Lack of a good road cited as reason

Retreat without nature surroundings a missed chance for soft diplomacy

Published On: September 1, 2018 07:15 AM NPT By: Rudra Pangeni  | @rudrapang

KATHMANDU, Sep 1: One thing is common for Kathmandu in 2014 and 2018. Four years ago, the roads in the capital city were in bad shape, dusty and full of potholes, when the country started eleventh hour preparations for a SAARC summit. Delays in road work were rampant. Things are almost the same four years later. 

Preparations for the BIMSTEC summit were little different and there was a recurrence of poor planning. The authorities and the road contractors scrambled to fill the potholes, and some blacktopping work took place when it was raining, the worst time for such activity. 

There was also no good road to a place of natural beauty or panoramic view for organizing a retreat for the six heads of state or government attending the BIMSTEC summit. 

The road repairs took place in haste as though there had been no prior notice. But Nepal knew at the end of the 3rd BIMSTEC summit held in Myanmar in 2014 that it would be hosting the next summit. The country missed a great opportunity to showcase itself to the top leaders  of the six neighboring countries participating in the BIMSTEC summit on Thursday and Friday. Also missed was an opportunity at tourism promotion. The country aims to double the number of incoming tourists within two years. 

Prime Minister KP Oli hosted a retreat for the visiting dignitaries right at the Hotel Soaltee Crown Plaza in Kathmandu’s concrete jungle. Plans were mooted in  recent weeks to host the retreat at Gokarna Forest Resort on the outskirts of the city. But  blacktopping the road to Gokarna was impossible due to continuous rain. It is customary for the host country to organize a retreat to allow for informal talks and soft diplomacy among the leaders.  The authorities later dropped the Gokarna option. 

Chandragiri, Dhulikhel, Godavari and Nagarkot were other possible retreat venues, according to government officials. But all these were nixed for lack of good  roads. 

Diplomats say a retreat could have helped Prime Minister Oli develop some personal chemistry with the  other BIMSTEC heads. Diplomats also expressed surprise at the selection of the summit venue to double as the retreat destination. 

Kedar Bhatka Mathema, a former ambassador to Japan, said such a retreat should move out into the grandeur of nature. It would have been a memorable experience had it taken place at Dhulikhel or Nagarkot.

“Such retreats are held in a setting in which the leaders talk informally and engage in soft diplomacy, which can make even impossible things happen,” said Mathema.

“It was a missed opportunity,” he added.

 Infrastructure expert Surya Raj Acharya said, “It’s a national shame not to have a good road to a suitable retreat spot, which could  also play a role in tourism.” 

“What is sorely lacking is planning,” he said. 

During the SAARC summit in 2014, the delegates were taken by helicopter to Dhulikhel. But government officials say they could not organize something similar this time because of logistics constraints.

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