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Uddhab Pyakurel: Nepal should approach international relations by embracing changed global context

Uddhab Pyakurel: Nepal should approach international relations by embracing changed global context
Uddhab Pyakurel is an associate professor at the Kathmandu University School of Arts. Along with his university job, Pyakurel is also engaged in a research of Nepal’s foreign policy and international relations. ApEx talked to him about the foreign policy challenges of the Pushpa Kamal Dahal government and Nepal’s relations with big powers. What are the key foreign policy challenges of the Pushpa Kamal Dahal government? Confusion in understanding Nepal’s geo-political reality within the ruling Maoist Party has remained the main challenge for Dahal and his party while being in the government or in the opposition since 2008. His own party is not rational when dealing with Nepal’s immediate and distant neighbors. That is why they use buzzwords like “equi-distance” and “equi-proximity” which doesn’t help a country like Nepal.

Our leadership has to deal with many practical things to meet not only the nation’s aspiration but also day-to-day needs of people. For this purpose, a party with ruling ambitions has to go beyond emotional and ideological stands, and revisit those positions in a new context. With all communist parties in Nepal, we often find double standards. Their leaders are actually ready to compromise more than that is expected of them while dealing with external forces, but they put on a strong and unyielding attitude in front of their party cadres.

Familiarizing the party cadres through new discourse and discussions in the changed global context will be helpful to both the Maoist party and its leader Dahal. They should revisit their old positions and formulate new ones to show that the party has a clear position. How do you see NP Saud as a foreign minister?  It could be considered as a great relief for Dahal to have Nepali Congress as a coalition partner. The government has a relatively pragmatic stand and attitude on Nepal’s foreign policy because of this. But it must be said that Congress didn’t cooperate with Dahal by appointing NP Saud as a foreign minister. He has in the past shown a lack of interest and engagement on issues to be dealt by a foreign minister. Saud could have been a good education minister, even home minister. But as a foreign minister, his performance has been less than average. I think this is unjust for Saud too. Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center) have different views on how to deal with major powers. How does this affect our external relations? I don’t think that all the parties and leaders in the government have different views when it comes to dealing with major powers. You are right that some political parties including the Maoists still have a “double stand” in their view of external powers. But as stated earlier, the Nepali Congress, with relatively better understanding, could have played a role to shape a clear view. It seems like a missed opportunity for the Congress, as it could not place the right person in the right place. We have some outstanding issues with India including the border dispute. How can we resolve them? Clarity in issues and art of negotiation with acceptable modus operandi for counterparts are two major factors of a successful negotiation. But Nepal and India have never followed this modus operandi. Weak presentation in issues due to a lack of preparatory work has always remained a big problem for Nepali side while dealing with India. That is why most of the issues have not been resolved. On the issue of our borders, both the countries are missing an opportunity here to sign the protocol to realize the agreement made by ‘Nepal-India Joint Technical Level Boundary Committee’ formed by both the governments in 1981. If it is signed, both the governments will have time to concentrate on major points like Susta and Kalapani. What is happening today is that the media covers the news of border disputes on an almost daily basis when in fact they could have been dealt with by the apex body of the two countries. The border issues are getting more complicated and ruining the environment for negotiations. That is why all negotiations and discussions are more or less the same abstracts i.e. 1950 treaty, security concerns, good relation, etc. The Nepali side has recently added the EPG (Eminent Persons’ Group) report on the menu. Unilateral menu in the bilateral talk is not considered as an art of negotiation. Contemporary issues which have impacted public life can be presented, and if the issue is there with a good preparation, I don’t think that there will be any chance for the two countries to deny it. Even if treaty provisions offer equal treatment to Nepali and Indian citizens if they visit and stay in the neighborhood, many new provisions introduced recently made citizens’ mobility further complicated. Both the governments need to discuss the issues which will eventually strengthen people-to-people relations. This is only the best way for better relations between the two countries. How do you view China’s BRI in Nepal? We need to understand BRI as the concept, and the usefulness of the program for a country like Nepal. The BRI seems to be good for middle income countries with an aspiration to build mega infrastructure projects. Nepal, being dependent on a subsistence economy, has just begun with relatively small scale projects and a moderate amount of expenses. That very amount is managed by it from within its friendly nations, largely in grants and low interest. That is why the Nepal government and BRI authority have so far been unable to negotiate for projects. Kathmandu-Kerung Railway has motivated Nepal to use the BRI, but it seems that they could not agree on a funding model. The hope was also dashed after China itself delayed and put the project of Shigatse-Kerung railway on hold for years.