• AvH, FES, UGC and LS Fellow
• Former Ambassador of Nepal to the USA and the UK.
Organised by Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA), at Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singhdarbar, Kathmandu, on 28th of December 2016
The diplomatic relationship between Nepal and Britain, which formally began following Sugauli treaty in 1816, was established due to two distinct motives: military requirements of both the countries, primarily of the latter as the treaty allowed British government to employ the Gurkhas in their military services, and also the notion of the Himalayan Frontier Policy of British-India. However, in spite of unequal and one sided in nature and content, arguably, the treaty could be seen as a testament of British longing for an enduring partnership with Nepal rather than colonising her. Ever since, the bond of perpetual peace and friendship, which was thoroughly altered later by the friendship treaty of 1923, has been characterized by mutual understanding, goodwill, unwavering support and cooperation.
Gurkhas as Cornerstone of Bond:
As the military cooperation between the two countries persistently savoured priority, the Gurkhas obviously attained itself as the cornerstone of Nepal-Britain bilateral relations and this remains the case, particularly when one takes into account their services to the British crown. More than two hundred thousands of Nepalese Gurkhas took part in the World War I and II and about forty three thousands of them, died as heroes leaving behind, nevertheless, misery and destitution to their families. Under the aegis of the Brigade of Gurkhas, which binds its combat communities also by dint of emotion; the Gurkhas fought in the Falklands War to defend the British territory and have still been fighting in Afghanistan and some other parts of world for a peaceful and secure globe. In the Military history of the UK, they have secured a special place for them. They have not only won Thirteen Victoria Cross, a well-recognised valiant decoration in the world, but also have been able to win-over the hearts of the British crown and other royals as well. Such righteous deeds have heightened the image of the Nepalese globally as a persevering work-force. Every year, to commemorate their glory in world wars and also to pay homage to their sacrifice, the ambassador of Nepal to the UK, together with others, also places wreath in the memorial monument of the heroes at the Constitutional Hill in London.
Upgrading of Diplomatic Missions:
Initially, the treaty of Sugauli had made an arrangement to have “accredited ministers” in each other’s courts. But, following the signing of new Treaty of Friendship between the two nations in 1923, the status of British Representative in Kathmandu was instantly upgraded to the level of an envoy. Later, after a decade in 1934, when Nepal established an embassy in London; the two countries subsequently exchanged Ministers Plenipotentiary and Envoys Extraordinary. The status of these representatives was further boosted in 1947 by giving them the rank of Ambassadors- Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. These bilateral diplomatic measures were imperative to improve the relationship between two friendly and sovereign nations.
Exchange of High Level Visits:
The exchanges of high level visits are always instrumental in strengthening relations and furthering mutual cooperation. Principally speaking, such diplomatic rituals have been found imperative to enhance common understanding and build trust between two different nations. In this light, since the inception, as the UK and Nepal adore bilateral relationship attaching utmost importance to the bond, both the countries organised high level visits. There have been about four dozens high ranking visits from the UK as well as from Nepal’s side.
On the part of the UK, the visits included the royals, senior ministers from Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Department for International Development (DFID) and Ministry of Defence (MOD). Likewise, senior members of Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) also visited Nepal from time to time. Among the royals, HMQ Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, paid official visits in 1961 and 1986, at the invitation of King Mahendra and his son King Birendra, respectively. Likewise, HRH Princess of Wales Diana visited Nepal in 1993 and HRH Prince Charles, in 1998. Of late, HRH Prince Henry or Harry’s official visit, which had been made on behalf of HM’s government, took place on the occasion of bicentenary celebrations. The Prince of Wale’s ten-day visit has been widely considered in Nepal as an acknowledgement of the sacrifice and heroic service of the bravest of the braves and faithful Gurkhas in the process of protecting the British Crown and her people. Similarly, six visits have been carried out by DFID ministers, three by Foreign Ministers, two by Defence ministers and at least five visits by Chief of the Army on different occasions. Since British Army chief is also the Colonel Commandant of the Brigade of Gurkhas, his visit is supposed to be frequent one. In addition, there have been numerous official visits carried out also by officials from the MoD, DFID, and FCO. It would not be out of context to underscore a few important visits by special peace envoy in 2003 and special representative of the British Prime Minister for peace-building in 2010. Nevertheless, in two hundred years outstanding bilateral relationship, the British Prime Minister has yet to make his maiden trip to reciprocate Nepal side!
