Nepal Asking UNDPA to Leave: A Case of Assertive Diplomacy?
By Rishi Gupta

Nepal Asking UNDPA to Leave: A Case of Assertive Diplomacy?

Jul. 02, 2018  |     |  0 comments

As Nepal heads towards a long-awaited political stability after the successful implementation of a new Constitution in 2015, followed by the conduct of local-, provincial- and federal-level elections, and a democratically elected Prime Minister to lead the country, the Government of Nepal has asked the United Nations to draw down its Department of Political Affairs (DPA) in Nepal. The request was conveyed on the grounds that the “peace process” which began in 2006 has been achieved. Nepal has written to the UN about the decision, and the DPA’s country liaison office has been given three months to wrap-up its affairs.


The decision comes in the wake of allegations that the DPA has been involved in a number of unwarranted activities including supporting separatist groups involved in voicing out complaints including the government’s failure to accommodate demands to amend certain provisions in the newly-implemented of 2015 Constitution concerning citizenship and the demarcation of seven newly-created provinces. The DPA has denied these allegations, but a strong political message can be extracted from it.


It is public knowledge that the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) (now the Communist Party of Nepal) led by Prime Minister KP Oli had been critical of the DPA’s activities, especially for supporting the Madhesi movement during his previous term as Prime Minister. An unhappy Prime Minister Oli himself headed the committee responsible for calling for the closure of the DPA.


The UN spokesperson confirmed that the UN had “received a letter from the Permanent Mission of Nepal last week, requesting the closure of the UN DPA Liaison Office in Kathmandu in the next three months, in light of Nepal’s achievements in the peace process. We will review it closely, and discuss with the Government of Nepal how best to proceed.”


The UN political unit had been “in operation as the residual office of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) after the UNMIN's exit from the country in January 2011.” Since its inception, the office has been marred by controversies and allegations about the use of the UN umbrella in destabilizing the political order of the country. Nonetheless, the UN has been instrumental in peacebuilding in Nepal.


During the peak hours of the political crisis of 2005, the UN along with India had mediated an agreement between guerilla Maoist fighters and the Seven Party Alliance to end the civil war. In response, it was agreed upon by the two parties to let the UN work as an independent actor in facilitating peace in the country by allowing it to monitor the transition of the Maoist party into mainstream politics, as well as the inclusion of Maoist fighters into the state Army. As a result, the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) was formally set up in January 2007, and it succeeded in facilitating a “peace accord” between the Government of Nepal and the Maoists.


NGOs/INGOs and the Political Discomfort


The UN mission in Nepal was one of the shortest in terms of duration and the most successful in outcomes, achieved within a span of four years which included the conducting of the first democratic election to a Constituent Assembly in 2008, in which the Maoists won the majority of seats. However, in last few years, the government has tightened its scrutiny on the activities of the non-governmental organizations/international non-governmental organizations (NGOs/INGOs) including the UN for their alleged involvement in the political, economic, religious, and foreign affairs of Nepal. Most notably, a lack of coordination between the Government and the NGOs, project duplication, the lack of accountability and transparency, and the intensified competition for funds and contracts in some cases had irked the administration. With the beginning of the civil war in 1996, the country saw a boom in the arrival of the INGOs which today stands close to 4,000 in number, of which INGOs account for 190. Following the 2015 earthquake, the country was rocked by their huge presence. Despite their presence, the country remains as one of the poorest in the world.

It is clear from the recent decision taken by the present Oli administration that the government is in no mood to allow external influence in the internal affairs of the country.

In May 2018, the government introduced a draft of the National Integration Policy (NIP) which places tighter controls over NGOs and provides legitimacy to the state to strictly monitor their activities. The NIP also includes provisions which bar the INGOs from religious, “social or other agendas” which can be interpreted as government’s unwillingness to the NGOs/INGOs to freely roam within the country. Civil rights organizations have voiced their concerns over the impact on constitutional and civil liberties by the NIP, but it is very much clear that the Government is not willing to have international scrutiny of Nepali politics and other state affairs. However, the NIP is still under discussion, and considering the strength of the present ruling National Communist Party in parliament, there seems no problem with the NIP becoming law soon.


In a similar incident of political discomfort, Prime Minister Oli and the European Union (EU) were seen engaged in a heated exchange after the EU submitted its report on the 2017 parliamentary elections. The EU faced ire across the political lines of the country for its recommendation in its report to scrap the reserved allocation of seats in elections for members of the dominant Khas/Aryan community. The foreign ministry was quick to respond that “serious attention of the Government of Nepal has been drawn towards the conclusions and recommendations of the ‘Final Report on the House of Representatives and Provincial Assembly Elections’ released by the European Union’s Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) to Nepal.” The report was rejected outright by the Election Commission as well.


An Assertive Bilateral Diplomacy


For a long time now, Nepal has been a ground for coercive diplomacy by external actors. Falling between the two Asian giants — India and China — its politics is not only influenced but also often moulded by the two. Nepal witnessed political instability for past six decades due to political deadlocks and the authoritarian rule of the King until 2006. With a transition in the political structure of the country in 2006, the country attempted to reduce the influence of India which exists due to their close geographical, cultural, social and economic relations. However, the situation seemed to have changed recently after Nepal became vocal about the alleged micro-managing of Nepalese affairs by India, specifically, the alleged Indian support to the Madhesis (people of Indian origin) over their demands concerning the 2015 Constitution. Surprisingly, the Indian Prime Minister sent his foreign secretary as his special envoy with a request to delay the implementation of the Constitution so a more extensive discussion of Madhesis’ demands could take place. While the Constitution had been delayed by seven years, India’s intervention seemed like a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the country. Hence, India was not only criticized at the UN, but the political opposition in the Indian parliament also questioned India’s goodwill in Nepal.


This was not the first time that India had been criticized for its interventionist role. Several other incidents have heated the diplomatic equation with Nepal. However, having batted against India during the Madhesi movement and having promised to shift Nepal from an Indo-centric to a more balanced outlook in its external engagement, KP Oli has managed to emerge as a nationalistic figure. During his first term as the Prime Minister from October 2015 to July 2016, Oli seemed to have hurt Indian interests as no other leader could in the past 70 years. Unlike his predecessor, Oli has also accomplished the task of re-orienting Nepalese foreign policy towards China by signing a number of agreements in sectors such as defense.




It is clear from the recent decision taken by the present Oli administration that the government is in no mood to allow external influence in the internal affairs of the country. Above all, the government does not wish to ignore the critical voices against it, irrespective of individuals, NGOs or the INGOs. By asserting his power, Oli has kept some of the important administrative portfolios with himself, so that decisions may be taken quickly. Hence, the success of showing an exit door to the UN-DPA shall be seen through the prism of an assertive leadership which is unwilling to be criticized for its actions. However, the DPA will exit in the given three-month period, and other UN bodies will remain active in the country. This also sends a strong message to other actors including India and China to review their Nepal policy and opt for a more productive role in Nepal.



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