Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Re: Talk at Sangam Institute & Upper Karnali project

March 17, 2010

Mr Chiran S Thapa
Naxal, Kathmandu

Chiranjee

Yes, I am making a number of small contributions to complete a big jigsaw puzzle in my writings. Unfortunately, the powers to be don't understand such things, or pretend not to understand. In some instances such things dawn on them with inordinate delay. Take the example of West Seti project. Energy minister Mahat recently affirmed that SMEC was unable to mobilize necessary funding to implement the project. I had pointed this out more than 7 years back but nobody took notice. Now he has said what I said some time back.

I just hope the present government will be able to find the way forward with regards to this project without having to grope for too long. Because, I have charted out the way forward in my in depth paper published in Hydro Nepal (also uploaded in my website). In couple of sentences, the way forward is to develop it as a multipurpose project. Nepal can uses the peak-in power that will be generated at rock bottom price from this project to industrialize far and mid western development regions. Any energy that could not beused as such can be transmitted to central and eastern development regions by stringing up 400 kV transmission network. We can even export this energy at the right price - right price for peak-in power is a lot higher than what we are paying India now, INR 6.70. Nepal should build a network of canals in the downstream areas to use the augmented/regulated flow from this project of about 90 cubic meter per second which will enable us to increase cropping intensity by a magnitude.

I have explained this to premier Nepal upon his return from China where it was agreed that a Chinese company will invest 51% equity in this project. Specifically, I told him that he now should ask Chinese government for financial assistance to build canal network and 400 kV transmission network to link this project with the load centers in the eastern Nepal. I just hope that he has understood it all. Dipakjee and Ajayajee were present during this meeting.

Dr Prakash Chandra Lohani too has advised PM Nepal along these lines before I did so and, I have to acknowledge that, I sought the appointment with PM at the suggestion of Dr Lohani.

With best regards,


Sincerely,

Ratna Sansar Shrestha

-----Original Message-----

From: C.S. Thapa [mailto:cst21@hermes.cam.ac.uk] On Behalf Of C.S. Thapa
Sent: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 13:45
To: Ratna Sansar Shrestha
Subject: Talk at Sangam Institute on 04 March 2010

Ratna Sansarji,

Your article on the Upper Karnali Project in Spotlight shows how the country's government should move forward. I have been mulling with reference to your recent communications on different projects over what the best negotiating strategy is - a breakthrough or two will opefully set precedents. What can we learn from King Birendra's approach? Have a look at my presentation earlier this month.

Best,

Chiran


Subject: Talk at Sangam Institute on 04 March 2010
>
> It gives me great pleasure to see so many familiar faces. At The Sangam Institute, which I wish to thank for providing faclities for my presentation as well as for earlier presentations, familiarity breeds respect. May I thank others whom I know less well for taking the time to be present here.
>
> My presentation today as the distinguished convenor Ambasador Keshav Raj Jha has just mentioned is the late King Birendra's foreign policy, very much a part of the allotted theme of Sharing Experiences: Serving under a democratic King. King Birendra's contributions during 29 years and four months of his reign/rule were far-reaching and in the best interests of Nepal and the Nepali people but out of respect for the late King's extraordinary modesty, I shall put his foreign policy formulations in the context of general theories and practice of diplomacy and foreign affairs rather than highlight them as my own inclination drives me toward. I shall put his contributions as part of a twenty-four hour day rather than the day's high noon. I will highlight in the presence of so many knowledgeable practitioners, theorists and commentators those issues and episodes not normally dealt with in the serious issues and concerns of the formulation and conduct of diplomacy and foreign affairs.
>
> Offsetting handicaps: I would recommend everybody to read Stephen Hawking's book, The Theory of Everything, for his path-breaking analysis of the origin and fate of the universe. But the relevance for my presentation today is to project how someone as severely handicapped as Hawking can achieve what he has. A relatively small country like Nepal has handicaps of least development, landlockedness, terrain, non-inclusiveness,disease, hunger, illiteracy, handicaps of geography, history, and poverty, but if in the past, which the Sangam Institute referrs to as episodic periods of glory, the country and people have managed to survive, one person's example, Hawking's, should challenge us to not only survive, but progress with political stability and toward prosperity offsetting handicaps and eventually overcoming them.