There were altogether four royal visits to the UK from Nepal’s side. King Mahendra paid visit in 1960 while King Birendra did so in 1980 and 1995, respectively. King Gyanendra also travelled to the UK in 1981 to attend HRH Diana’s wedding and also in 2003. In addition to it, historically the first and foremost visit was made by Prime Minister Jung Bd. Rana in 1850. His brother Chandra Shamsher went Britain after fifty eight years i. e. in the year of 1908. It is widely viewed that Chandra Shamsher’s successive visit played a central role in bringing these two nations- hailing from two different hemispheres, even nearer. As 1923 treaty took place during the reign of Chandra Shamsher, he has also been acknowledged as defender of Nepalese sovereignty whilst British generosity also admired simultaneously for granting the same. Apart from the royal and Rana Prime Ministers’ official visits, there have been significant numbers of visits accomplished by the executive heads and deputy heads of the government of Nepal. In this connection, at least three Prime Ministers of Nepal travelled to the UK, after the democratic changes in 1990. Prime Ministers Manmohan Adhikary visited Britain in 1995, Sher Bd Deoba visited twice in 1996 and 2002; and KP Bhattarai in 1999. Over the past 200 years, a few numbers of visits accomplished by the deputy heads of the government, too, and the latest visit was made by Kamal Thapa in 2016, in connection with celebrating bicentenary. In addition, numerous visits have been carried out also by high ranking ministers and officials from Ministry of Defence, Judiciary, Tourism, Foreign Affairs, Home, and Finance. The regularity of these visits reflects both country’s commitment to furthering bilateral relationship, indeed.
Support to Democratic Transition:
As a close friend, with which she had a special relationship primarily due to Gurkha’s involvement as an essential component in her military might; the UK candidly supported Nepal’s admission to the United Nations, a critical political and diplomatic constituent to promote and protect Nepal’s freedom and sovereignty. Britain’s support for consolidating democracy has also been unflinching, especially after the democratic political changes in 1990.HRH Princess of Wales, Lady Diana’s visit to Nepal in 1993 was a gesture of support in favour of nascent multiparty democracy in the Kingdom. Likewise, in these years, Britain significantly contributed in the socio-economic realms and also helped reform political, constitutional and administrative sectors in Nepal. After the King Gyanendra reclaimed sovereignty on 4th of October 2002 while dismissing the elected government, as part of the commitment of HM’s government in preventing conflict and resolving them through peaceful means and also for the restoration of peace and democracy in the roof of the world; Britain sent Sir Jeffery James as a Special Representative to Nepal in 2003. King’s decision to sack the government was widely considered as an unconstitutional step. But, the principal reason behind King’s this move was that the King himself wanted to play an active role in politics. The peace envoy, who was assigned the responsibility of assessing the political situation, met with the leaders of the major political parties and also the king of Nepal. He tried mainly to build confidence between the palace and agitating political parties. However, King Gyanendra’s direct rule was short lived owing to the people’s movement in 2006. The UK and her allies supported the consecutive political changes including the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the government and Maoists rebels. The UK, and other European governments, too, fully recognised Nepal’s strategy to involve the United Nations as a global and impartial entity in her peace process. UN’s involvement was imperative for the greater level of confidence not only for the primary stakeholders of the peace process but also for the confidence of international community to push the Nepalese peace initiatives forward. In addition to it, as a member of UN’s Security Council, the UK lent its full cooperation in constituting United Nation’s Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) and also liberally contributed to the Nepalese Peace Trust Fund (NPTF). In similar vein in 2010, British PM dispatched a special representative to Nepal to help the peace process that was struggling to move-on. Of late, however, as Nepal promulgated the new constitution, the UK has welcomed it labelled it as a “significant milestone.”
