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M.R. Josse: Nepal's diplomacy finally comes of age

Nepal's diplomacy finally comes of age

By M.R. Josse

Tunis, 16 Nov: On board special RA flight: Reflecting on the outcome of the just concluded 13th SAARC summit in Dhaka while jetting from Doha, Qatar to Tunis, what comes to mind most of all is that Nepal's diplomacy has finally come of age.

As far as this commentator is concerned, Nepalese foreign policy has been rejuvenated and imbued with a truly independent and nationalistic ethos - a spirit that was sadly in short supply in the past fifteen years or so. It's thrust, very simply, is: serve the national interest by putting Nepal first.

Interestingly, if the above has been realised by those accompanying Their Majesties, it has even been unwittingly been acknowledged by noted Indian analyst C. Raja Mohan in a recent write-up in the Indian Express. In an opinion piece from Dhaka, Mohan laments that the decision on Afghanistan's membership into SAARC could not be taken without simultaneously having China acquire observer status with the regional organisation. This, in his opinion, is a "wake up call" for Delhi - one that leaves in tatters " India's historic claim of an exclusive sphere of influence in the subcontinent."

At this juncture it will be germane to recall that it was Nepal's demarche at the 13th SAARC summit - insisting, rightly, that the Afghanistan membership question be taken in conjunction with China's request for association with SAARC - that resulted in sidelining what Mohan refers to as " India's historic claim of an exclusive sphere of influence in the subcontinent."

Be that as it may, to be noted is that that particular gird-lock unlocked only at the meeting of the leaders of SAARC - when they accepted His Majesty's proposal that China's request be acceded to! This, according to Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey, happened at the retreat on 13th November, at which time India also accepted what her representatives had blocked at the official and foreign ministers level: to site the Regional Centre for Animal Health in Nepal. Earlier, New Delhi's representatives had insisted that it should be located in India.

It is believed that this decision will not only make Nepal the regional centre for concerns that are rapidly gaining global importance but one, moreover, that will provide new employment opportunities to scores of Nepali professionals in many professional disciplines.

While the maturity and clarity of His Majesty's leadership and vision in leading the Nepalese delegation to the 13th SAARC summit has been widely acknowledged within the SAARC community, it is also possibly not gone unnoted in the wider world as well.

As much, at least, seemed to be suggested when an American woman correspondent aside in New Delhi, whom I shared an elevator ride at Hotel Sonargaun, on noticing my national attire, said spontaneously: "Your King's speech at the summit was by far the best."

Specifically, too, SAARC-XIII has been a very productive event from Nepal's point of view. For starters, it has been underscored (para 41) in the Dhaka Declaration's reference that "small states require special measures for support from all concerned for safeguarding their sovereign independence and territorial integrity." For that, the South Asian leaders stressed, as noted in the Declaration, that "protection of small states should be firmly rooted in scrupulous adherence to the UN Charter, rule of law, the strict adherence to universally accepted principles and norms related to sovereign rights and territorial integrity of all states, irrespective of their size."

Another concrete manifestation of the elegant and effective manner in which His Majesty led the Nepalese delegation at Dhaka is to be discerned in the Declaration's references (para 37) in the portion dealing with the scourge of terrorism. In short: Nepal's concerns on this score were fully addressed, including that relevant to the use of the evocative terminology "double standards" which His Majesty had stressed in his address to the Summit, and which received wide publicity and appreciation in the Bangaldeshi media.

Yet another tangible success of Nepal's diplomacy can be traced to the fact that her recommendation that a permanent mechanism be developed within SAARC to
tackle the challenges posed by natural disasters has been incorporated in the Dhaka Declaration (para 35).

At the political level, too, Nepalese diplomacy with His Majesty at the helm, has recorded significant successes. A shortlist includes a "cordial" meeting between His Majesty and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - an outcome that is sure to rattle leaders of the seven-party alliance back home who seemingly bank more on support from foreign powers rather than that of the Nepalese electorate.

Delegation sources link the positive outcome of the King's meeting with the Indian Prime Minister to the fact that it was a one-on-one affair and did not include the Indian foreign minister. The Indian Foreign Secretary Syam Saran, too, was apparently out of the loop on this crucial bilateral meet. Nepal's diplomacy as exhibited in Dhaka was assertive, independent and productive.

In other words, it can now be legitimately claimed that conduct of Nepal finally come of age, when Nepal does not need to look over her shoulders even to advance her clear national interest.


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