Two Hundred Years of Nepal-Britain Relations: A Way Forward

Speech by the British Ambassador to Nepal, Mr Andy Sparkes CMG

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

British Ambassador Mr Andy Sparkes, CMG

(Speech delivered at the seminar “200 Years Of Nepal-Britain Relations: A Way Forward” organised by the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Chevening Alumni Association of Nepal on Sunday 15 September 2013 at Hotel De L’ Annapurna, Kathmandu.)

Honorable Foreign Minister Mr Madhav Ghimire, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

I was recently in Biratnagar, and the Nepalese businessmen there were explaining to me their frustrations that quite a lot of their export produce . since it was shipped back through India, appeared to the consumer to be Indian. They wanted help in how to market their produce better to Western markets as “Made in Nepal”. I said that we would try to help, but I also offered this encouragement: “Made in Nepal” would be a positive sell in the UK. The fact that something came from Nepal would incline many Brits to buy it. Such is the affection that my countrymen have for your country, and for Nepalese.

Let me briefly review the history that led to this. Our engagement as nations began rather unpromisingly with a war, and indeed our recruitment of Gurkha soldiers began by effectively stealing from the other side! But in the meantime British fascination with Nepal had already begun- a member of the mission tasked with conducting the tense exchanges before the war was Alexander Buchanan-Hamilton, who made some early and excellent notes and drawings on Nepal’s unique flora and fauna.

After the war, the Treaty of Sergauli formalised in March 1816 established a full relationship with Britain as two independent nations. We chose not to try to colonise, but to partner and influence. We were Nepal’s only such partner between 1816 and 1951! And after initial wariness, relations began to improve, under the long tenure as Resident of another amateur naturalist, Brian Hodgson FRS, from 1829 to 1843. But they really became warm with the visit to the UK in 1850 by Nepalese leader Jang Bahadur Rana,who famously got on so well with Queen Victoria that during his year’s stay She saw him no less than six times. Jang Bahadur in turn became an enthusiast for all things British. He brought back British architecture, and he started the process of educating the Nepalese ruling class in the UK which continued for well over a century.

Chandra Shamser’s visit to UK in 1908 kept up the momentum but the next real watershed moment was the signature in 1923 of the Treaty under which the British accepted in writing that Nepal was an independent nation. This was crucial to Nepal’s future. Without it, with Indian independence in 1947 Nepal might have been hard put to it to retain its separate identity.

The 20th Century saw another angle on the growing British love affair with Nepal, with the birth of mountaineering as a sport and the British determination to climb the world’s highest mountain- Sagarmatha, or Everest. The romance of that quest was embodied in George Mallory, who died climbing Everest in 1924 and whose body was only recently found. Nobody knows whether or not he got to the top, but as we all know, in 1953 a British expedition led by John, Lord Hunt did succeed in putting the New Zealander Ed Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on the top. The British people went wild as the news reached them on the morning on the coronation of their Queen, who is still our Queen today.

And underpinning all this history, of course, was the arrangement whereby Gurkha soldiers were recruited into the British army. We owe them so much. Tens of thousands of them gave their lives for the British cause in two World Wars and they have won many of our highest decorations for bravery. They have in turn given honour and recognition to Nepal, as home of some of the world’s best, most professional and dedicated soldiers. And the money they have earned has, over the years, done much for the prosperity of their communities, communities which we look after today through the work of the Gurkha Welfare Scheme.

So all this is why “made in Nepal” would sell products in the UK. It’s why “Sherpa” branded trekking gear is sought after in the UK. And maybe, on the other side, it’s why Nepalese people put our flag on their teeshirts, on their scooters, on their shops and their trucks. This is a SPECIAL relationship.

But is a relationship not just about the past, but the present and the future. In the past, Nepal mattered to us because it was surrounded by countries which we either ruled or influenced. But the South Asia region still matters to us- not any longer because we are a superpower but because of the millions of Britons who come from South Asian origin, and because of the danger the region poses to the world in general if its antagonisms boil over, or if the terrorists who have found shelter in some parts of it are allowed to overrun the rest, or get their hands on weapons of mass destruction. In such a region, we need Nepal to be a beacon of stability and democracy, a like-minded power growing in prosperity and influence. A South Asian country which keeps good relations with all its neighbours, can host roundtables and broker between them.

That is our strategic interest in Nepal. But there are solid and substantial aspects to the modern relationship beyond that- above all our position as much the biggest donor to the country. That’s consistent with the specialness to which I was referring, but also meeting Nepal’s absolute need as the second poorest country in Asia.

I recently sat down with the British offices in Nepal- the Embassy, DFID, the Brigade of Gurkhas HQ staff who also run the Gurkha Welfare trust with its 20 Area Welfare centres around the country, the British Council - and we worked out together a one page Strategy for our modern relationship as we approach the 200th anniversary, in other words to cover the period 2013 to 2016.

