Every time I read and hear about Nepal, a sense of overwhelming nostalgia comes over. I am transported to that beautiful land that reclines so gracefully against the majestic Sagarmatha, the Himalayas, as we all know, in turn melt visually into the sky. Now and then that peak at the pinnacle, or Machepucheri – the fishtail or the other grand peaks become visible to the adoring eyes of the people of Nepal and the visitors alike.
I have had the singular privilege of serving in the Kingdom of Nepal as the Bangladesh Ambassador for a somewhat unusually long period of five years. These were some of the very best years of my life and this had given me, as a bonus, an opportunity to become the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps for over a year.
I arrived in Nepal from London in June 1990 just a few months after the Jana Andolan, which brought about a fundamental constitutional change by allowing a multi-party democratic dispension for the country. With His Majesty King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev as the constitutional monarch, an interim Government was in place with the well respected senior Nepali Congress leader Mr. Krishna Prasad Bharrarai as the Prime Minister.
At that time Nepal’s elder statesman Mr. Ganesh Man Singh considered to be the Father of Nepal’s Democracy was accorded high esteem by all the leaders and parties. Mr. Bhattarai’s interim Government was followed by the Nepali Congress government headed by another illustrious political name in Nepal, Mr. Girija Prasad Koirala whose elder brother B P Koirala was the first democratic Prime Minister of Nepal a few decades ago.
Another brother Mattrika Prasad Koirala had also served as a Prime Minister with King Mahendra on the throne. Perhaps, three brothers becoming Prime Minister like the Koiralas is a unique happening.
Mr. G P Koirala had to give up the power when the CPN-UML won the elections and the party’s revered leader Mr. Manmohan Adhikary became the first communist Prime Minister of the Kingdom with Mr. Madhav Kumar Nepal as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. After about two years, Nepali Congress returned to govern the country, with a relatively younger leader, who had proved his mettle as the Home Minister in Mr. GP Koirala’s Cabinet, Mr. Sher Bahadur Deuba winning the mantle of Prime Ministership.
It is on him and Mrs. Deuba, I and my wife went to make our farewell call in June 1995, as I was transferred from Kathmandu to Dhaka as a Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (only to leave after about six months as Bangladesh Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco).
In Nepal I had the privilege of having very close contact with all the four Prime Ministers and of course, all the Foreign Ministers and many members of the four successive cabinets. I was literally overwhelmed by the extraordinary kindness and courtesies I had personally received from all of them.
It was a most satisfying tour of duty for me with the expressions of deep friendship for Bangladesh and of respect and esteem for our Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and her first government that had also swept to power through the sheer force of popular will and demand in 1990. I was fortunate enough to be in an amazingly receptive as well as enabling environment both in my own country and in the country to which I was accredited.
Among the many significant successes that characterized Bangladesh -Nepal relations, there are outstanding milestones that as the Ambassador I especially recall with deep personal pride. First was the bilateral visit of our then Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia.
This visit had brought out the very best in our relations and Nepal extended a most colourful, spontaneous and warm welcome through out her 3-day official visit. Prime Minister Koirala and his Government went all out to consolidate the friendly relations with respect and admiration for our Prime Minister. The second was also the visit to Nepal by Begum Zia.
This time as the SAARC Chairperson and her host was the elderly Communist Party leader Prime Minister Man Mohan Adhikary. The warmth shown and the heartiest welcome offered to our Prime Minister on this occasion was also exceptional. On both visits, His Majesty King Birendra received the honoured guest at the Palace in extended meetings.
I also recall that in the same Narayanhiti Palace, King Birendra had welcomed late President Ziaur Rahman on his last state visit to Nepal. The King, an admirer of SAARC offered rock-solid support to the continued expansion of the SAARC concept and to its fullest possible implementation. Begum Zia had accompanied her husband on that historic visit.
As the Director General in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I had the privilege of being included in the Presidential entourage. And at that time, I could not have divined that I would have the distinct honour of representing my country in that capital and also have the rare privilege of receiving Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia twice on her official visits to the Kingdom.
Nor did I anticipate that I would have the distinction of being perhaps the first Bangladesh Ambassador to become the Dean of a Diplomatic Corps. As the Dean in Kathmandu,I took a unique initiative to arrange a grand Diplomatic Reception in honour of Their Majesties the King and the Queen to celebrate the Golden Jubilee in 1995.
Almost single-handedly the reception was meticulously arranged at the famed Yak & Yeti Hotel, when the Royal Protocol conveyed the gracious acceptance of my formal invitation as the Dean. The Corps deeply lauded the efforts put in and I was particularly indebted to all my colleagues in the Corps.
My Deputy the British Ambassador Timothy George, US Ambassador Sandy Vogelgesang and Daniel Du’Pont, the French Ambassador were particularly helpful in various ways. Daniel supplied the special favourites of the King – cigars ( Romeo & Juliet) and drinks, that the Palace had very kindly informed me about. I prevailed upon Yak & Yeti management to spend a significant amount of time and money on putting up a new Golden Door to the Reception Hall and to ensure perfect arrangements for this fabulous occasion. It was one of the rare events where there were six royal presence.
