“Nepal has more self-respect”

Bikram Rai

Interview with Minister of Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali on Thursday touched on a broad range of topics including Prime Minister K P Oli’s forthcoming visit to India, relations with New Delhi and the international community.

Nepali Times: Do you think it is appropriate for the Prime Minister to visit India less than two months after assuming office?

Pradeep Gyawali: Nepal-India relations were frayed during the Constitution-writing process and the Blockade. We took a firm stand, which had the support of the Nepali people as seen in last year’s elections. So, India now seems ready to review and correct its course. And it is keen to welcome Prime Minister Oli sooner rather than later.

Do you have concrete indication that New Delhi is ready for a course correction on Nepal?

So far, just some symbolic indications. But in diplomacy, fence-mending is always about symbols first. We are receiving positive signals, and this is exactly what we want. We do not want animosity with any country. But we want to tell the world that we are capable of sorting out our own domestic issues, and all we want from them is goodwill and support.

Are you planning any new agreements with India?

Prime Minister Oli is not going to sign any new treaty or agreement. We will just follow up on past agreements. But India might announce a special package of support for Nepal.

We have heard about a new MoU on water navigation?

That is our priority rather than India’s. We are trying to diversify connectivity for trade and prosperity. Our prime minister has a dream to have a merchant marine flying the Nepali flag in the Indian Ocean. But we have yet to find out if it will be viable. We are not yet ready to sign an agreement on this.

If Prime Minister Oli visits India on the dates (6-8 April) proposed by New Delhi, he will miss the Boao Forum for Asia 2018.

The prime minister has not yet received a formal invitation for the Boao Forum.

Stepping back, do you think the Blockade fundamentally changed Nepal’s foreign policy?

The Blockade made us realise that we have not diversified our trade, we have not built infrastructure to store essential supplies and we have never exercised the rights of a landlocked country for access to the sea. The blockade instilled confidence in us that we can overcome any challenge. It also dismissed the narrative that Nepal must tolerate a degree of foreign interference because it is small and poor. Post-blockade Nepal is no longer afraid of any foreign country. It has more confidence and self-respect.

Nepal reached out to China during the Blockade, but it did not follow up on the effort.

The previous two governments either reversed or did not make any progress on the agreements signed between Nepal and China during Prime Minister Oli’s first tenure in 2016. We are back in power now, and we will implement all the past agreements including the trade and transit treaty with China. We will soon finalise projects under China’s Belt and Road initiative.

What message do you have for foreign diplomatic missions in Nepal?

They have to mend their ways. We have to address three issues: First, we unnecessarily involved foreigners in our domestic affairs in the past, second, we accepted too much foreign aid in unproductive areas like awareness raising, third, we ourselves must follow guidelines in meeting foreign diplomats.


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