I’d like to thank the senior colleagues who worked on that Strategy for coming to support me here today. Charlotte Duncan from DFID, Guy Harrison my Deputy Ambassador, Colonel Sean Harris my Defence Attache who is also chief of the Gurkhas here in Nepal and his deputy Lt Colonel Elton Davis, and the Director of the British Council, Brendan McSharry.

I’ll now run through that Strategy with a comment on its elements.

First, here is our overarching goal: A peaceful, democratic and inclusive Nepal, with dynamic growth, respect for human rights and continued strong partnership with the UK.

Under that, of course we have the responsibility of any British mission anywhere in the world- to support British nationals in Nepal, through an effective consular service, and also working with the Nepalese authorities to improve air safety for our tourists.

Then, there is our support for development in Nepal. We do this through DFID’s work on wealth creation, service delivery, governance, disaster response, building climate change resilience, and improving health. We do it through the British Council’s work to support cultural relations, and ELT standards and exam reform in education. And we have some smaller British Embassy project funds which contribute as well.

I’d like to dwell on this a little more and tell you more about what DFID and the Council do.

DFID is the largest single country donor to Nepal. It was before but it is even more now, as we have committed to nearly double our assistance to a total of £106 million a year. This is part of our Prime Minister’s global commitment to spend 0.7% of our GDP on overseas development assistance, notwithstanding our economic crisis. DFID’s Operational Plan aims to achieve the following results by 2015:

• Create 230,000 jobs, 50% of them for women • Build 532 km and maintain 3,700 km of road • Reduce the climate and disaster vulnerability of four million poor people, of which 2.19 million will be women • Support 2100 minors and late recruited former Maoist combatants given training and reintegration support • 98 percentage of local government bodies conducting public audits for every project • Avert 108000 unintended pregnancies • Ensure 110,000 people (53% women) benefit from safe latrines, partly through our support to the Gurkha Welfare Scheme

Amongst the many DFID programmes, I would like to highlight particularly those which will help Nepal to create sustainable growth, move along the path to Middle Income status, and so graduate from dependency on foreign aid altogether. Success will be when DFID is able to leave. So the DFID- supported Centre for Inclusive Growth has continued to tackle the critical constraints to growth. The centre focussed on analytical and legal support to unlock power development agreements to assist Nepal to get a fair deal for its hydro resources. This has contributed to ongoing work on improving the attractiveness of Nepal to foreign investors which DFID supports through the International Finance Corporation. At the same time DFID is working on the design of an Access to Finance programme which should provide small businessmen and farmers with what they need to grow into SMEs and so stimulate employment.

In the general area of infrastructure, jobs and skills, through DFID’s work in the last decade, over 1 million people in remote districts have been connected to the national road network through the construction of 1224km of rural roads and 246 pedestrian bridges. In doing so, 16 million days of employment were created for 10,000 poor and disadvantaged people. In addition, 42000 households have improved drinking water sources, 15000 households have improved sanitation facilities and 7000 households have basic electricity supply. Through skills training programmes 10,000 people have been supported to obtain long term employment, and 21669 had their incomes improved by the DFID-supported Market Access for Small Holder Farmers Programme and 718 entrepreneurs had their business skills developed.

Turning now to the British Council. Amongst other activities in the financial year 2012/13 the British Council Nepal:

• Trained in the field 400 key state school teachers in basic teaching skills, who in turn will cascade down to some 8000 more • Launched 20 new links between Nepali and UK schools- we now have 310 active school links • Delivered English by radio and learn English Mobile programmes, reaching around 6000 teachers and learners of English • Delivered over 42,000 exams to 31,000 candidates, mostly in the English language, A levels and accountancy • Held our Annual Education UK fair, in which 24 British universities took part. The fair had 3.600 visitors, many of them school and university graduates. • Delivered global on-line English products to thousands of Nepali citizens. That is Learn English,Teach English and Schools on line

Whilst we are on the theme of outreach to Nepalese citizens, I should mention also the BBC Nepal service which reaches 6 million listeners.

The next pillar of our Strategy is supporting conflict resolution and promoting human rights, democracy and good governance in Nepal.. Under this I and other staff have been actively advocating for early, free and fair elections to the CA and we are very pleased that the intent to go to the polls in November has not been derailed. The Uk will support these elections as the biggest donor- £14 million in all. But we will also see how we can help the CA to reach early agreement this time on an inclusive Constitution, and also advocate for local elections as soon as possible after the CA/Parliament is installed.

We will also work for a justice system which has public confidence and champions the rights of the citizen. We are working on a programme to discuss with the government to begin to achieve that goal. In the meantime DFID has already done a lot for improving the access of women to justice. Through the Women’s Paralegal Committee Project we have supported the training and establishment of over 14000 paralegals (98% of them women) and 1023 paralegal committees. To date, these have worked on an estimated 25000 cases, benefitting over 13000 women in Nepal- many of these cases focussed on domestic abuse and social violence.