> Switzerland is a landlocked country where in the early sixties when I was a student at the University of the small town of Fribourg, I used to see out of my classroom window cows munching grass bringing memories of my schooldays in Godavari some six/seven years earlier. The difference was that Swiss cows had rich grass to feed upon and the Swiss had developed despite many difficulties a worldclass milk and milk products industry of such brands as Nestle, when Nepali cows at Godavari gave barely enough milk and manure for owners to survive with some supplies for primary marketing and it took the Swiss to show us how Nepali cows in Chyalsa and Jiri could also produce cheese of international standard and demand. The Swiss have developed with their coastal neighbours, Germany, France, and Italy over many years of negotiations practical rights for access to and from the sea. This brings me to two priorities of King Birendra's foreign policy formulation: the importance of non-confrontational negotiations and Nepal's need to overcome the disadvantages of landlockedness.Negotiations with our coastal neighbour, India, continued for years: King Birendra's priorities were Nepal's rights in internationally accepted conventions leading to practical realities on the ground of less costly and quicker port handling In Kolkata port and less costly and quicker transport of Nepal-bound third-country imports and Nepali exports to third countries through Indian territory. King Birendra's first visit abroad after accession to the throne in 1972 was to the nonaligned summit conference in Algiers in 1973. When the Nepali delegation took up the rights of landlocked countries in the economic committee, it pointed out that India was on record supporting the right of access to and from the sea for landlocked countries. K.B. Lall, a distinguished Commerce Secretary, who represented India at the Comittee, asked where India had made the commitment. Our delegates showed the text and locale of India's commitment to I believe the satisfaction of Mr Lall. A month later at a luncheon hosted by the late Premier Indira
Gandhi during King Birendra's state visit to India in October 1973 no less a personality than Justice Nagendra Singh of the International Court of Justice confirmed to the then Ambassador of India L.P.Singh at the formal venue of Rashtrapati Bhavan the rights of landloced countries for access toand from the sea. King Birendra followed up these rights, hard-won on occasion, by proposing to the central government of India and the State government of West Bengal practical measures for improved port handling of Nepali and Nepal-bound goods, more broad-gauge rail transport and more efficient handling of goods where transfer had to be made from bigger trains plying the broad-gauge network to smaller trains which used a smaller-gauge network. This co-operative but forceful assertion of Nepal's rights combined with practical improvements on the ground and in the sea in the interests of both our coastal neighbour and landlocked Nepal continued when in the late nineteen-seventies, King Birendra took the position that Nepal-India relations are best served by two treaties/agreements, one on transit and another on trade on the grounds that negotiations on transit have the bottom line of internationally-accepted landlocked countries' rights whereas trade is a bilateral issue with conventions at most within the framework of WTO, then GATT, of which Nepal became a member much later. When negotiations faltered on the question of two treaties, King Birendra took the line that on the coastal neighbour's insistence, Nepal would sign a single Trade and Transit Treaty as in the past but would raise the issue of two treaties the next time around. Two different treaties of different duration were fortunately signed to the satisfaction in principle of both coutries. Trying to optimize Nepal's gains in principle, the suggestion was put forward for a Transit Treaty and a trade agreement projecting the different nature of transit and trade issues on the scale and comprehensiveness of rights and binding commitments.
>
> The practical aspect of King Birendra's dual strategy of Nepal's rights backed by practical negotiations for effective on-grund results extended to appointment of personnel with experience and training specific to Nepal's needs. The personnel based in Nepal's Consulate-General in Kolkata had to have transit-specific experience and training -Consuls-General Madhav Raj Bhandari, Laxmi Lal Shrestha and Dr Madhusudan Lohani fulfilled these requirements - ditto for the personnel in our short-lived mission in Chittagong, Bangladesh, which was closed with consideration less than warranted by Nepal's long-term interests.
>
> A Head of State has the prerogative of appointing Ambassadors. King Birendra consulted the Prime Minister of the time when he himself exercised powers and appointed the nominees of the government during the nineteen-nineties. In the complex of King-Prime Minister relations, there was agreement regardless of the power equation between the two positions. It is said a man is known by the company he keeps - in the case of a King, it is more appropriate to say that a King is judged by his appointees. King Birendra was more than average in his assessment of a
person's professional competence. The long tenures of the two most important Ambassadorial appointments, both Foreign Secretaries at different times, Major-General Padma Bahadur Khatri and Sardar YaduNath Khanal showed his interest in the best possible representation of the Nepali people. In a way, both were inherited from the reigns of King Birendra's grandfather, Tribhuban and his father, Mahendra. At the first major international conference which Nepal attended, the Bandung Conference of 1955, both Khatri and Khanal were members of a small team.