Development Assistance and Economic Cooperation:
Britain has been a long and trusted development partner of Nepal since 1950s.Educational and academic ties between Britain and Nepal started with the establishment of British Council in 1953 in Kathmandu. The relationship has grown over the years. Britain’s Chevening Scholarships were offered to meritorious students for higher studies. However, on the auspicious occasion of bicentenary, it was encouraging to note that the Chevening Scholarships number had significantly been increased so is other fellowships, too. Apart from this, it is reassuring that British Council has also been working to connect the UK and Nepali school sectors with an aim to enrich education of the Nepalese and promote global citizenship. Likewise, it is heartening to witness that, currently the UK’s DFID, is the largest bilateral donor for Nepal. It has almost doubled its assistance on the eve of 200 years of relationship, which is about GBP 106 million per year. DFID, in its programmes, has include works such as infrastructure development, job creation, climate change, good governance and security, health, water and sanitation, poverty alleviation, wealth creation and so on. In this connection, DFID strategically supports institutions such as Centre for Inclusive Growth, which aims to creating an inclusive yet sustainable growth in rural Nepal. The centre is also engaged to provide legal assistance to Nepal and other concerned stakeholders, to unlock energy development contracts in order to make available a reasonable share for them on hydro resources. More importantly, the British response to the recent devastating earthquakes stands at £70 million following further commitments made at the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction.
Trade and Commercial Relations:
It is widely believed that a successful trade and commercial relations not only bring two nations politically and diplomatically closer but also helps in squeezing the irritants which could be potential for regional conflict. So is the view of US secretary of State, nonetheless, her emphasis was more on social change and economic diplomacy. She once said, “Economic diplomacy is a powerful and vital way to shape political and social change by generating economic development.” The UK and Nepal have also recognised the significance of trade and commercial relations in strengthening bilateral ties. In this regard, some initiatives are being taken, and attempts have been made to organise the exchange of trade delegations from both sides over the past few years. These interactions and connections between the SMEs have furthered economic ties between the two countries.
Nepal’s Trade Balance with the UK
Year (2000 to 2009) Nepal’s Export to UK: Value in (NRs) Import from UK: Value (NRs) Trade Balance
2000/01 980666 8827202 -7846
2001/02 808750 2795391 -1986
2002/03 1070737 1065335 +5402
2003/04 1677084 1035493 +641591
2004/05 1050009 1452168 -402159
2005/06 1184078 961421 +222657
2006/07 998689 1727103 -728414
2007/08 1066347 1643360 -577013
2008/09 1429686 6499879 -5070193
Total 10266046 26007352 -15741306
Year (2009 to 2013) Import from UK: Value in (NRs) Export to UK: Value in (NRs) Balance
January to December, 2009 10,962,627,877 1,471,332,867 -9,491,295,010
January to December, 2010 2,603,242,134 1,292,168,947 -1,311,073,187
January to December, 2011 2,192,260,006 1,477,383,007 -714,876,999
January to December, 2012 1,786,677,499 1318011391 -468,666,108
January to December, 2013 2,677,463,138 1,924,334,331 -753,128,807
Total 20,222,270,654 7,483,230,543 -12739040111
Britain is one of the major trading partners of Nepal. The volume of trade between the two countries seems gradually expanding over the past few years since it has surged from Rs. 980666 (export) and 8827202 (import) in 2001 to Rs. 1,924,334,331 (export) and Rs. 2,677,463,138 (import) in 2013. It is an increase of Rs 1,923,353,665 in export and Rs. 2,668,635,936 in import, respectively. Moreover, the statistical figures between years 2001 to 2006 illustrate that there had been almost alternatively negative and positive balance of trade between the two nations. Nevertheless, in recent past years, i. e. from 2007 to 2013, the trade balance of Nepal against the UK has been going continuously negative. Although, since inception of diplomatic relationship, the UK and Nepal have maintained their mutual bond on social, political, military and cultural fronts; but the trade and commercial relations have yet to keep the pace.
People to People Relationship:
It is said that the first settlement of the Nepalese community in London was made at 145 Whitfield Street in Camden in 1965. In this effect, a memorial plaque now stands on the site. Their presence significantly increased after 1990s. During this period, not only the Gurkhas, but economic and professional migrants, besides the Nepalese refugees; also started settling in the UK. It is estimated that people of Nepalese origin have settled in all regions and their population is projected to be about 80,000 in the UK by the end of 2012.
