Carving out a Definite Role: Nepal's New Journey in Foreign Relations
Nepal's progressive steps towards political stability and politics of consensus have amazingly put the key regional powers within South Asia into such a circumstance in which they have either to enrich the bilateral ties or further consolidate the potentially strategic fronts shared by her which are mutually intriguing ones that matter for long term affluence of the inhabitants of the region.
Nepal is not a postcolonial country like India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. She is not even the country created out of the geopolitical intercourse took place between the USSR and the US during the Cold War through their ravenous proxy wars across the Asia Pacific region.
Rather, Nepal is the only sovereign country embellished with the perfect characteristics of a sovereign one—devised by the wars with the then superpower, the British Empire of the early 19th century. Then was the time when the entire trans-Himalayan retain used to be under the Pax Gorkha having more than half a dozen of her vassal states around her. None of the South and southeast Asian nations of today’s political map has such pride in being suzerain over those principalities.
The rise of Nepal from the medieval feudal principality of Gorkha hill to the modern federal democratic republic nation-state, contours the numerous ups and downs with extraordinary shifts in internal as well as external affairs. As Nepal was under the process of integrating the hill principalities in the Pan-Himalayan region, the Mughal empire was crumbling and the British empire in the garb of the East India Company had just held her claws into the Indian Sub-continent. It was an interesting scene in the South Asian territory of the globe since, on the one hand, centuries world Moghul regime was becoming vulnerable from within and at the verge of dismembering, Nepal, on the other hand, was about to reenergize the patriotism and incorporating the fragile chieftaincies or duchies to make a modern nation.
The death of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 swiftly paved the way for easy access to the wily representatives of the British empire that either bribed or threatened the Indians and brought under their sway—neither the Mughals nor the Maratha nor any other indigenous forces could withhold the rapacious alien power from brewing any bad omen that was eventually befalling upon the Indians thenceforth. Though there were French and the European powers actively extracting resources from India, they were no equal to the British in commerce and international affairs.
Under those trying circumstances, the Mughals were failing and the British were gaining ground, after all letting the latter apply every available means to subjugate the surrounding territories including Nepal into her dominion. Notwithstanding, Nepal sustained wars, critical diplomatic relationships and quite often, the failure of diplomacy that mostly resulted in wars again with the rising tide of the British protectorate. Nepal became to be not easy prey for her because Nepal adopted defensive measures while fighting against the British aggressions.
Towards the end of the 18th century, major Western powers of the time had deployed their best minds to visit Nepal for exploring her socio-cultural and other human affairs. Then, Nepal had undertaken protective measures in her foreign policy. She would not allow anyone from the foreign countries, whether they were the supreme delegates or the research scholars or the adventurers, to remain within her territory for long. They had to abide by the restrictive norms imposed by the country. If they did not revere the obligatory law against the foreigners, they were forced to leave.
Mostly, the Christian missionaries from the West used to visit Nepal for proselytizing purposes. Then Nepal had strong defensive measures shielding the country in all fronts—territories, cultures, ethnic identities, etc. As the sovereign equals, Nepal and Britain had signed a treaty in 1792—the first formal pact between them.
However, Nepal’s treaty with Britain in 1801 was full of wily words on behalf of deceptive friendship, in fact, it was the very first bilateral tie, to follow may in the future, that had pushed Nepal into the ditch of foreign influence or dependency on articulating independent foreign policy measures on the international political platform.
In fact, the international politics of the time was unlike that of today—no democratic norms would be adopted to deal with the things because no democratic international institutions were there in order to, neutrally, monitor the warring parties. France was under Napoleon Bonaparte. The Nepalese Premier Bhimsen Thapa was in power who could decide independently and without any foreign impulses on behalf of the country.
So, he was closely courting the French delegates who were directly deputed for the court of Napoleon for countering the British influence in Asia. Those French agents were also curiously coping with Nepalese rulers. Their vested interest was to check Britain in all possible manners. Hence, the French assisted Nepal in various characters—modernizing the Nepalese army, bureaucracy and introducing a new system for land reform. Premier Thapa had designed a pan-Asia alliance against the British and had attained a certain level of achievements in that historical assignment.
However, the fall of Napoleon in 1814 shattered his dream of free Asia. Had the entire Asian colonies of the western powers been united and followed the strategies devised by Premier Thapa, the socio-economic colors of this region would be quite different. Worst of all, British India opened the war in many fronts against Nepal and subdued the growing Nepalese influence across the Sub-continent.
Then, in 1816, the notorious Sugauly Treaty was signed by Nepal and Britain that officially put the former under the suzerainty of the British dominion in India. A very ruthless article of the treaty was Article No. 7, which put Nepal in restriction that no European including American could be employed by Nepal with the prior consent of the Raj.
Thus, on the one hand, Nepal’s foreign policy of restricting the direct foreign influence into internal affairs got a lethal shock. The treaty checked Nepal’s individual freedom as a self-governing entity and curtailed the autonomous power to a certain astonishing degree. The seemingly implausible matter is that Britain could muddle into Nepalese affairs without any restriction from the Nepalese side but Nepal could not even make a decision whether she needed any Westerner for cultural exchange and enlargement of the foreign relations across the world.
Given that the constituting elements of the establishment forces of the newly organized country gradually failed to achieve the strategic triumph over the pro-British components within, the all-encompassing nature of independence of a sovereign nation also ceased steadily—the heirs of the first generation nation-builders could not uphold the same spirit and zeal on behalf of the country.
On the other hand, the Nepal-Tibet-China treaty of 1791 pushed Nepal further to the strategic defense as Nepal was an underdog losing battle with Tibet and China. The patronage of China was imposed thereby on Nepal despite the highest loyalty and devotion of the Nepalese statesmen towards their nation. They had, under the worst circumstances, led the country from the hilly principality to a nation-state. Therefore, there was enough reason why Nepal ultimately wanted to become one of the key players in Asia, and potentially in the world.
However, Nepal’s leadership had a very myopic vision — they thought in terms of months, not even years or even decades.
Matrika Poudyal, Ph.D. Scholar,
International Relations and Diplomacy,
Tribhuvan University, Nepal