Dr. Nishchal N. Pandey is a well-known academic and the Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies in Kathmandu. He is also an international research committee member of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, Colombo and a visiting fellow to a number of think-tanks around the world. KathmanduPati spoke to Dr. Nischal N. Pandey about Nepal’s current handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, how it has affected Nepal’s foreign policy and the important of the international community.
How do you assess the Post-Covid World Order and its impact on Nepal?
-Well, we don’t know when and how this pandemic will come to an end. It may become another flu and we may end up taking shots every year or it may drag for another year and we may have to call for repeated lock-downs. There is no doubt that this will have a direct impact on all areas of life.
Our economy has been hit hard, tourism is almost zero, transportation and flights have been disrupted, sports events are not taking place, people are stuck at homes and businesses are closed down. Slowly, there could be a mental health crisis too.
We need to take lessons from other countries like Germany and New Zealand, which have done remarkably well in controlling the pandemic in their countries, and which are both led by women. On the other hand, some countries are floundering. We definitely don’t want to be repeating the same mistakes that those countries have made. I would argue that ‘post covid’ is a misnomer, and that face masks and hand sanitizers are the new normal.
How do you evaluate the Oli government’s response to this pandemic?
-Our disaster response has always been weak. On the day the earthquake struck in 2015, our Prime Minister at the time, Mr. Sushil Koirala, was out of the country and on a return flight. He was informed about the earthquake by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So very little has changed since the earthquake.
Our tardy reconstruction efforts have shown that there is a lot of room for improvement. There are hardly any other institutions in our country other than the Army, Police and APF, that play proper roles and contribute to disaster relief efforts.
Although the country has a sufficient budget to manage the crisis, there needs to be a coordinated effort. Proper dissemination of information to the public is also vital. As the number of effected increases, we have to be really serious about the manner in which which our health services will handle such a sudden surge in cases.
More specifically, the lack of ventilators is a severe concern. Doctors, nurses and health officials all need to be encouraged and helped in every way by the state. The government really has to redouble its efforts to import these necessary life-saving equipment’s.
What is the current state of our foreign relations?
-As for foreign relations, the government was set to organize a global forum called the ‘Sagarmatha Dialogue’, which however had to be postponed due to the pandemic. Overall, the concern is that there has to be a level of trust between our country and our neighbors, our donors and the wider international community.
There are always bound to be problems with India. If not with India, will we have problems with Mozambique or Mali? India is our neighbor from three sides and we get most of our essential imports from there. But where are the channels that are being used to normalize our relations with India? We don’t see it happening. When the Indian media uses offensive language against our PM, our Embassy in Delhi can’t even write a Letter to the Editor.
Is this what is expected from our largest Embassy? Everything has to be done from Kathmandu and at the highest level. Near and dear ones of the ruling party have been appointed as ambassadors abroad but is there an evaluation on their performance? Without evaluation, monitoring and a ‘hire and fire’ rule applied, there will be no discipline and the nation will suffer.
We have seen that our envoys become more loyal to the destination country than to our own government. Not being serious about the international scenario in a post-COVID world could be ruthless for a small and weak economy like ours. Gulf states are not going to be opening soon, and our migrant laborers will find it very difficult to obtain jobs. Remittance has already fallen.
There is excess liquidity in the banks which means bank profits will fall drastically. Our export has fallen. Rentals have come down. Our embassies abroad need to be on an over-drive at the moment not only to help stranded Nepalese but also for PR exercises. We need to be fully prepared to launch a massive campaign as a safe and clean destination once the flights start operating and hotels open. Its also an opportunity because people will be tired of staying closed-doors and will want to travel abroad.
A lot of Nepalese have died abroad. Has our response been adequate?
-Yes, it’s a sad fact to be noted that a lot of Nepalese have died abroad due to COVID-19. A lot of Nepalese also remain stranded and have been unable to return. There is little that the government can do about international hub airports remaining closed but on this, we can coordinate with friendly countries.
This is a time for the government ministers to consult experts, call senior and experienced people from all walks of life and seek suggestions.