Pages

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Foreign policy reorientation

Yuba Nath Lamsal
Nepal saw a systemic political transformation in 1951 having a huge impact on all aspects and sectors of the country. A popular movement overthrew the Rana's family oligarchy and established a multi-party political system in Nepal in 1951. The political change heralded a new chapter in Nepal's foreign policy and diplomatic arena, as well. Although efforts for diversification of Nepal's foreign policy and diplomacy started during the Rana rule, not much progress had been achieved due to lack of political and democratic legitimacy. Nepal had diplomatic relations with a single country—the United Kingdom—for almost 130 years until 1947. Rana rulers were happy and safe as long as they continued to get British support and they did not feel necessary to develop relations with other countries. When the British withdrew from India, Rana regime started felt insecure and hastened to establish relations with other countries. In the later part of the Rana rule, Nepal's diplomatic relations were established with the United States, France and independent India besides the United Kingdom. Although some efforts had also been made to establish diplomatic relations with China but had yielded no results.
Even after the establishment of multi-party pluralist system, the initial years did not made any significant progress in the foreign policy front as the new government was heavily preoccupied with domestic affairs and could not pay much attention to foreign policy and relations with other countries. Foreign policy was the issue of the least priority for the new government as it lacked experience as well as interest in dealing with international affairs.  In the interregnum between 1951 and 1959, Nepal saw a height of instability and confusion in political and other sectors. This is the period which also witnessed the record change of governments. As the foreign policy is the extension of the domestic policy, the state of confusion and uncertainty in political front also had negative impact on Nepal's foreign policy and diplomacy.
The first three years between 1951 and 1954 were absolutely pessimistic in terms of foreign policy and diplomatic dealings. India, due to its role in the 1951 political change in Nepal, had its heavy influence in Nepal's political and foreign policy affairs.
King Tribhuvan was too grateful to India because he was under impression that he got his laurels back only with India's support, which was true, to a large extent. Although popular movement was the primary factor and the external support was only the secondary one for the 1951 political change, King Tribhuvan was more indebted to India than the Nepalese people. King Tribhuvan's remarks as having said that Nepal's democracy was a gift from India is self evident of how grateful he was to India. King Tribhuvan was unwilling to take any independent decision on foreign policy front. However, things started to change in 1955. King Tribhuvan died in 1955 and his son Mahendra took over power of Nepal.  King Mahendra was not as grateful to India as his father was. King Mahendra had a different perspective on foreign policy orientation and he practically departed from his father's policy. Thus, the year 1955 can be taken as a point of departure in the foreign policy of modern Nepal. Immediately after King Mahendra ascended to throne, Tanaka Prasad Acharya became the Prime Minister. Acharya, too, had different foreign policy vision, who took some bold steps in Nepal's foreign policy issues including the once concerning the decision to remove the Indian check posts in northern Nepal bordering with China and establish formal diplomatic relations with China. King Mahendra together with Prime Minister Tanka Prasad Acharya, therefore, can be taken as the principal architects of modern Nepal's foreign policy and diplomatic diversification.
The new found open political system had contributed to the rise of intellectual renaissance in Nepal. A section of intellectuals and political activists had already started criticizing the government's foreign policy and demanded that relations be established immediately with the next door Neighbor China. Public resentment on Nepalese foreign policy had already been there right after the Indian military mission arrived in Kathmandu in 1952. The Koshi agreement between Nepal and India in 1954 was yet another issue of public debate and dispute as the opposition parties and activists criticized the Koshi project as being against the interest of Nepal. The Nepali Congress, the dominant political force of that time, was also not happy with the government's foreign policy handling and it officially passed a resolution demanding the establishment of diplomatic relations with China. These developments had served as a pressure on the government of that time to change foreign policy orientation. Although King Tribhuvan had India-centric foreign policy perception, newer developments and public sentiments in the domestic front had, to a large extent, forced the king to change his foreign policy orientation in the later part of his life. King Tribhuvan in 1954 expressed his desire to change his foreign policy orientation stating that 20th century's Nepal could no longer remain isolated from the rest of the world.
