The Missing Pieces: Analyzing the Gaps in Government’s Foreign Policy Approach

Jingoism, marches, and street demonstrations cannot solve the issue, and war is not a solution. Dialogue is the only way forward.

KATHMANDU- The 10-party ruling alliance under Pushpa Kamal Dahal made its Common Minimum Program (CMP) public on April 6. In general, CMP is a document that outlines the shared agenda and priorities of a coalition government. It is usually negotiated and agreed upon by all the parties in the coalition to ensure a common understanding of the government’s goals and policies.

Interestingly, this is the second CMP of the Prachanda government within 100 days. In a rare occurrence, Prime Minister Dahal himself switched sides, leaving a historic but unscrupulous imprint on coalition culture, which should not be repeated in the interest of the parliamentary system. During Prime Minister Dahal’s first 100 days in office, he touted a lengthy list of accomplishments, which drew ridicule from the public. How could the prime minister, who was unable to form a complete cabinet within 100 days, claim such a long list of achievements? Yet, for Prachanda, who relies on propaganda, these claims may seem reasonable.

I am not here to expose Prime Minister Dahal for his false claims, which unfortunately are being supported by senior leaders of the Nepali Congress. It seems that the ruling NC is reluctant to criticize the PM’s decisions due to their compulsion to retain the alliance. Instead, my opinion focuses on the foreign and security policies of the present government, as outlined in the CMP. However, I must emphasize that Nepal needs action and implementation, not just more policies, whether in the realm of foreign policy or any other field.

Despite the pressing need for action, policy discourse remains crucial given the changing dynamics of the world and domestic politics. The CMP attempts to address some major issues facing Nepal today, but it is essentially a rehashing of previous coalitions’ Common Minimum Programs, with no new programs or solutions for the current crises. The government’s stated priority is to pursue an independent and balanced foreign policy that protects the national interest and promotes the prosperity of the people. However, it is unfortunate that Nepali leaders have never been able to agree on national interest. If leaders of different parties cannot agree on this fundamental issue, how can they effectively protect the national interest? Therefore, it is necessary for leaders to come together and establish a common position on national interest.

Observing the current coalition, it is clear that they have been unable to translate their policy into action. The leaders have demonstrated that they prioritize their relationships with certain neighboring countries. While a balanced foreign policy is important in principle, these leaders have practiced it paradoxically. When defining ‘balance’, it should not be an absolute balance, but rather a relative balance based on Nepal’s relations with India and China. With India flanking Nepal on three sides and sharing an open border, and China located in the north with difficult geographic terrain, it is challenging to maintain balance in relations with both countries. The answer is simple: Balance should be maintained reasonably. I am hopeful that this coalition will work toward bridging the differences.

Under the title of ‘Independence and Promotion of National Interest’, the CMP has outlined seven points. The second point addresses border-related issues with Nepal’s neighbors, including Limpiyadhura, Lipulek, and Kalapani, which the government intends to solve through diplomatic negotiations. However, the CMP does not mention Nepal’s border problem with China. Regardless, negotiations should be the means to a solution. Jingoism, marches, and street demonstrations cannot solve the issue, and war is not a solution. Dialogue is the only way forward.

Another point mentioned in the document is about the treaties and agreements signed in different tenures. The document states that “treaties that are against national interest should be reviewed and new treaties should be negotiated if necessary”. However, this is an old rhetoric in Nepal and no concrete steps have been taken in this regard. For example, the peace and friendship treaty of 1950 with India is still in effect. Some articles of the treaty have become obsolete and there have been calls from various quarters in Nepal to replace it with a new treaty that reflects the current realities and aspirations of both countries. However, India has been hesitant to renegotiate the treaty, arguing that it has been the bedrock of the India-Nepal relationship and that any changes should be made only after a thorough review.

It must be recollected here that India and Bhutan signed a new treaty in 2007, replacing the 1949 treaty. The new treaty reflected the evolving nature of the India-Bhutan relationship and provided for greater cooperation in areas such as trade, security, and energy. This could serve as a model for India and Nepal to negotiate a new treaty that reflects their current relationship.

Nepal and India have done ground work to review the overall relations through the formation of Eminent Persons Group (EPG), which sought to submit its report to both the governments in 2018, but it has not yet been received by both PMs. It is unfortunate that the report has not been given the attention it deserves by both governments, as it represents a valuable effort to address long-standing issues in the relationship between Nepal and India.

The EPG report should have been an important basis for discussions between the two countries, and it is important that both sides recognize the value of the report and work toward implementing its recommendations. But this government has not even mentioned the word ‘EPG’ in its CMP. The EPG report could serve as a valuable guide in building new relationships, and it is important that both governments take it seriously and work toward implementing its recommendations.

The CMP has a section titled “International Relations”, which consists of six points, with three major ones. The initial point stresses the significance of regional integration, which Nepal has traditionally backed, while also ensuring that its territory is not utilized to the detriment of its neighboring countries. Nevertheless, there have been reports of certain erroneous attempts, prompting Nepal to exercise caution. Additionally, Nepal should take an active role in enhancing the vibrancy of regional and sub-regional forums like SAARC, BIMSTEC, and BBIN.

I agree that the idea of formulating foreign policy on the basis of national consensus is crucial for Nepal’s stability and progress. It will ensure that foreign policy decisions are made with a broad understanding and agreement on national interests and priorities. However, it remains to be seen whether the current government can actually implement this promise and bring all stakeholders on board to form a coherent foreign policy.

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