It's almost been a month since Hamas militants began an all-out war against Israel in a massive surprise attack on the morning of October 7. The world was shocked by the magnitude of the casualties—hundreds were killed. In Nepal, it was a moment of national mourning as 10 Nepali students visiting Israel on an "earn and learn" program were murdered. An 11th student, Bipin Joshi, went missing. After all these weeks, there are hints that Joshi is alive and in Hamas captivity. The Israeli government claims Joshi has been held hostage by Hamas militants. Joshi, the office of the Israeli prime minister said, is among 122 foreign nationals held captive by Hamas, although they failed to tell where he is being kept.
The news from Israel is a thin thread of hope for Joshi's family and the millions of Nepalis who wish to see him return home safe and sound. However, as Israel's counter-attack continues to kill Palestinians and flatten Gaza, the road to freedom for Joshi is not easy. In fact, that will entail sustained diplomatic lobbying from the Nepal Government. Considering how quickly the government was rallying behind Israel in the immediate aftermath of the October 7 attack, one got the impression that Nepal had burned bridges with Palestine. However, Nepal made its position in support of Palestinian lives clear when it later voted in favor of a ceasefire in Gaza on humanitarian grounds.
An immediate ceasefire is now a faraway fantasy because the majority of Western countries have stood by Israel while Palestine faces the biggest humanitarian crisis in its history. The Western nations have been demanding, in hushed tones, the release of their compatriots in their desire for a collective punishment of Palestinians. Nonetheless, for humanitarian reasons, a nation such as Nepal, which has no stake in the Israel-Palestine dispute, is perfectly entitled to demand the unconditional release of its nationals. In order to guarantee the student's prompt release, the Nepali government must, therefore, utilize all available diplomatic channels. This will be a test of Nepal's ability and dexterity in international diplomacy.
Since there is currently little to be accomplished through Western diplomatic channels, Nepal could look to nations with strong clout in Palestine, such as Qatar. The country in the Gulf is in the best position to assist in Joshi's release because it is spearheading talks for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Given the close diplomatic and economic relations between Nepal and Qatar, it would be smart for the friendly country to ask for assistance in releasing one of its nationals. After all, Qatar has a moral obligation to support Nepal when it needs it most if its economy is based on the blood, sweat, and tears of Nepalis.
Joshi's trials and tribulations in Hamas's apparent captivity, though, go beyond a national concern. A total of 122 foreign nationals, in addition to 118 civilians remain in Hamas's captivity. UN Secretary-General António Guterres, during his Nepal visit this week, expressed his concern for Joshi's safety, just as he has been calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and the return of the hostages. Countries across the world, especially those that are blindly backing Israel's attacks on Palestinian civilians, should come together for an immediate ceasefire and escalation of humanitarian assistance in Gaza. That will help return Joshi and the 240 captives home faster. But Nepal also cannot completely rely on other countries to come to the rescue of one of its own. Moreover, if Nepal can somehow secure Joshi's release, it will be a huge diplomatic victory for the country and the Dahal government—a much-needed one at that, hot on the heels of the humiliation it faced in the election for the WHO regional director.
On Sunday, there was a protest in Mahendranagar calling for the immediate return of Bipin Joshi from Bhimdatta Municipality-3 in Kanchanpur. A memorandum was also delivered to the Minister of Foreign Affairs via the Chief District Officer of Kanchanpur, with the involvement of young people and students from the area.