By Dr Bharat Raj Paudel
3 February 2019
Nepal has found itself in international limelight since earlier this week after a co-chairman of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) issued a rather unexpected statement condemning the involvement of United States in the ongoing Venezuelan crisis. The statement has not only surprised foreign affairs experts and commoners within Nepal but has also triggered an expected diplomatic displeasure in the US government. A follow-up statement by Nepal’s ministry of foreign affairs aimed at calming the US embassy in Kathmandu failed to satisfy the latter.
The deadlock is likely to impact the tiny Himalayan nation’s relationship with its major development partner for the last seven decades. Several news reports have lately claimed that senior officials at the US State Department summoned Nepalese Ambassador in Washington, Arjun Karki, to seek clarification on former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s strong-worded statement that criticised the US and its allies in relation to the internal affairs of Venezuela. The US Embassy in Kathmandu had also expressed its concern by asking the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify where Nepal stood vis-à-vis Dahal’s criticism of the US.
Nepal is now caught in an unnecessary wrangling about an issue that has nothing to do with the South Asian nation. A ‘tit for tat’ reaction was recently witnessed when US Ambassador to Nepal, Randy Berry, chose to be absent at a meeting organised by the ministry of foreign affairs in Kathmandu. The meeting, participated also by PM KP Sharma Oli, was organised to inform international community about Nepal’s foreign policy and upcoming investment summit being planned in Kathmandu.
It seems as if the much-criticised statement by Mr Dahal was issued after considering the strong remarks of the anti-US power giants such as China and Russia and also countries taking stance against American involvement in Venezuela.
Mr Dahal’s criticism of the US has created a confusion within Nepal’s ministry of foreign affairs. Later on, sources within Nepal’s foreign ministry claimed that co-chairman Dahal had no consultation with Prime Minister Oli before the statement was drafted and released. This tendency highlights an immaturity working our leader’s minds.
Is it Nepal’s Priority?
In the wake of the ill-considered Dahal statement, people rushed to social media to mock CPN’s official interest in the matter. News and opinion pieces began to surface in support and against the statement.
Nepalese people have urged concerned leaders and power centers to be sensible on internal matters of countries Nepal has diplomatic ties with. Nepal and Venezuela have had diplomatic relations since 27 April 1987. These 31 years of diplomatic relationship has not engaged the two countries in any activities having economic, trade, cultural or strategic importance. However, handful of notable figures of the Nepalese communist leadership do appear to have some sort of connections with Venezuelan political parties and leaders. That’s about it. The erstwhile CPN-Maoist party led by current CPN Co-Chairman Pusha Kamal Dahal as well as few other leftist leaders do draw on examples on the revolutions in Latin American nations such as Venezuela, Cuba, Peru and Bolivia. However, leading up to the final few years of his presidential term, Hugo Chavez suffered some hurdles that were not letting his country move forward. As a result, right from the beginning of his presidency, Nicolas Maduro, was faced with all sorts of challenges in leading his nation towards prosperity. Looking at the plight of its people, no rulers should be tempted by power rather than making way for a fresh verdict of people. Why citizens of this resource-rich nation are suffering from basic wants is the question of the hour. The dogged socio-economic issues that Maduro inherited from Chavez are now prompting these political antics and involvement of western forces including USA in the internal political conflict of a beautiful nation.
Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali stated that transitional justice was Nepal’s internal matter and that the country was working on it as committed. Countries and organisations that recently issued a joint statement urging the Nepalese government to clarify its plans to uphold transitional justice were Australia, Germany, the European Union, Finland, France, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the USA and the UN. These scenarios may have triggered the current state of confusion which has created unintended vacuum within our relationship with USA.
In his recent article published on The Himalayan Times, Dr. Umesh K Bhattarai rightly stated, “Whether it was correct or not to release the press statement by the ruling party leadership before the government made an official statement is open to debate, but the diplomatic decorum has been challenged”. Dr Bhattarai, a PhD in conflict management and a scholar of security and strategy studies, argued that Nepal government has failed to understand that amnesty cannot be granted to those who have used excessive force to kill innocents during 10 years of Maoist insurgency. So we can rightly conclude that Nepal is not even able to fulfill its own commitment made during the peace agreement and therefore, it is rich for it to be hobnobbing in the internal affairs of a foreign nation.
What might have triggered public reactions?
Nepalese people are clearly concerned and critical of the immaturity shown by the current government and the ruling party. What benefit do we get by blaming western powers without fully realising their entangled conflict with Venezuela? Why must we engage in a conflict which we cannot resolve through our advocacy or diplomatic strengths? One practical way of developing diplomatic strength and making Nepal presentable at the international front is to first upgrade our skills and understanding of the leaders and diplomats. It should not be a mere hobby that we can enjoy by venting anger against any of our friends whether they are from the SAARC, BIMSTEC, Asia Pacific regions, Indo-Pacific or the western world. More importantly our capacity reflects the way we balance relationship equally dealing with our immediate neighbours; India and China. We have to be clever and smart not to turn our country into an unholy playground of international powers. Nepal has not developed its practical priority and national interest. Consolidation of federal democratic system has been impacted by the lacking efficiency of the government of two third majority and weak opposition. Also, Nepal has been listed again as one of the most corrupt country in the world ranking 124th position out of 180 countries. Thus, have we successfully tackled problems that the nation is facing since the restoration of democracy? If not, why are we bothered to make commentaries on the internal affairs of a country seven seas away?
Nepal’s federalism is facing existential challenges and we talk about what, Venezuela? It is no doubt a colossal waste of time by focusing on irrelevant topics. Venezuela, for a decade now, has been facing various challenges and their confrontation with the US and western world have raised many questions. We can simply wish Venezuela better days ahead through a peaceful resolution of the current political turmoil. It is entirely up to them how they resolve their internal conflict and maintain relations with their neighbours, strategic opponents and western allies.
Venezuela is a nation struggling to adapt to changes; people are rushing into neighbouring nations for food and safety. People are also demanding resignation of President Maduro. Opposition leader Juan Guaido, the self-declared president, is a young face and represents hope for a big size of the Venezuelan public. The country has got the history of a failed coup against Chávez in 2002. So, it is understandable that anything could happen in Venezuelan politics. Trade ties with the US and neighbouring countries have been in turmoil. Therefore, Nepal’s involvement in Venezuelan politics, by virtue of its complexity and weakening diplomacy, is not going to fix problems of the Venezuelan people. It would rather, as it has been evidenced, agitate our longstanding development and strategic partners.
In the wake of the upcoming Nepal Investment Summit, the US has questioned Nepal’s capacity to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) without real, bold and tangible reforms. Both laws and practices along with confidence-building mechanism have not been dealt as per the interest of the people and investors. It would not have come to this if Nepalese leaders had not spoken on Venezuela – a subject which had nothing to do with the current socio-political narrative of the Himalayan nation.
Damage has been done
Nepal now has the daunting task of convincing donors and developing partners and win the trust of giant neighbours including India and China and promote and cherish mutual respect and trust in the international arena. An entire year of the currently full-fledged majority government has been utilised basically for foreign junkets by our ministers and high-level officials. Now it’s time to bring our developing and strategic partners together.
Finally, the tone of the government statement just after CPN Co-chairman’s messy remarks against USA and western powers are slightly different, but both carry the same intention of the government. This time government and ruling party have both slipped off the national priority engagement plunging the nation into a totally irrelevant debate. It has derailed focus from Nepal’s national interest. We must be more cautious while dealing with Nepal’s friendly nations so that we can promote our national interests without drawing the anger and displeasure of any of the international stakeholders.