Their Majesties were accompanied by Crown Prince Deependra and Princess Sruti. We were overjoyed when His Royal Highnesses Prince Gyanendra and Princess Komol, (later themselves becoming the King and the Queen of Nepal), also graciously joined the reception. As the Dean I had to resolve the extremely sensitive issue of protocol in receiving the Royals and later to see them off.
While my wife and I naturally were at hand to receive King Birendra and Queen Aisharya, I had deputed Timothy George and his wife Rechenda to receive the Crown Prince and his sister Princess Sruti,and the US Ambassador Sandy Vogelgesang and her husband agreed to welcome Prince Gyanendra and Princess Komol.
I also recall the surprise we had when King Birenda came out not from the back of the royal limousine but from the driver’s seat and as I warmly welcomed them, with his usually pleasant smile remarked “Excellency, I thought I should try my driving skill once in a while.” Considering Narayanhiti Palace is just about a thousand yards away, this was a indeed a royal humour at its best The Reception was also attended by highly select invitees and excepting Mr. G. P. Koirala, who was out of the city at the time, then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Mrs. Arzoo Deuba and two former Prime Ministers Mr. Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Mr.Manmohan Adhikary and senior Cabinet members were all present.
After seeing off Their Majesties whose gracious words of appreciation I had later conveyed to the Corps, my wife and I could just return in time as HRH Prince Gyanendra and Princes Komol were ready to leave. The Prince was exceedingly kind in congratulating us on a memorable event,and he added, I recall, that ‘it was fit for a King’.
I praised him for his great success with the Kingdom’s work for preservation of its rich wildlife, especially in protecting the endangered species of Black Rhinos. He has been instrumental in this as the Royal Patron. and the project involved large-scale transfer of rhinos from the overused Chitwan forest to Royal Bardia Wildlife preserve in faraway western part of Nepal. Despite many problems, it is undeniable that Nepal has the most beautiful wildlife sanctuaries mainly due to such Royal patronage and interest.
I should mention about the wonderful expression of Nepal’s friendship for Bangladesh in this specific area. At my request, HM Government had donated two black rhinos for our Zoological Gardens in Dhaka. ‘Kancha’ and ‘Kanchi’, names had suggested to our authorities have been a fabulous attraction for people of all ages over all these years, obviously reminding the generous friendship of the Kingdom for Bangladesh.
There are so many memories worth recalling, but that I intend to do on another occasion. The reason for writing this article is to highlight the excellent bilateral relations that have been strengthened over the years between Bangladesh and Nepal. These relations are truly based on sovereign equality and mutual respect and on admiration for the institutions, practices and achievements in various spheres of respective national life. Political, social, economic and cultural values and progressive national endeavours in the two countries enable them to learn and draw inspirations from.
During my five years stay, I had travelled fairly extensively in Nepal reaching places in the remotest areas of this wonderful land. I have invariably been received with great warmth and kindness. my wife and I still recall with deep fondness these abiding gestures and the fabulous hospitality that we had enjoyed everywhere. Nepal with its respected leaders, its people from all walks of life, has become a part of our psyche, indeed a part of us.
For these very reasons, we also feel so very encouraged by the continuing genuine efforts in Nepal making the task of nation building so much more meaningful all around. The historic Jano Andolan, that brought about the democratic system for the welfare and progress of the people can only have full meaning with a peaceful understanding and mutual respect among the various groups representing legitimate interests and concerns of the people everywhere across the country.
The process of reaching for common welfare and unified efforts by the whole nation to travel on the path of progress and prosperity, is fraught with challenges. We as friends of Nepal, and many others, are hugely optimistic that for Nepal, so much sunshine is just around the corner.
With the world watching so very closely and when the concept and practice of democratic governance and the people’s rights have become global ‘mantras’ by which the super and big powers swear and sword-use in distant, may wish to consider to bring three basic elements in a proper equation:
(i) the democratic process that had taken roots since 1990 in a definitive manner should be allowed to bear new leaves and fruits, obviously through a somewhat rocky and rough passage
(ii) the concerns and demands of all sections of citizenry, who have proved, if nothing else, their deep and unrelenting commitment to the national cause, indicating a huge necessity for the authorities to have the wisdom and patience in the overall interest of the country, especially its needs to unite all and use all its resources, human and natural, abundant as they indeed are, to ensure the augury of a golden era in Nepal and
(iii) the smooth growth of the constitutional governance and the development of the appropriate institutions for the conduct of the affairs of the state. With the ideal fusion of emerging democratic traditions and due recognition of the hopes and aspirations of the people from all regions Nepal would soon play its rightful role.
As a friend of Nepal, I, and so many others, would wish to appeal to all to seize this window of opportunity to help usher in a great era that Nepal and its friendly people so richly deserve. Let the 21st Century and this South Asia region, witness a monumental achievement of the people, by the people and for the people.
—-The writer, Secretary to the Bangladesh Government and Ambassador(Retd.) can be reached at email@example.com