Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey has worked under three kings, served as minister six times in various governments and has been in parliament for 20 years. He spoke to Nepali Times about King Gyanendra's persona and says it is not true that Nepal is internationally isolated.
Nepali Times: How is it different, working with King Gyanendra?
Ramesh Nath Pandey: What I have seen with His Majesty King Gyanendra is great clarity of vision. He is a monarch who knows what he wants to achieve. He talks with conviction, there is no ambiguity, he listens to people and I have seen the people he meets are very impressed with his personality. Both in Doha and Jakarta recently, His Majesty's addresses were very well received, the delivery was forceful and superb. He convinced the international community that his commitment to multiparty democracy is total. You have to look at it this way: the monarch has made this commitment to his people and the international community is standing witness. There should be no question that these commitments will be fulfilled.
Is King Gyanendra a hands-on king?
You know, this is my sixth tenure as minister. I must say, I have never seen cabinet meetings conducted with such efficiency. First of all, they always start punctually, there is no sidetalk, we get down to business and stay focused on the agenda. His Majesty listens very carefully to all shades of opinion and takes copious notes during the discussions. He encourages all the ministers to speak their mind and in fact decisions can be postponed if we can't come to an agreement on things. Sometimes the cabinet meetings go on till 10.30 at night. In earlier governments I often encountered prime ministers who tried to impose their views on the cabinet but His Majesty listens to the ministers and decisions are taken after thorough discussions. And after the cabinet meeting, there are more confidential discussions with just the ministers present.
How about his personality?
On a personal level, His Majesty often shows genuine concern and humanity and always has a personal touch. His bottom line is always: "Esle janata lai dukkha huna hundaina." And I have never seen any leader work as hard as he does. He reads a lot, not just newspapers and magazines but books. And he is on the Internet a lot. If I bring him something that I think he should read, usually I find he has already read it. Last year he asked me if I read a particular book on international relations that he had just finished. I hadn't and I quickly ordered it. I have now been on two foreign visits with His Majesty and when I am summoned to the front of the plane during a flight, I have always noticed that His Majesty has been working, he has files and piles of paper on his desk.
There are critics who say that February First has increased Nepal's international isolation.
From my short time in the government, I can assure you that this is not the case. Not everything that happens gets out. For example, I went to New Delhi to explain our position which was that the threat of terrorism is genuine, the fate of Nepali democracy is at stake and that South Asia was vulnerable to instability in Nepal. I have met all the ambassadors here, some of the countries have understood the ground realities and have concluded agreements, we've had more foreign dignitaries visiting Nepal in the past five months than in the past 15 years. I think the international community has understood that terrorism has grown because of the lapses of the past 15 years, that His Majesty is committed to multiparty democracy and that the future of democracy in Nepal is related to stability in South Asia.
But not all is well in relations with one of our neighbours.
If relations are based on trust and mutual respect and a recognition of sovereignty there are no problems. Take China for instance, it is an all-weather friend and ever since diplomatic relations were established we've never had problems. I am making another visit to China soon. With India, it is important that Nepal's aspirations should not be undermined. February One was decision taken according to the needs of the country and India should recognise that. In fact, we are fighting terrorism whom India itself calls 'terrorists'. Democracy can't be exported. From our side we have nothing but goodwill towards India. We have wasted 50 years because of the Indocentricism of our politics. Economically viable projects were not implemented because the opposition party would always term the party in the government as 'pro-Indian'. I met the Indian foreign minister and I told him let's not waste anymore time. But sometimes it is difficult for us to figure out what India really wants.
Some analysts have found fault with our diplomacy. They say we have not been able to sell the changes in Nepal to the donor community.
HM's Jakarta visit was very successful and productive in restoring Nepal's image. He articulated his political vision and it was seen as the authentic voice of Nepal. The bilateral talks were very productive. Last month's royal visit to Doha gave added stature to Nepal's position and HM's meeting with the Emir of Qatar and others paved the way for two very important agreements to be signed. The visit to UAE was also characterised by special warmth, the entire cabinet was present during His Majesty's audience with the UAE leaders. The visits were triumphs of Nepal's international relations, we have to remember that Nepal is a country with the oldest tradition of foreign relations in South Asia because the rest of the region was a British colony.
How about within the country? There appears to be a political stalemate.
His Majesty has publicly asked the political parties to say that they are against terrorism, corruption and that they will maintain fiscal discipline and work together for early peace so we can have elections. I have talked to the parties before and I am willing to talk to them again. But even while peace and security are restored, there are certain things we can do right away: we can depoliticise the bureaucracy, we can start working on economic development through positioning ourselves as the bridge between the two economic giants, India and China. In several meetings in Jakarta, Singapore and Doha with the business communities there interested in investing in Nepal several of them told us so-and-so ministers in the past wanted so much in bribes. We have to overcome this negative publicity, and do more to attract foreign investors as a way to boost economic activity by paying more attention to economic diplomacy.