China also had undergone a huge political transformation. In 1949, Chinese revolution succeeded in establishing the People's Republic of China (PRC) under the leadership of Mao Zedong.  The PRC had also shown interest in establishing contact and relations with Nepal. Nepalese government of that time was a little apprehensive of extending friendly relations with China as it was not confident of India's reaction. However, that was the 'Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai' (India-China brothers) era and India and China had a kind of bonhomie in their bilateral relations.  Although India may have been desirous to keep Nepal under its domain of influence in terms of foreign policy and security matters as India considered the 'Himalayas as its security frontier', New Delhi refrained from obstructing Nepal's move to establish diplomatic relations with China. The then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had suggested Nepal to go slow and be cautious in diplomatic dealings with China. But Nehru did not advise or coerce in any form on Nepal not to establish diplomatic relations with China. Indian President Dr Rajendra Prasad, sometimes after the establishment Nepal-China diplomatic relations, paid a state visit to Nepal. During the visit Dr Prasad said in public that 'Nepal and India had common friends' indicating that India did not at all take the establishment of Nepal-China diplomatic relations in a negative manner. These developments had encouraged Nepal to diversify Nepal's foreign policy even with other countries. Moreover, King Mahendra and Prime Minister Acharya were clear and determined on their foreign policy mission and goal, which helped, to a large extent, brought Nepal's foreign policy out of Indian influence.

With the establishment of diplomatic relations with China, the number of countries having diplomatic relations with Nepal reached five—the United Kingdom, the United States, France, India and China. In other words, Nepal was able to establish diplomatic relations with four of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. One year after or in 1956, Nepal formally established diplomatic relations also with Russia establishing diplomatic relations with all permanent members of the UN Security Council, while Nepal and Japan established diplomatic relations in 1957. Thus, the era of genuine diplomatic diversification started for Nepal and this process picked momentum in the years to come. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Foreign Policy Vacillation Under Rana Regime

Yuba Nath Lamsal
Geopolitical compulsion has been a key determinant in foreign policy formulation right from the time when the concept of a nation state started emerging in Nepal.  Soon after the unification, Nepalese rulers tried to adopt independent foreign policy based on Nepal's need and demand, but the internal political brickbats and intrigue constrained the desire to reach out to the world. Although Jung Bahadur Rana came to power with British support, he had subtly tried to come out from the British-centric policy once he consolidated his hold onto power. Jung Bahadur's efforts to reach out to Europe and even Africa and maintain a balance with the northern neighbour was partly his desire to adopt independent foreign policy and partly out of his dissatisfaction with the British. Jung Bahadur's dissatisfaction with the British brewed after Nepal helped the East India Company to curb Sepoy mutiny in India. After successfully controlling the Sepoy mutiny, Jung Bahadur had expected the return of territories taken by the British from Nepal during the Anglo-Nepal war. But the British returned only a part of the western Terai.
Secret circular
Jung Bahadur expressed his displeasure with the British in different ways. After the Sepoy mutiny, British wanted more Gurkha soldiers in their army. Although it had been agreed in the Sugauli Treaty, the Gurkha recruitment had not been practically implemented in a formal way. Some Nepalese had joined the British army, but that was only on individual basis and it was not in a formal and legal way. The British wanted to set up a permanent Gurkha recruitment camp in Nepal, but Jung Bahadur refused it. Instead Jung Bahadur issued a secret circular to all concerned government agencies to discourage the recruitment in the British army. In the circular, Jung Bahadur stated that if anyone joined the British army, his property would be confiscated.
Jung Bahadur died in 1877 and his brother Ranodip Singh Rana became new prime minister. Ranodip gave continuity to Jung Bahadur's foreign policy, but his tenure was short-lived. After Jung Bahadur's death, conspiracy and ugly power struggle among different groups within the Rana clan started and intensified. Prime Minister Ranodip Singh Rana was assassinated by his own nephews in 1885 following which Bir Sumsher Rana took over power. As he came to power by killing his own uncle, Bir Sumsher felt threat more from within the Rana family members than from outsiders. Bir Sumsher, thus, became even more apologetic to the British and made every effort to seek British support for the security of his regime. Bir Sumsher, then, formally and practically implemented the Gurkha recruitment in 1885 to gratify the British more Other Rana rulers followed Bir Sumsher's footprints in foreign policy.
