Aspiring individuals should be made to go through a programme that will help them not only understand how they should conduct themselves in foreign lands but also how to rearticulate the discourse on Nepal’s interests and its future.
Twenty years ago, when Nepalis travelled abroad, they were keen to be invited to the embassy, meet the Ambassador, get updated on what is happening and be proud of how well represented Nepal was. Now, save a few countries, we hear interesting stories of embarrassment and how Nepalis would like to stay away from their embassies. The way diplomatic careers have been entrenched in politics, as in every other aspect of Nepali life, has really affected many people, including career diplomats who want to bring about change and keep the image of the country’s representation intact.
The political parties, like their earlier absolute rulers, have used diplomatic positions as something to bestow favour upon loyal individuals. Therefore, the issue of qualifications and other soft skills required for a diplomat have never been considered an issue. So we have diplomats who lack fluency in the languages they are supposed to know. In some cases, we even get to read and hear about how the visa for staff potentially working for such individuals becomes something they can peddle to create retirement benefits.
While we get to learn from many Nepali diplomats posted in different countries across the world through interactions with them, we seem to have decided to stay away from reforming this very important function that determines the country’s image and aspirations. The fact that we are not interested in filling the vacant post of the Nepali Ambassador to India, one of the most critical ambassadorial positions in our foreign relations, shows our attitude towards the need and importance of diplomacy. Successive governments have treated the diplomatic corps as just another ‘state owned enterprise’ that is equated to ensuring that the objectives of specific political parties, and not the country’s, are met.
In absence of credible Track Two efforts, along with our poor treatment of diplomatic efforts, we have isolated ourselves from a very dynamic world. Seemingly, we have failed to learn from lessons from the past. In the past, certain ambassadors posted in certain countries were able to positively change the way countries looked at Nepal with respect to its great diversity and potential. They were able to convince investors and development partners to come to Nepal. When we look back, there have been many successful initiatives that need to be credited to people from diplomatic missions. We have not let these best practices be replicated or institutionalised.
It is important to come to the realisation that only economic growth and development will lead to the transformation that Nepal needs, not the rhetoric of politics, ideology or nationalism. A country’s diplomacy and diplomatic missions form one of the key areas to push investments and harness partners for economic growth. For this, we need to understand and build a career path for diplomats, rather than leaving it as a
means of bestowing favours to party loyalists or even collect funds for political parties, as is rumoured.
Training better diplomats
Aspiring individuals, be they career bureaucrats or others who fulfil the basic criteria, should be made to go through a programme that will help them not only understand how they should conduct themselves in foreign lands but also how to build up knowledge and rearticulate the discourse on Nepal’s interests and its future. For a country that has plenty of money for junkets and trainings, it may be more useful to develop programmes in collaboration with institutions, like the Fletcher School of Diplomacy and others, to ensure that our diplomats have an understanding of their purpose of appointment and are well versed in how to ‘sell’ Nepal to potential investors, help connect with the increasing diaspora population and provide a platform on which the future of Nepal’s economic growth can be built.
Furthermore, with thousands of migrant workers in different parts of the world, our embassies not only have a crucial role to play when trouble arises but will also need to ensure that they are able to negotiate with labour-receiving countries on building better jobs with better benefits. For instance, the Embassy in Qatar can start by not only exploring business opportunities for Nepali companies but also discussing and starting work on creating a social security fund for Nepali workers with a corpus from the Qatari government that will work towards providing social security to Nepali workers back in Nepal when they return.
Like for everything else, we need long term vision and should not be clouded by the need to appoint a certain ambassador because one of your children in studying in that country and would get a free guardian! We are seeing better and more able civil servants who have fine understanding of the world around them and are able to articulate Nepal’s interests better. We need to see how we can tap into them to better represent Nepal and help to further the cause of economic growth.
We can take a leaf of learning from many African countries that are using economic diplomacy as a tool of change. As we move ahead in appointing the next batch of ambassadors, we have an opportunity to learn from the past and bring about some change. Opportunities like these come along only once in a while.