BY MAILA BAJE
Our sparkling-new Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali’s eagerness to have the Chinese and Indian leaders visit Nepal this year is understandable. Few Nepalis would quibble with Gyawali’s assertion that such high-level visits would help not only to strengthen bilateral relations but also to secure new avenues of cooperation.
Maila Baje feels there is a more immediate imperative, though, now that our prolonged political transition has come to a close. If Prime Minister K.P. Oli’s government could pull off visits by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this year, it would provide a much-needed psychological boost to the nation.
Say what you will about the bad old days, but we certainly didn’t have any shortage of visiting foreign leaders, some of them even luminaries of their times. Dictators and democrats, we were an equal-opportunity destination. Sure, Nepalis were forced to line the streets and wave those flags for hours on. But, as you look back, you can’t deny that, at some deep level, it felt good to be alive. How wonderful it would have been if such bright spots of those ‘dark days’ simply endured.
Make no mistake. We’ve had our share of foreign dignitaries visiting Nepal over the last 28 years. Democracy made us a little inward looking. Post-Cold War international realignments cast us to the sidelines. Given India’s predominant role in the changes of 1990 and 2006, perhaps political itineraries were bound to be skewed in one direction. But things went a bit too far. Our leaders turned political supplicants in the guise of medical treatment and pilgrimages. For junior leaders of factions within Indian political parties, Nepal became a proving ground.
We were sore when Indian prime ministers stayed away for so long but expected to be the first to host each incoming Nepali leader. When Indian prime ministers did start visiting again, we wondered where all those people leading the rest of the world were. Somebody somewhere must have had some time for us. When Pakistan’s prime minister arrived on such short notice to such high state honors, our collective response was striking: it was almost as if our army band was paying tribute to Nepalis.
News that Prime Minister Modi might visit Nepal this year emerged a few weeks ago in the Indian news media. Xi, for his part, has been enticing us with the promise of a visit for far too long. So much so that it looks like the Chinese are anxiously seeking commitments and undertakings that we are equally anxiously avoiding.
It’s not as if we’re going to get a Donald Trump or a Vladimir Putin here anytime soon. So, Mr. Gyawali, just press on with your preparatory work on getting Xi and Modi here this year. Let’s not get bogged down in who gets here first. A joint Xi-Modi visit could be contemplated, if we’re up to it logistically. If not, let them come in reasonably rapid succession to maintain the momentum.
We’ll think about strengthening relations and securing new avenues of cooperation after that. If such a seemingly antithetical approach helped us build the internal underpinnings of a ‘new Nepal’, it might work just fine on the external front.