A country´s foreign policy is largely a reflection of its domestic policies. In the midst of a wrenching transition, Nepal has been struggling to give any kind of direction to its foreign policy. While that may be true, even during the times of normalcy, the country was beset with lack of clarity on its dealings with outside forces. After 1990 changes political parties frittered away most of their time scheming to seat and unseat governments. As internal balance of power proved inadequate to cement their hold on power, it became a trend of sorts for elected leaders to seek the blessings of New Delhi to prolong their tenure. This kind of duplicity gave rise to an unhealthy trend. Whenever a political party was in power, it invested much energy currying favor from the southern neighbor, but as soon as it was out of power, it would start decrying ‘interventionist’ policies of the southern ‘hegemon’.
Many of India’s concerns over Nepal are genuine. The open border presents it with unique security challenges. Operation of Indian currency rackets in Nepal is an old phenomenon. Nor should India’s willingness to harness water resources in Nepal to meet its growing power needs to be taken in bad spirit, particularly if benefits can be shared. But these concerns alone would not have allowed India to play a disproportionate role in shaping developments in Nepal. Coupled with India’s genuine concern about safeguarding its interests, Nepali leaders looking to consolidate their power via New Delhi have undoubtedly emboldened India to try to actively influence the course of politics in Nepal. The continuing chaos in the country has started to worry even China, traditionally a silent observer of domestic politics in Nepal. China has of late increased its political and economic involvement in Nepal fearing instability next door to Tibet (although China’s growing political and economic clout in the world might also be partly responsible).
For their part, the Americans and the Europeans seem worried about Nepal’s deteriorating law and order and human rights situation. There is also little doubt that they have tried to shape the political and constitutional debate in Nepal, for better or worse. Moreover, it is not farfetched to assume they are looking to secure their own strategic interests vis-à-vis India and China. (It is only natural for any country to look to secure its interests.) It is up to Nepal to make sure that such efforts do not undermine its own interests. For this reason Nepal could soon become a battleground for competing powers if urgent measures are not taken to put its house in order. Towards this end, it is important that political parties come up with a common foreign policy framework. The focus should be on development of independent foreign policy that does not lean towards any one country and is geared at extracting maximum economic benefit from its advantageous geopolitical position.
As the current state of vacuum looks likely to continue for some time yet, the political parties would do well to come to common minimum understanding on conduct of foreign policy. The next (and more difficult) part would be putting in place a mechanism that ensures smooth foreign policy conduct no matter which party or leader is at the helm