The UK, as society, has been viewed as a cultural mosaic. The elasticity in her socio-political and cultural structure has meaningfully made rooms for multiculturalism. Thus, the presence of the Nepalese, at different strata in British society, has been an integral part of acculturation process. In recent past, partly due to cultural interactions and also partly because of exchanges of values related to lifestyle; the Nepalese are getting mixed-up with other communities living in the UK. Particularly, British and Nepalese community’s socio-cultural interactions take place through a few but effective informal and formal social institutions. Among them are the Nepalese Embassy, Brigade of Gurkhas- wherein major Nepali festivals including Dashain, take place; Nepalese restaurants, and Funfairs organised by both the cultural groups in the UK. Nevertheless, British leader’s graceful participations in the Nepalese people’s socioeconomic and cultural endeavours, also has reinforced the exiting linkages at the people’s level. On the other hand, British tourist’s annual visit to Nepal in a big number and their stay in the Himalayan nation, too, is responsible for heartening the process of exchanging socio-cultural values between the two communities. The social as well as emotional bond at the level of two communities get extraordinarily boosted by some of the royal visits, as well.
Of late, the populace of the Nepalese origin have started contributing to security and other socio-economic and health sectors in the UK. Most of them have invested in the restaurant and real-estate sectors. Some of them contribute also to the health domain as Doctors and professional nurses. In recent years, it is encouraging to note that the Nepalese are being elected as people’s representatives in a number of counties. Currently, they have bagged as many as six seats as the mayor and also Councillors in different parts of the UK. In other words, their popularity among British voters is steadily surging. There are more than one factor responsible for it and one important among them is that British voters fully recognise Nepalese people’s huge sacrifice for their causes. Their image, as the hard working human-capital and loyal to the society, was evident too in London riot in 2011, in which not a single Nepali émigré found involved!
Esprit in Bilateral Relationship:
Nepal is the first country to have diplomatic ties with the United Kingdom from South Asia. But, after India’s independence, Britain was no more a big neighbour for Nepal. Nevertheless, Nepal’s geo-political location, majestic Himalayas, flora and fauna, friendly people and cultural heritage sites have always been an attraction for the British people. It was a happy coincidence that, as London had begun celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, the same morning media widely reported about the news of first ascent of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The news added as a jovial essence on the happy occasion of coronation. Ever since, HM Queen Elizabeth II, adore this day of her enthronement along with first ascent of Mount Everest. As a gesture of her love and respect for the special day, HMQ not only enjoys giving audience to the related people but also attends the associated functions. During a reception to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the ascent of the Mount Everest, at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington, west London; HMQ personally met with Nepal’s Sherpa mountain climber Jamling Norgay, son of Tenzing Norgay. On the occasion of diamond jubilee of scaling of Mount Everest, she also wrote to the President of Nepal. HMQ, in her message, said, “On the 60th Anniversary of the first ascent of Mount Everest I wish to send my warmest regards to the Government of Nepal and re-affirm the strong ties that exist between our two countries. The news of the successful ascent reached me at a particularly memorable time, the day before my Coronation. The Everest Expedition was an historic example of UK-Nepal co-operation and I hope that the special relationship between our two countries will continue to grow in the years to come.”
The relationship has got diversified and enriched in the course of two century. Even, precisely during cold war era, which had adverse global political climate, the relationship deepened unhindered. Nepal and Britain have been cooperating with each other on numerous occasions. The Gurkhas, under the command of British Crown, not only defended the British territory in Falkland war but also has been fighting wars in different parts of the world for a noble cause of peace and stability. On the other hand, the UK has always been on Nepal’s side through her thick and thin as she underwent socio-political transformation in an unprecedented way. The bilateral relations- as it continued to grow; have catapulted into multi-faceted engagements. Of course, it has been possible through historical ties, development assistance, continued military cooperation and an enduring support for democratic peace in Nepal. In contemporary world order, their relationship has been boosted further also because of pressing transnational challenges. As the existing global challenges such as terrorism, cybercrimes, climate change, drug trafficking, deadly diseases etc., need concerted efforts of intercontinental alliance of all nations- be it small or big, developed or least developed; Nepal and the UK have recognised them as shared challenges and cooperate with each other in a number of bilateral as well as international podia, including that of the United Nations.