> They were selected because they were considered among the few at the time competent enough to represent Nepal. I can give any number of examples of the extraordinary grasp and conduct of foreign policy by the two: Khanal and Khatri. Shortly after King Birendra became king in January 1972, two Pakistani prisoners of war held in India fled into Nepal. The Foreign Secretary at the time would consult the Palace every day on what measures to take. The new King's inevitable answer was to do what international convention called for with consideration for Nepal-India good-neighbourly amity. The two POWs' issue continued without resolution until General Khatri came from New York to be Foreign Secretary a second time. He let the POWs fly to Bangkok with a sureness of touch and deft handling of what could have become - but fortunately didn't- an issue in Nepal's relations with an important neighbour. During Khatri's tenure as Foreign Secretary, Ambassador to the US/UN, and Foreign Minister, Nepal's external relations forged ahead globally diversified and with rich content. Few instructions were sent from our Foreign Ministry during the existential problems in the early nineteen-seventies of a regional country when Khatri formulated the ingenious policy of opposing the dismemberment of Pakistan, a member state of the United Nations, but supporting the emergence of Bangladesh. In his tenure as Foreign Minister, Khatri received the backing of the government of Italy to King Birendra's zone of peace proposal in a short early-morning meeting with his Italian cunterpart and the backing of the government of Malta during a 45-minute stopover at the airport in Malta's capital.

