Delayed diplomacy

- Krishna Sharma, ARUN BHATTARAI

Sep 29, 2014-

The US State Department has one mantra that its diplomats act according to: delayed diplomacy is harmful to US interests. No matter how divided the House may be, it acts promptly, either by accepting or rejecting the White House nomination when it comes to putting diplomats to work abroad. It is not only the US where international relations and issues of diplomatic interests are handled with agility, shrewdness, and gravity. Even nations with poor governing structures and poor freedom and human rights records manage their foreign affairs with consideration so that their interests and image are not in jeopardy. Nepal’s case is entirely different. Diplomacy, it seems, can wait perennially, or else, Nepal would have nominated ambassadors to key nations like India, the UK and the US.

At a time when public diplomacy is becoming a buzzword, traditional diplomacy is still a big deal when it comes to addressing issues of paramount bilateral interest. Even peoples’ diplomacy experiences hitches when traditional diplomacy fails to follow or provide guidelines to new foreign policy dynamics.

Just one example

Last year, the Vision for Nepal Foundation (Vifon) was invited to do a small presentation on the situation of National Parks in Nepal at one of the US’ National Parks Service Offices in Washington, DC. After the presentation, the head of the international affairs bureau within the Department of Interior asked if we had a few minutes to talk. Without wasting any time, he said that his office really wanted to connect with Nepal, especially since Nepal’s Everest National Park (ENP) has had sister parks relations with the US’s Shenandoah National Park (SNP) since 2002.

“We wrote numerous letters asking ENP officials about experience-sharing forums, knowledge transfer, and even offered some help if need be, but we did not hear anything back from them. Do you have any idea why ENP is shying away from communicating with us?” he asked.

We had some ready answers, but we stepped back because we were not an authority or country representatives to say anything on the record. And we definitely did not want to paint a poor portrait of the country where we were born and raised. We said that the best bet could be to arrange a working lunch with Nepal’s Ambassador to the US and begin from there. Such a meeting became possible since the then Nepali Ambassador, Shankar Sharma, was very friendly and positive to any ideas that might benefit Nepal. After this meeting, Sharma and the US parks official told us on different occasions that they had discovered a missing link and that communication would now be regular between the two parks. However, upon following up with an SNP official later, it appeared that ENP had not even replied to a single letter.

Wrong priorities

It is no secret today that the private sector is doing its bit to promote tourism and education in Nepal. But when it comes to the powerful and resourceful public sector, it is because of inefficiency, a lack of willingness or commitment on the part of office bearers that Nepal is lagging far behind. And this, despite the fact that a recent news report stated that Nepal spends Rs 60 million to house its diplomatic missions. This does not even include day-to-day expenses.

Without a carefully strategised diplomatic policy framework in an increasingly globalised and interconnected world, Nepal cannot produce the advantage that comes from cooperative pursuits in economic, political, and cultural fronts. Whether it is about fighting terrorism or expanding trade and commerce, information exchange is becoming a crucial task in international relations. Right diplomacy can make this happen—mitigate risks, both internal and external and exploit opportunities. Nepal has clearly fallen off the cliff in the absence of right people in the right place in the right time.

It is a sad state of affairs to note that the country’s more than a dozen embassies have been without ambassadors for more than a year now. The Nepali Embassy in Washington DC has been without an ambassador since January this year.

Urgent needs

It is time for Nepal and the US to establish their own ‘US-Nepal Chamber of Commerce’ instead of always going through the US-India Chamber of Commerce. Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives are the only South Asian nations without any bureau at the US Chamber of Commerce. Reenergising other initiatives brought forth by Sharma in his five-year tenure as Nepal’s envoy will need a diplomat with a strong sense of public policy and economic sense.

It is unfortunate that PM Sushil Koirala failed to realise that the Nepal Embassy to the US and Nepal’s UN Mission in New York are like beehives without a queen the last time he was here for a medical checkup. We had hoped that the first thing he would do after returning to Singha Durbar would be to appoint envoys to vacant embassies. Even now, after he has finished attending the UN General Assembly in his second trip to New York, his envoys have yet to be found. Meanwhile, the country continues to live under the shadow of diplomatic uncertainty.

- Sharma and Bhattarai are respectively president and vice-president of Vifon, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group on Nepal and the diaspora

Published: 30-09-2014 13:58

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