undergo deeper introspection. A famous American Economist Fabian Linden says, “It is useful occasionally to look at the past to gain perspective on the present.”

Thapa is former Chief of Protocol at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Published: 25-08-2014 09:33

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