Nepali Times Asian Paints
State Of The State
Winning back friends


Shunned by benefactors, ignored by well-wishers and barely acknowledged by big neighbours, Nepal is isolated as never before.

King Gyanendra expressed his disappointment at this in his Time magazine interview. But there is equal and opposite dissatisfaction from the outside world. Even Nepal's longstanding friends have publicly rebuked our rulers. The fact is that in today's world no one likes to be associated with a regime perceived to be anti-democratic. Despite insistent references to 'the alternative to democracy being democracy', few buy it and Nepal has a serious image problem.

Not that the reality is too far removed from the image. Nepal is a constitutional monarchy but our king has chosen to be chief executive. We are supposed to have parliamentary democracy but there has been no parliament for three years. The prime minister's prerogative is paramount in a parliamentary system, but we don't even have a premier. With the Chief Justice speaking his mind at public fora, the separation of powers is in jeopardy. Checks and balances are becoming dysfunctional as newly-created posts and offices begin to interfere in the functioning of statutory bodies. Nepal's head of state isn't just the head of government, he is being projected by hardcore monarchists as the very state itself.

The spectre of extra-constitutional appointees mocking the constitution in public is unlikely to make horrified diplomats change their views. Unfortunately, whoever makes our foreign policy these days doesn't seem to have realised the gravity of the situation. King Gyanendra will be among mostly like-minded leaders in Jakarta, Hainan and Singapore this week. But with the events dominated by formal speeches and the media distracted by Sino-Japanese tensions, it is difficult to imagine the Nepali diplomatic team notching up major diplomatic breakthroughs.

The royal trip to the Boao Forum for Asia should be more substantive. The theme of the fourth conference this year is 'Asia searching for Win-Win: New Role for Asia'. Executives of Fortune 500 companies eyeing Asian markets will be the stars of this show, rubbing shoulders with the likes of forum chairman Fidel V Ramos, Lee Kuan Yew, Bob Hawke and John Howard.

We may take ourselves very seriously here, but the cover story in Time notwithstanding, Nepal will not be the centre of international attention. This is a party where the successful look to the future, not at a failing state drifting back to medievalism. Apart from countries that have a direct stake in Nepal, the only international players whose interests in Nepal is on the rise are relief and humanitarian organisations.

The international standing of a country hinges on the relationship between the ruling regime's legitimacy (how it's formed), its efficacy (what it does), its effectiveness (its ability to do things that it wants to do) and its socio-cultural and economic-military might. Poor countries that pursue undemocratic policies, demonstrate an utter lack of respect for fundamental freedoms and universal human rights, and have no patience for dissidents can't expect respect. Burma, Cuba, North Korea and Sudan are all great countries with proud histories. So is Nepal. If we don't want to be treated like them we have to do things differently at home.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)