Then we are very determined to increase UK business with Nepal. As I said above, we want to improve the climate for business, tackling obstacles to British and other FDI and trade with Nepal. But my target is also to double British exports and increase British investment. Partnerships with existing Nepalese firms, particularly smaller ones looking to grow, to produce for export from Nepal would be the best win/win, since Nepal needs to address her trade deficit. I am keen to encourage Brits of South Asian origin, of whom there are now millions in the Uk who have been particularly successful in business, to come out and look at opportunities here and use their South Asian networks. I am in touch also with the Nepalese diaspora in the Uk, which is itself significant and includes successful businessmen.

And last but not least of course in our Strategy we want to promote strong relations between the UK and Nepal. An important element in that is continued recruitment of Gurkhas and strong partnership in parallel between the Nepalese and British Armed Forces. General Rana has just paid a very successful visit to the UK which should reinforce the tradition of training of Nepalese Army officers in the UK, and some also in the other direction. The role played by the Nepalese Army in peacekeeping for the UN (7th largest troop contributor) is a great contribution to peace in the world and enhances Nepal’s global reputation. We will continue to look for ways in which we can help the NA with this capacity, such as the recent training package we provided in the safe disposal of Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to equip the Nepalese continent headed out to Mali.

As regards the Gurkhas we are very conscious of the obligations we owe to these brave soldiers and their families. In the UK they are now treated on equal terms and conditions with British-born army professionals. In Nepal, as I mentioned before, the Gurkha Welfare Trust spends millions of pounds a year looking after retired Gurkhas, their families, dependents and even whole communities through its rural development projects, making use of a network of 20 Area Welfare Centres for the purpose, throughout Nepal.

On the visa side, we realise that visas are a nuisance for the many bonafide visitors to the UK from Nepal. Visas unfortunately are unavoidable because of the number of visitors to the UK from many countries who overstay and become economic migrants, imposing a burden on our tax payers and our social security system at a time of economic trouble. Our pledge therefore is to try to provide options to shorten the waiting time for your passports with UK visas in to come back from New Delhi, the regional issuing centre. Our policy is to provide a high quality and fair service to visa applicants whilst controlling migration to the UK effectively.

Finally, we want to use the theme of this seminar, the upcoming 200th anniversary, to strengthen bilateral cooperation further, looking not just back at the history, but forwards. And, in drawing these remarks to a close, I want to spend a little time on this.

The approaching 200th anniversary watershed gives us a natural opportunity to review, take stock, recommit to an important partnership for the 21st century. That is why we have suggested a roundtable with a visiting senior Uk official. There are some parts of the architecture of our relations that we need to spring clean for the 21st century. For example a SOFA (state of forces agreement) for our military cooperation, to replace the Dharan Agreement of 1963 under which we still operate at present. We also need an MOU to enable the British Council’s new commercial arm to operate as a company and pay taxes, and a code sharing agreement on air services so that we can bring more British and other tourists to Nepal out of London.

I share one vision very strongly with my counterpart Dr Chalise, the Nepalese Ambassador in London. Let us breathe fresh life into our long tradition of academic cooperation and knowledge transfer. The 200th celebration could include seminars and conferences to that end but let us look also for 200th anniversary scholarships to provide a more lasting legacy. Both Dr Chalise and I will work on getting commercial sponsorship for those.

We also need to be more systematic about the links we have. I salute the co-sponsor of this event, the Chevening Alumni Association, and look forward to working more with them on this agenda. In particular, I would like to systematise into one network our many medical and surgical connections and partnerships, and hope to engage the Britain/Nepal Medical Trust, which the other day celebrated its 45th anniversary of work in Nepal, as the natural umbrella for that.

Finally I want to leave you with an image of the modern partnership between Briain and Nepal- with an eye to the future. I highlighted earlier the work DFID is doing to help rural people in particular to cope with climate change. In the past, the UK was a polluter, and we acknowledge that past polluters need to help present victims. Nepal has not been a big polluter. But is one of the most vulnerable victims. At the same time though Nepal is going to be vitally important to the sustainable future for humanity in this whole region, through responsible use of its clean energy, hydropower and best use of the rivers that flow from the Himalayas, a resource that will become ever more precious in an ever-more populated world.

So here is a partnership. We have the experts in the science, and the engineering. We have the responsibility to help, and we will. Nepal is the head of the Least Developed Countries group in the COP Climate Change talks. We are helping Nepal to get those countries- the main victims- to achieve their objectives at those talks and face up to the big polluters. In cooperation on the green agenda- helping Nepal develop whilst at the same time reducing the global carbon footprint, preserving Nepal’s fabulous environment whilst bringing more people sustainably to see it- we have the basis of a truly modern partnership. In this, as we embark on our next 200 years, we shall be standing shoulder to shoulder to do the right thing, not just for Britain and Nepal, but for the very future of our planet.


15 September 2013

Published 25 September 2013