KATHMANDU, Sept 24: As Prime Minister KP Oli plans to make a bilateral official visit to the central American country of Costa Rica after addressing the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), there are concerns in the diplomatic circle in Kathmandu if the country's ruling political leadership has a clear sense of its foreign policy priorities.
Prime Minister Oli, who left for New York on Saturday to address the UNGA on September 27, will not have any important bilateral meetings on the margin of the UNGA. As per the original itinerary, the prime minister is scheduled to hold bilateral meetings with Swiss President Alain Berset and Cambodian Prime Minister Sadech aka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, besides a ritual meeting with UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres.
Former diplomats and foreign policy experts complained that Prime Minister Oli and his administration did not seem to have clarity and proper sense of foreign policy priorities. “Our immediate foreign policy priority lies with India and China. Then comes our various donor countries and our labor destinations. The prime minister does not seem to be utilizing the great opportunity the UNGA visit offers to have meetings with them,” complained former Nepali ambassador to the United Nations, Jayaraj Acharya.
Although it is not mandatory for the heads of states or governments to address the UNGA, top leaders of most countries chose to go to New York to address the UNGA, partly because they can schedule meetings with leaders who matter to their foreign policy priorities. However, Nepali political leadership after the post-1990 era seems to have made this as a ritual to take a jumbo team to New York and beyond even as they may have no substantial agenda in hand to promote the country's national interests.
In fact, BP Koirala was the first head of government to address the UNGA on behalf of Nepal back in 1960. Although then King Mahendra Shah once chose to address the UNGA back in 1968, none of the heads of the state or the government in Nepal addressed it again until the then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala flew to New York to participate in the UNGA in 1993.
Of course, Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali is planning to meet foreign ministers of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member states on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York with a view to move forward the stalled SAARC process. This group meeting is less likely to bear fruit unless India and Pakistan are able to mend their relations.
Prime Minister Oli, experts say, could have sought bilateral meetings with his Indian and Chinese counterparts. “If they were not possible, he could have talked to leaders of various donor countries like Japan, Germany and others. Meetings with the leaders of various labor destinations could have been as productive since we have a number of issues with them,” said a former diplomat, asking not to be named.
Of all these countries, Prime Minister Oli has chosen to visit Costa Rica— a country with which Nepal does not have any engagement beyond formal diplomatic relations--, snubbing all other countries that should have been a priority for Nepal. “It is an irony that the prime minister is visiting the little known Costa Rica. The biggest irony of all is that Nepal does not have its envoy at the UN,” commented another senior diplomat, who asked to be unnamed.
Prime Minister Oli, who was otherwise supposed to return home on September 29, is extending his visit by five days to visit Costa Rica. Prime Minister Oli is scheduled to have a bilateral meeting with the President of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado Quesada and address the University for Peace in San Jose.