A response to the Secretary-General

From the Kathmandu Post (2009-11-03)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has gone out of his way in his report submitted to the Security Council on Oct. 26 to call for a national unity government in Nepal. That may have been beyond his responsibilities. But that is what the Nepali political players and civil leadership seek, in order to complete the peace process and introduce political stability for drafting the constitution.

More importantly, Secretary-General’s advisors may have delved a little into the challenge of forming such a unity government. The country has an elected Parliament of 601 members, and 22 of 24 parties in the Constituent Assembly cobbled together a coalition after the Maoists resigned in early May. While wanting to get back to leading the government, the UCPN (Maoist) is unable to bring a no-confidence motion, despite the large field from which it has to choose.

Is Nepal being asked to take a non-parliamentary path towards a peace-without-democracy situation, based on an undervaluation of the Nepali democratic experience? Would not our hard-won democracy be in tatters if it became possible to head a government through sheer threat and street action?

Friend of UN

Nepal has an emotional bond with the United Nations stronger than many developing countries, because our entire journey since 1950 has been in the company of the world organisation and its specialised agencies. It was because of this legacy that the UN was entrusted with facilitating the peace process following the Peoples Movement of April 2006.

One had hoped the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) would benefit from institutional memory of the country’s complex political and developmental journey. In fact, there was blind faith that the Mission would introduce the highest international standards in its role as facilitator in the ‘management’ of the Maoist cantonments. The Mission has not lived up to this trust.

One has to assume that the Secretary-General’s report was vetted, if not written by, the UNMIN office in Kathmandu. Besides the call for a national unity government without the required roadmap, this report contains the bias of earlier reports in presenting the ex-rebel fighting force as an equal entity to the national army. Seemingly even-handed, the report presents a subtly distorted picture of the our peace process, papering over the intransigence of the Maoists as the primary roadblock. Given that the majority of the non-permanent Security Council members do not have independent mechanisms for corroboration, one fears that the misinterpretations of UNMIN will carry the day in New York.

It bears remembering that UN Secretariat officials were peripheral to the 12-point agreement, which kick-started the peace process. The central players were the parliamentary politicians, who reached out to the Maoists in semi-secret confabulations in New Delhi in 2005. Incongruously, the Mission staffers tend to look down upon these very politicians of the Nepali Congress and UML, who also lobbied strenuously for the emplacement of UNMIN against initial objections from the neighbouring regional power.

Since early on, UNMIN has been harbouring a quasi-post-modernist delusion that it is in the peace process as a mediator, rather than as facilitator. It seeks to maintain diplomatic equidistance, wanting not to engage the knee-jerk Maoists when the latter goes berserk. True, the Maoists carry the romance of former revolutionaries, while other politicos are dull by comparison; but it makes all the difference that the former continue to espouse the ‘people’s republic’ agenda and are yet to publicly abandon allegiance to violence.

UNMIN’s leadership chooses to read the infamous Shaktikhor video ‘in context’, dutifully following on Maoist suggestion. It may now have to give a similar spin to the interview of Baburam Bhattarai uploaded online the very day that the Secretary-General’s report was published. In his menacing, long-winded interview, which confirms the agenda of ‘proctrated people’s war’, Mr. Bhattarai reports:

“The PLA is still with us, and the arms we collected during that war are still with us within the single-key system, monitored by the United Nations team, but basically the key is with us and the army is with us and we have never surrendered.” (www.wprmbritain.org)

Four factors

UNMIN’s ongoing underappreciation of our political process can perhaps be explained by four factors — the willingness to regard Nepal as a primitive, half-civilized society, where a less-than-democratic resolution should be acceptable to the denizens; the careerism of transient international civil servants; the need to show a success, even if it means cutting corners; the incorrect extrapolation from other global trouble spots.

It is indeed intriguing that the self-congratulatory UNMIN stands so ready to pass judgement, while there is no one available or willing to critique the Mission leadership itself. The officials do not hold public consultations and hardly exhibit transparency, even as the representative proceeds to address the hallowed Security Council chamber. The mission is good at absolving itself of all blame for not properly monitoring the cantonments under its supervision, when violence breaks out — murders, abductions, the public use of firearms.

UNMIN was not there to warn the over-excited politicians and civil society about the dangers of going into elections in April 2008 with the cantonments in place. At this late date, the Secretary-General’s report should have been able to state that the new constitution cannot be written when the same reality holds true, with the largest party in the Assembly retaining its own fighting force. For whatever reason, UNMIN has been unable to take this self-evident and unequivocal stand.

Succumbing to the populist wave, the Mission does not give due credit to the national army for having stayed within the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Knowledgeable observers maintain that UNMIN was enthusiastically one-sided against the Nepal Army on the recruitment issue, when clearly there was room for interpretation. And now this call for a national unity government, as if Nepal were a failed state and the polls were a United Nations enterprise. One wonders why it was fine for the Maoists to lead a non-national unity government till early May, and why this is not kosher in the case of the 22 political parties making up a majority in the House.

The main reason for the stalled peace process is the foot-dragging by the Maoists, most of which can actually be explained by the deep schisms within the party itself. Reading the Secretary-General’s report, you would never know this critical aspect. The report suggests (para 18) that both the government and the Maoists are at fault for lack of progress in discharge of the ‘disqualified’ minors, but all donors and UNMIN itself know that the Maoists who are giving everybody the run-around.

The Secretary-General’s report hints (para 55) at the need to expand UNMIN’s role in order to complete the integration/rehabilitation process. It is best that this intensely political process be left to negotiations between the political parties, through the Special Committee and its capable Technical Committee. They have the required mandate and expertise to see the task through, and UNMIN could bring to bear the goodwill it has nurtured with such care vis-à-vis the UCPN (Maoist).

The message that Secretary-General Ban needs to hear from Kathmandu is that Nepal needs a democratic, parliamentary release. As things stand, Maoist adventurism is emboldening the right-wing, and this does not bode well for the democratic politics that will bring progress and prosperity. Appeasing the extreme and unreformed left will ipso facto vitalize the extreme right, and it is the Nepali people who will suffer long after the ‘missionaries’ are gone.

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