'Everybody Loves To Go To Nepal!'
Diplomat cites constitution, Peace Corps in survey of positive trends
WASHINGTON, May 11, 2011 — "I have a great challenge here today," Nepalese Ambassador Shankar P. Sharma told an audience gathered at Asia Society Washington for a talk on current issues facing his country.
"I am supposed to talk about the overall peace process in Nepal, the economy of the country, Nepal-US relations, and almost everything that is of concern to the people of Nepal."
Undaunted, Sharma began by explaining how after his country had been riven by armed conflict for many years, many experts thought that the peace process would stretch out over another 10 to 20 years. Instead, recent developments have accelerated the process to the point where lasting peace appears within reach after only half that time.
The envoy then touched on two problems that Nepal has faced since 2006: Completion of the peace process and the writing of the new constitution, with the most important part of the former having to do with integrating the remaining members of the Maoist army, which number nearly 19,000, into civilian society.
Sharma explained why writing a constitution was so complex. "We used to have a unitary system with a monarchy, and then all of a sudden we have to write a new constitution of Nepal, dividing the whole country into different states and provinces."
While the ambassador admitted that many business and investment interests were waiting to see what the outcome of the new constitution, he cited the tourism industry as being especially strong, since so many people worldwide wish to see his country.
"Everybody loves to go to Nepal. When I met President Obama for the first time, he told me, 'One of these days I would like to go to Nepal.' I reminded him of that in the second meeting."
The ambassador added that Nepal and the US had recently signed a trade and investment framework agreement, which was significant because the last agreement between the two countries was ratified in 1947.
On US-Nepal relations, Sharma discussed the education and health programs that USAID is working on with the Nepalese government, primarily in the health sector. As a result, "accessibility in terms of health facilities has increased remarkably." He was also pleased to add that efforts are underway to bring Peace Corps volunteers back to Nepal after an absence of almost six years.
"Many of these people are still linked with the villages of Nepal, mobilizing resources, building schools, providing drinking water. They have been extremely useful."
During the question and answer session of the discussion, the ambassador responded to questions about relations with China and India, the future of hydropower in the country, as well as the future of Tibetan and Bhutanese refugees.
Reported by Adrian Stover, Asia Society Washington Center