> Ambassador Khanal is identified with the removal of foreign armed personnel from Nepali soil in 1969 with no irreparable damage to our relations with India because of King Mahendra's and then Premier Bista's firm handling of the issue supplemented by effective negotiations where Ambassador Khanal had a primary role. During his two Ambassadorships in the reign of King Birendra, Khanal made lasting contributions to our relations with China and the United States. Apart from his appreciation of the professional qualities of Khanal and Khatri, King Birendra's assessment of personnel is also seen in the appointment of Dr Trailokya Upraity as Ambassador to France, where he laid the groundwork for King Birendra's leadership of Asian countries at the Least Developed Countries' Conference in Paris in 1981 and President Mitterrand's visit to Nepal in 1983, both connsumated during the tenure of Upraity's successor in Paris. King Birendra felt that Ambassador Upraity, so successful in bringing the first visit to Nepal of a leader with the power to unleash a nuclear war and his work in preparing King Birendra's participation during the LDCs' Conference called for Ambassador Upraity's elevation to a diploatic assignment even more challenging than Paris. Had Ambassador Upraity not accepted the UNESCO assignment in Bangkok shortly after the tenure of his Paris Ambassadorship, it would be reasonable to assume that he would have been appointed to one of three or four diplomatic assignments of greatest challenge to Nepal's interests.
>
> I have mentioned Hawking for his achievements despite his handicaps from which our government and people can learn and draw inspiration from. He also happens to be the national of a country which is one of the most successful in the conduct of diplomacy. It is said that the ideal Europe would have German order, French administration and Italian culture supplemented by British diplomacy. In world affairs, Britain clearly punches as has been said above its weight. King Birendra was aware that when our application to join the United Nations was rejected in the nineteen-forties by a Soviet veto, the government of Nepal sent a rejoinder saying that no foreign flag had ever flown in Nepal, Nepal had always had its national army officered entirely by Nepali nationals , Nepal engaged in armed conflict and made peace on her own, and Nepal had a long history of its own decimal coinage, different from what obtained in China or India or Great Britain. Which country could be more independent? The missing ingredient during King Birendra's reign about the last thirty years of the twentieth century was Nepal's gruelling poverty which called for its diminution if the country was ever to be taken seriously.
>
> In King Birendra's thinking, the best fora for projecting Nepal were the Nonaligned Conference Summits, of which he attended six times as leader of the Nepali delegation , Algiers in 1973, Colombo in 1976, Havana in 1979, Delhi in 1983, Harare in 1986 and Belgrade in 1989. In these Conferences and at the Conference of Least Developed Countries mentioned earlier, he took every opportunity to collaborate on a global scale with countries facing similar problems of least development and landlockedness. His participation in 4 conferences of countries of SAARC, in the formation of which he had a leading role, was to establish a region of peace where the interestsof a billion people would receive paramount interest in contrast to armed hostilities which pushed back the frontiers of development. Here his achievements were limited at best because the focus, the priorities and beneficial sequencing should have had centrality elsewhere, viz., integration of our economy,political culture, and national security with countries of the West led by the United States and Japan and South Korea. As an indefatigable traveller within Nepal and as a leader with an open mind, he was aware of the country's problems but even discounting the advantages of hindsight, a foreign policy with lack of focus on integration with the richest and most powerful countries, viz. the West and Japan/South Korea could contribute at most to the country's sovereignty with little to show in terms of economic growth, sustained improvement in the people's standard of living and national security founded on the personal security of individual citizens. These were necessary conditions if the country was going to punch above its weight or even manage to punch at all.
>
> I would be remiss if I were to leave out some major incidents,achievements and problems, some well-known, others barely known, during King Birendra's nearly three-decade long occupancy of the Throne of Nepal. I will mention three in ascending order of importance. First, where Nepal's diplomatic missions were asked to and received the home government's permission in arranging meetings between the officials of two countries at daggers drawn. Our mission in Rangoon was the locale of talks between the representatives of the governments of China and the United States and our Ambassador visiting Romania arranged a meeting between the US Ambassador at the time, Harry Barnes, and representatives of the government of China. These took place before or around the time of President Nixon's trail-blazing visit to Beijing in February 1972. Second, with an unerring eye for the right moment to make the right diplomatic moves, the King told me to contact the Soviet Charge d'affaires in the mid to late nineteen-seventies for arms, almost exclusively nonlethal and/or defensive. These arms and equipment, provided at good prices, came through Kolkata port and despite our treaty commitments we didn't have to informthe transit country of the nature and quantity of the goods that the Soviet government sold us. This was a transaction, the problem-free nature of which surprised all the powers that were! It may be projection from Nepal's experience of the co-operation of the supplier country and the transit country the decision to import arms a decade later from across our northern border was made. It must be emphasized that these arms , like the arms bought earlier from the Soviet Union, were exclusively defensive in nature, but, unlike the earlier transaction where the transit country had to be kept informed, there were no treaty comitments which required Nepal to do so in import of defensive arms directly across the northern border and not through any transit country. Since these defensive equipment posed no threat of any kind to India,it was probably felt that as in the case of bilateral trade, where the Indian share fell from more than 90 percent to almost a third before rising back again, these arms would also be part of Nepal's diversification needs. To allay India's security fears blown out of all proportion, I was deputed by King Birendra to talk with then Premier Rajiv Gandhi's personal emissary, Ambassador Ronen Sen. We had several rounds of talks in three capitals, Kathmandu, Delhi and Belgrade, the third capital being the venue of the last Summit Conference of Nonaligned Countries for both King Birendra and Rajiv Gandhi. We worked out a formula acceptable to both sides. Due to opposition from some circles in Nepal's government establishment and the change of government in India, what would have been an opportunity for Nepal to punch above its weight without hurting any country's interest was lost, I believe, to the detriment of Nepal-India relations.
>
> To do justice to a King, who was on the Throne for almost three decades, and who took active interest in formulating and conducting foreign policy would take more than half an hour, the time allotted. I could talk of the King's zone of peace proposal, which in its essence boiled down to reciprocal guarantees not to allow the use of Indian and Chinese territory and the soil of other signatory states for hostile activities against Nepal with Nepal guaranteeing not to allow her territory for hostile activities against other signatory states. The proposal received the backing, enthusiatic in some cases, of more than 111 countries, including four of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. I could also mention how the late King's personality, prepared for all eventualities but modest in self-projection was an important factor in Nepal's image and foreign perception of our country. But to conclude, I would say, as Hawking does in his study of the universe, the universe is uniform looked on a large scale at any direction and from any point but there are stars and galaxies because of differences in average density. King Birendra's reign/rule was one of extraordinary significance when viewed broadly. For almost three decades as King, on the existential issues of national interest, democracy and develpment , he did what he should have done and didn't do what he shouldn't have done. One can say this of very few leaders of Nepal and elsewhere. Focusing specifically on foreign policy, he projected our national interest forcefully and accepted the need for democracy first in a referendum in 1980 for the choice of polity that the people of Nepal wanted and return ten years later of a multiparty system with the King as a constitutional monarch of the European kind but he could have done more to advance the country's economy and reduce the poverty of Nepali households by using his tremendous power at most times and his overarching influence at all times for integrating our economy, political culture and security interests with the Western cuntries led by the United States and Japan/South Korea. The Chinese realized that integrating with these countries was the key to regeneration and rebirth of a new China, India took longer to come to this realisation. King Birendra could have led Nepal to do likewise in the best interests of Nepal and the Nepali people.