In the meantime, Nepal’s immediate neighbours are rising economically and also militarily. This has, mainly due to geopolitical location; suddenly graduated Nepal’s eminence in the diplomatic domain of the region and also beyond. It is indeed a blessing in disguise for a least developed country Nepal, as coincidently, of late; Britain’s interest has also considerably ascended evocatively in South-Asia region. Now, her economic ties have substantially heightened with the world’s two affluent economies and also the largest markets as Britain receives huge investments from them. Explicitly, after the Brexit verdict, the UK is likely opting more independent trade and political relations in the Asian continent. Additionally, as globally, realms of industry, defence and other vital governmental organs are increasingly reliant on modern Information Technology system; security challenges have also accordingly enlarged in recent years. In such a political, economic and security situation, coupled with growing cybercrimes in the region and also in Nepal; the UK and Nepal could ponder over some new areas of cooperation also in the cyber technology field.
Conclusively, one can safely comprehend that the relationship between the UK and Nepal has been varied and strengthen significantly over 200 years. Bilateral level engagements have bolstered the relations at the government and also at the people’s levels. Now, as both the nations celebrate their bicentenary, it is high time for them for stocktaking and envisioning as to how they could work in-concert to take the relationship to the next level. In this context, it would be apposite to talk about a shared gift between the two nations. In 2014, they happily agreed and established Consultation Mechanism on the great occasion of bicentenary. As the bilateral body of consultation is in operation and the third of its meeting is to be held again in Kathmandu in coming months; Nepal and the UK should seize the opportunity to develop concrete strategy for future cooperation. However, it has been ventured here to explore some of the areas, which could be helpful in taking the relationship to a new height.
Probable New Areas of Mutual Cooperation:
1. Social integration of the Nepalese, including that of the Gurkhas, in the UK through appropriate measures such as jobs, social security, trainings and orientations on British language and culture.
2. A sizeable percentage of British-Nepalese, who being in the UK, are exposed to the world’s better knowledge and technology. In the meantime, they have also developed commercial and trade linkages, in both countries. These sections of human capital should be encouraged not only for the initiatives for transfer of knowledge and technology into Nepal but also to develop Business to Business relationship. In this connection, British SMEs and Non-Resident Nepalese (NRN) organisations could be strategic resources for furthering the ties.
3. The major joint ventures, as of now, are in the areas of tourism, banking sector, education, tea, readymade garments, Bio-technology, consultancy sectors and so on. These sectors and others, too, in addition to energy security; require cyber security as well. They need to be equipped with advance technology and innovation. Such course, if taken, shall attract more joint ventures in other areas as well as that would enhance the level of confidence of the investors.
Especially, in the tourism sector, as it has been recorded that about 30-40 Thousand British tourists visit Nepal annually; both the governments need to make sureof the tourists’ air and land safety.
4. As Nepal is struggling to recover from the woes of a decade long conflict and earthquake disaster, she deserves a continuation of present volume of development assistance from the UK government, which may be provided, as far as possible, through the government of Nepal’s channel.
5. However, Nepal side, too, requires taking care of DFID development assistance by dint of good governance and transparency measures.
6. Reassurance for the Nepalese products in the UK markets as there has been a trade imbalance between two countries. A British FDI in this effect, under bilateral arrangement, could be a strategic move on the part of the UK to lessening the exiting trade shortfall of Nepal.
7. Establishment of Research Foundation, as a bilateral tool, in the name of Dr Francis Buchanan Hamilton, which will work for the conservation of ecology and environment in Nepal.
8. Britain, which is one of the best developed e-business in the world, could help Nepal in addressing the challenges of cyber-security in various domains and make Nepal one of the secure places to do business.
9. British Prime Minister’s visit to Nepal has been due since 1816! Specifically, this category of visit shall enormously reinforce our subsisting bilateral ties at all levels.