Swapping ambassadors midway

In the days of the absolute monarchy, every government appointment, promotion in the civil service, and ambassadorship had to be approved by the Royal Palace. Powerful secretaries in Narayanhiti decided all important matters, while Singha Darbar was tasked mainly with carrying out orders.

Nepal became a constitutional monarchy after the 1990 People’s Movement, but not much changed. Instead of the king making decisions, many mini-kings competed for power and influence – political appointments in the bureaucracy, public sector enterprises, and diplomatic assignments became the norm.

The Nepali Congress and the UML were such fierce rivals in the 1990s that it was mandatory for one party to cancel and declare null and void all decisions made by the other. That tradition has not just carried on to this day, but has been honed into a fine art.

The most glaring example of this was the axe that fell last week on 12 of Nepal’s ambassadors politically appointed by K P Oli while prime minister. Among them were envoys to India, China, the United States, and Britain – countries most important to Nepal.

Among those being recalled are former finance minister Yubaraj Khatiwada in Washington DC last year, Mahendra Bahadur Pandey in Beijing, Lok Darshan Regmi in London, and Nilambar Acharya in New Delhi.

Oli rigged the system to reward loyalists, and the coalition government of Sher Bahadur Deuba wants to do the same. This is taking partisanship and vendetta to extreme levels.

Deuba also needs these diplomatic postings to appease coalition partners who have not got powerful ministerial portfolios they were angling for. Two months after it took office, Deuba has not even been able to form a full government because of tussles within the coalition for key ministerships.

Deuba appointed Narayan Khadka as foreign minister last week, only because someone had to lead the Nepal delegation to the United Nations General Assembly. It is clear that the recalled ambassadors will not be replaced with career diplomats, which is what should be the practice.

Four of the 22 ambassadors are being recalled at a critical foreign policy juncture for Nepal. Nilamber Acharya has been in Delhi through the turbulent Limpiyadhura dispute and his contacts in the Indian government would have been useful when so many bilateral issues are pending. Recalling our ambassador in China at this time sends the wrong message to Beijing as well.

Yubaraj Khatiwada was a staunch supporter of the American Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) project when he was the finance minister under K P Oli. Despite regime change in Nepal, Prime Minister Deuba would have needed an MCC-backer in Washington while the clock ticks on the project’s ratification by Parliament. Deuba has also removed Nepal’s ambassador in London just before he goes to Glasgow in November to attend the Climate Summit.

Prime Minister Deuba may have thought he could mute criticism of his ambassadors recall because he also called back his mother-in-law Prativa Rana from Tokyo. Her term had run out, and she was returning anyway.

Among the 12 ambassadors being recalled are three other women ambassadors who have played important roles during the Covid-19 crisis ensuring the welfare of Nepalis abroad, mobilising aid for Nepal during the deadly second wave earlier this year, and projecting the country’s image abroad.

Ambassador Sarmila Parajuli Dhakal in Oman has earned effusive praise from Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf not just for organising the repatriation of stranded Nepalis, but also bargaining with airlines for air fares even cheaper than those negotiated by the government in Kathmandu.

Ambassador Anjan Shakya in Israel negotiated the agreement for 1,000 new caregiver jobs – most of them for Nepali women. She was working on a Nepal-Israel agricultural cooperation agreement.  Last year, Shakya was the first Asian envoy in Tel Aviv to be named ‘Ambassador of the Year’ by the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel.

Ambassador Dawa Phuti Sherpa in Spain mobilised one of the first relief flights in May to bring oxygen concentrators and cylinders, ventilators, and medical kits through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. She was preparing for a post-Covid revival of tourism in Nepal.

A patriarchal state that is so self-obsessed that it cannot appreciate the role of these remarkable women ambassadors does not deserve respect from its citizens, nor from the international community.

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