Tuesday, 29 November, 2022

On Professional Diplomats


Madan Kumar Bhattarai

The Association of Former Career Ambassadors of Nepal known more by its popular acronym, AFCAN, has just come out with its second official publication of its annual report for the year 2021. The new book is compact in terms of including core subjects of foreign policy, protocol, bilateral ties, multilateral matters, burning international issues and overarching subject of human rights with its application both in Nepal and on a global perspective.

The book has excerpts from addresses delivered by Foreign Minister Dr. Narayan Khadka and Foreign Secretary Bharat Raj Poudyal, fourteen articles plus one tribute from this humble self concerning obituaries of two senior professional diplomats, Narendra Bikram Shah and Indra Bahadur Singh, who passed away last year.

Shah was a diplomat par excellence in terms of his long innings as Ambassador, Foreign Secretary, Foreign Minister, accomplished wordsmith with exemplary flair for instant draftmanship in terms of speeches and statements, and efficient Spokesman. Ambassador Shah was reported to have shunned the offer of chief secretary taking it both as deviation and demotion from his chosen path of diplomacy. A Francophile, Ambassador Singh established his credentials as a durable Chief of Protocol.

Contributors are all AFCAN members barring three with two from professional service and a politically appointed Ambassador, Prof. Dr. Mohan Prasad Lohani. Lohani with his doctorate in English, has established his credentials as an intellectual and also served as Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Executive Director of the Institute of Foreign Affairs.
Thus taken as almost an insider in our service, Lohani has contributed an article on friendship and cooperation between Nepal and Bangladesh, a quite pertinent input based on his experience.
Ambassador Bhagirath Basnet has written a topical article on Peace and Friendship Treaty between Nepal and India with critical appraisal of its content and context. He calls for its revision in the light of far-reaching changes in both domestic and international scenes.

He also cites non-compliance of the treaty provisions in letter and spirit on the part of both countries as another relevant ground for its amendment. Calling the treaty itself not unequal, Basnet makes an interesting prognosis that even equal relationship between two asymmetrical neighbours is tantamount to making it unequal and disproportionate in its real impact.
There are two articles pertaining to China. Ambassador Paras Ghimire has written an article on US-China relations in the changed context starting from paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's flagship modernization initiative to the latest stage of Sino-US relations under President Xi Jinping covering economic and trade issues, security and strategy, BRI versus IPS, and human rights dimensions. He pleads for US-China interdependence calling it most vital for Asia and the world. Ambassador Pradhyumna Bikram Shah has touched on more futuristic issue of Nepal's relations with China and prospects of trilateral cooperation.

Besides dwelling on Nepal's proposal for undertaking nine projects under BRI framework, he seems to paint a rosy picture of supposed outcome of Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network with its impact on railways and even transit agreements.
Ambassador Dr. Rambhakta Thakur, President of AFCAN, has contributed two articles including one covering his ambassadorial tenure in Egypt. His second article relates to highly sensitive and composite issue of Taliban-led Afghanistan, UN and Nepali perspective as we recently sent an aerial consignment of relief materials to the battle-ravaged SAARC neighbour as a gesture of goodwill to the Afghan people.

On multilateral matters, two former ambassadors to UN, Gyan Chandra Acharya just appointed Ambassador to the United Kingdom, and Madhu Raman Acharya, have written topical articles. The former has dwelt on the issue of Nepal's graduation from LDC Group and diplomatic efforts involved, the latter has highlighted Nepal's agenda at the recently concluded 76th United Nations General Assembly session.

Touching a subject that has to do a lot with both domestic and foreign policy issues, Ambassador Deepak Dhital has contributed a solid article on human rights. It covers core issues of human rights in international perspective in the light of Nepal's peace process, enactment of Constitution in 2015, Nepal's ample contributions to the field being party to many human rights instruments, and other allied matters.
Rajaram Bartaula has contributed a piece on cultural aspects of Nepal-Republic of Korea ties. Two more ambassadors, Mohan Krishna Shrestha and Ramesh Prasad Khanal with stints as Chiefs of Protocol, have rightly filled up the gap by contributing articles on ceremonious and functional affairs like protocol, credentials, Vienna Conventions and diplomacy reflecting their own practical experiences.

There are two articles that need special mention in the sense that they are different from others. Gopal Thapa with at least three multilateral postings during his service, has contributed on core aspect of foreign policy formulation and execution. With all theoretical and practical perspectives, he has pointed out at least six drawbacks on Nepal's foreign policy front.
These include lack of meaningful discussions on foreign policy especially after 1990 and more pronouncedly in the post-republican order, quantitative expansion of diplomatic strength, appointments of foreign ministers bereft of knowledge of diplomatic sensitivities, excessive political interference including obsolete political quota in terms of ambassadorial appointments, less impressive and suitable candidates even among many professionals chosen for ambassadorship, and suggestions for taking a leaf from latest Indian example of selecting foreign ministers from among professional diplomats.

While India has so far appointed two career professionals and two former bureaucrats with some experience of diplomacy as external affairs minister, China has chosen eight career professionals out of a total of eleven people for the position of foreign minister since 1949 indicating a very high stability in the post despite some aberrations during the Cultural Revolution.

The most comprehensive article with practical matters, do's and don'ts of Nepal's diplomacy with special reference to post-1950 era and even some anecdotal contexts has come from Ambassador Kedar Bhakta Shrestha. With 16 pages, this is the longest article in the publication detailing evolution of Nepal's foreign policy reflecting his long professional experience. With a wider compass, it relates among others, Asian Relations Conference and Bandung Conference, evolution of Non-Aligned Summits and Nepal's role in international affairs including the United Nations.

Shrestha has also given suggestions to improve and strengthen Nepal's foreign policy in terms of national consensus on foreign policy, balanced relations with two immediate neighbours, proactive role in regional organizations, economic diplomacy, relations with countries beyond neighbourhood, active role in the United Nations, and reduction of political appointees for ambassadorship with emphasis on merit for such positions.

On the deficient side, the book is a bit unbalanced in content in the sense that it leaves out some important portions of Nepal's foreign relations.Some of the lacunas include vital relations with Europe and Japan, Arab world and Malaysia that account for major chunk of remittances, and almost defunct status of SAARC with Nepal in the chair for a record time. Otherwise, the work is quite admirable. The AFCAN and its editorial team consisting of Ambassadors, Deepak Dhital, Jhabindra Prasad Aryal and Ramesh Prasad Khanal, deserve kudos for bringing out such a wonderful publication.
(Dr. Bhattarai is a former Foreign Secretary, Ambassador, Foreign Policy Adviser and author. kutniti@gmail.com.)