Delaying the appointment of ambassadors is not a good sign in diplomacy but Nepal’s key mission in New Delhi has been leaderless for a year.
The diplomatic outpost in New York, which looks after Nepal’s engagements with the United Nations and specialised UN agencies, has also been headless for four months. Nepal’s embassies in the UAE and Malaysia also lack the ambassador while six more missions will be without their chiefs in one-and-a-half months.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli paid a state visit to India in May without posting the ambassador to the Barakhamba mission while Nepal had no top diplomat in New Delhi to oversee bilateral affairs when Indian PM Narendra Modi visited Kathmandu twice this year.
This practice is bizarre, said one official. Modi is scheduled to visit Nepal again in December but the government seems to have found no candidate to lead the Delhi mission. India hardly keeps its embassy in Kathmandu leaderless for more than a week.
Sources close to Prime Minister Oli said the search is going on but the ruling parties have yet to find a right candidate for the Delhi role. Sources point to two major reasons behind the delay. One is the failure to find the right person; the other a lack of consensus among the top leaders of the ruling party.
Important missions like in New Delhi should not remain vacant for so long, said former ambassador to India Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, who coordinates the Nepali side of the Eminent Persons’ Group on Nepal-India Relations.
Bharat Kumar Regmi, a joint-secretary, has been the charge d’ affairs since ambassador Deep Kumar Upadhyay returned from Delhi last October.
“The second man in New Delhi has limited access. So we have the need for a dedicated diplomat for reach in the higher political circle. In the absence of ambassador, a majority of our political engagements in New Delhi have almost halted,” said Thapa. No Nepali ambassador has completed their full term in India since 1990.
After nomination, ambassadors are subjected to parliamentary hearing. This, as well as seeking approval from the host country, takes time.
Even as the government recommended former chief election commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety in July as the new ambassador to India, his appointment was opposed within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
There are no signs of immediate recommendation of other candidates for New Delhi assignment as Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali is accompanying President Bidya Devi Bhandari while she visits Qatar for four days starting Monday. Besides, doctors have advised PM Oli, who got a chest infection, not to attend meetings and other programmes for some days.
Foreign Minister Gyawali said the government may recommend the names by mid-November. “We have come up with new criteria for ambassadorial appointments. We hope to complete the process before Tihar,” he added.
Senior Joint Foreign Secretary Bharat Raj Poudyal is likely to get the job in New York, after incumbent Foreign Secretary Shankar Das Bairagi declined to take up the responsibility. Another joint-secretary at the Foreign Ministry, Krishna Prasad Dhakal, is likely to lead the Nepali mission in the UAE while former ambassador Uday Raj Pandey will have a repeated tenure in Malaysia. Six other positions that will be vacant soon will mostly have career diplomats, officials said.