Prime Minister Chandra Sumsher Rana went even one step forward to appease the British. He helped the British mission to Tibet led by colonel Younghusband in 1903. In addition, Chandra Sumsher sent Nepalese troops in support of Britain during the World War I. In response to Nepal's support in the war, British provided Nepal some monetary support. Similarly, Nepal and Britain signed a new treaty in 1923 replacing the Sugauli Treaty.
Most of the provisions of the 1923 treaty were repetition of the Sugauli Treaty. But it was better than the old treaty because the Sugauli Treaty was virtually imposed by the British, while the new treaty was concluded between the two independent countries. Under the new treaty, the diplomatic level between Nepal and Britain was raised as the British representative in Nepal was elevated from the Resident to the Envoy. Similarly, Nepal established a legation in England and a Consul General in New Delhi.
India attained independence from the British rule in 1947. Inspired by India's independence, pro-democracy uprising was slowly brewing in Nepal. The Rana rulers, who had felt safe under British protection, suddenly felt insecure after British left India. The Ranas also became suspicious that independent India may depart from British policy on Nepal. The new Indian dispensation was definitely more sympathetic towards the anti-Rana forces. In a bid to get continued support to his regime, Rana Prime Minister Mohan Sumsher on the one hand tried to appease independent India to get continued support from New Delhi even after the withdrawal of the British, and he, at the same time, tried to reach out to other countries in the world instead of solely relying on India. It is against this background Nepal and the United States of America signed an Agreement of Friendship and established diplomatic relations on April 25, 1947.
Prime Minister Mohan Sumsher, in a key policy statement on foreign policy of Nepal, in May 1948 tried to give a message to India that Nepal was not departing from its long-held policy towards India and, at the same time, made it clear that Nepal would start diversifying its diplomatic relations. In the statement, according to Leo Rose in his book ' Nepal Strategy for Survival', Mohan Sumsher said: "Our relations with India, a big country which has emerged through independence, should be neighbourly and will be like between two sisters. Such a pure and friendly relationship had existed, and it will always be our effort to strengthen it and make it happy".
 Also expressing the desire for diversification of Nepal's foreign policy and diplomacy, Mohan Sumsher said, "In the present times, it is neither possible nor desirable for any state to keep itself in isolation from the world affairs. It shall be our policy therefore to enter into diplomatic relations with all such countries that seek our friendship. It is evident that we shall require much help and cooperation from abroad in our nation-building project. We hope we shall obtain such needful assistance and cooperation from our neighbouring and friendly countries". Mohan Sumsher's statement is evident of Nepal's effort to diversify its diplomatic relations during the later period of the Rana rule.
Nepal established diplomatic relations with France in 1949, which is yet another step towards the diversification of diplomatic relations. Similarly, a mission was sent to Beijing to bring the relations back to normal and establish formal diplomatic relations with China. However, the Chinese government was preoccupied with its own internal problems and did not respond promptly and positively.
1950 Treaty
When Nepal was slowly trying to come out of diplomatic isolation, Indian establishment proposed a new treaty in 1950 with Rana government. Rana Prime Minister Mohan Sumsher, too, accepted the Indian proposal because he wanted to ensure longevity of his regime with Indian support. Thus, Nepal quickly accepted India's proposal. Nepal and India signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship on 31 July 1950. This is a new treaty between Nepal and independent India, but in essence it is the continuation of the Sugauli Treaty and the 1923 treaty.
Rana Prime Minister Mohan Sumsher signed the 1950 treaty in the hope of getting Indian support for his regime. However, it did not happen because democratic India sided with the democratic forces rather than supporting the Rana's oligarchy. Thus, Rana regime collapsed in 1951.  But it was strange why independent India hastened to sign the treaty with the regime that was on the verge of collapse as pro-democracy movement was picking up momentum. India could have waited till the formation of a democratic government in Nepal.