In the last one week, the US State Partnership Program (SPP) has caused a stir in Nepal. While the country was engaging in the review of the local level election results and the discussion on the budget in the parliament, the SPP suddenly came to the fore and drew the attention of everyone from the parliament to the streets.
The SPP made waves in Nepal’s diplomacy, politics and security sector. In the space of a year, events escalated to such an extent that the draft SPP, which was said to have been sent to Nepal by the United States for negotiations, went from public to rejected.
Since the government’s decision to reject the SPP is contrary to Nepal’s non-aligned foreign policy, there is no point in debating its pros and cons. The SPP had made the government and the ruling coalition restless while the country was moving towards the federal and state elections without slowing down the local level elections. The main opposition UML had a fast election agenda.
The government did not want to discuss the SPP further. Instead, the SPP’s ‘chapter close’ after being rejected. Congratulations to the government. But it has raised serious questions about Nepal’s diplomacy. Our weak foreign policy has been exposed once again.
After the US embassy in Nepal made public in 2015 that Nepal had sent a letter to the SPP to participate in the SPP and then twice in 2017, the US embassy in Nepal made it public.
While the Government of Nepal and the political parties here are secretly trying to promote the SPP, the parties and the government, which have been blaming each other, have remained silent after the issue of the SPP surfaced in the public media.
The government also did not want to come into further controversy and there was no further discussion within the country on the provisions of the SPP, nor was there any dialogue with the United States. The government and the parties paid more attention to the possible impact of the SPP in the upcoming election. However, the decision to withdraw from the SPP unilaterally without further discussion and dialogue with the United States in the past, as well as its own correspondence for participation in the SPP, naturally raises questions about Nepal’s foreign policy.
The rejection of the SPP by all the political parties involved in Nepal when it has reached the stage of implementation is a vivid example of how diplomacy is slipping into the quagmire of domestic politics.
Domestic politics and diplomacy
It is ironic to try to link issues like diplomacy with domestic politics and make it an electoral weapon. As a result, every issue related to diplomacy is becoming controversial in Nepal.
The growing distrust of the people towards the political parties of Nepal has also contributed to this. Our diplomatic immaturity is also a major reason for the growing mentality among the people that parties are not accountable to the country.
There is a growing tendency among the parties not to be sensitive to foreign policy and to rush to conclude any kind of treaty for the sake of party interests and power interests. Due to which, even the good diplomatic efforts made by the government have raised suspicions among the people. The role of some political parties and intellectuals who are ready to squander diplomacy by squandering it and creating unnecessary confusion is even more astonishing.
Before proceeding with the process of signing any treaty or agreement, it has not been possible to hold wide-ranging discussions and consultations with the stakeholders, including the civil society.
By misleading the whole country, the process of hastily advancing the various treaties and agreements with foreign countries in a guerrilla style and when it reaches the stage of implementation, the diplomacy has been mocked by linking it with domestic politics.
Earlier, the same thing happened with the US aid project MCC. Nepal itself sent a proposal for the MCC project. From the election of Nepal in 2068 BS to the signing of the MCC Compact in 2074 BS, every government formed in the meantime was directly involved in the MCC process. Until then, the issue was limited to government-to-government.
After the government led by UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli submitted it to the parliament for approval in June 2076 BS, the issue became so hot that even the parties were afraid to speak in favor of the MCC. The reason is the assessment of the parties that could affect the election results.
There should be no recurrence of the tendency to mislead the people into hastily reaching an agreement and linking it to domestic politics when it reaches the stage of implementation.
From the MCC process until it was registered in Parliament, the parties that were united became divided when they reached the implementation stage. There was a competition to treat each other as traitors. The road from the house was heated.
Responsible leaders in Parliament threatened to shed blood if the MCC was passed. The MCC, which is closely linked to Nepal’s infrastructure development, has been embroiled in domestic politics in such a way that attempts have been made to forcefully establish the view that the country will not exist if the MCC is passed.
Our foreign policy is becoming ‘reactive’ to being ‘pro-active’. Looking at national politics, we have begun to formulate our positions and views on foreign policy. When we try to formulate foreign policy from the arithmetic of domestic political gains and losses, we do not evaluate the impact in the future.
Neither the government nor the responsible political parties seem to have paid attention to that. This is a game on Nepal’s diplomacy. It is important for the rulers and political parties here to understand that domestic politics and foreign policy are different.
Danger of losing the trust of the international community
Nepal seems to have a dual character when it comes to diplomacy. This is not good in ‘double stand’ diplomacy. The country needs to have a minimum common vision on any issue.
Domestic politics will change the balance of power in the country. But when foreign policy deteriorates, there is a danger of losing the balance of the whole country. Landlocked and poor countries in Asia like Nepal must also prioritize relations with neighbors and other allies for the benefit of the country. As crudeness in diplomacy loses the trust of allies, Nepal needs to review its impact in the coming days.
There must be a minimum uniformity between the national powers in foreign policy, which we do not see. Diplomacy centered on personal interests, not national interests, is gaining ground. This is unfortunate for the country itself.
Before the political changes of 2046 BS, Nepal’s foreign policy was more focused on protection of power. This policy seems to have been adopted since the time of Jung Bahadur Rana. Nepal, which has been moving forward according to the diplomacy of appeasing foreigners to protect its power, has become party-centric after 2046 BS and now person-centered diplomacy has prevailed for the last two decades. Due to the immature diplomacy of the government and the political parties, the political parties have started losing the trust of the people internally.
Institutions that support the state are now on the verge of weakening. The court could not be without controversy. There are fears that the Nepal Army, another so-called strong organization, is also weakening. An example of this is the statements made by the army in the SPP within 24 hours.
Therefore, there is a need for the government to hold wide-ranging discussions and consultations with the internal forces in any process for cooperation and collaboration with foreign countries. The tendency to mislead the people into hastily reaching an agreement and linking it to domestic politics should not be repeated.
The government should not ignore the geopolitical location of Nepal and the strategic interests of the neighboring countries before concluding a treaty with any country. But that does not mean that the belief that Nepal’s foreign policy should be centered on the interests of its neighbors cannot be acceptable to a sovereign country.
In recent times, China’s growing interest in Nepal’s diplomatic relations with India and the United States, and the role played by some of Nepal’s political parties and intellectuals in dealing with Chinese interests, has also made diplomacy controversial. Just as some political parties, their leaders and intellectuals worked to create confusion in Nepal about the MCC, there is no denying that there is Chinese influence behind it.
At that time, the activities of the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu and Beijing are clear. It is important for Nepal to be aware of the danger of losing the trust of the international community, sometimes in domestic politics and sometimes in diplomacy due to the undue influence of its neighbors.
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