Not missing UNMIN

From Nepali Times, ISSUE #533 (24 DEC 2010 – 30 DEC 2010)

The United Nations Mission to Nepal, UNMIN, is to be thanked profusely for its efforts with the peace process and graciously shown the door when its term expires on 15 January. In the meantime, Nepali political actors including the Maoists must concentrate on making successful a unique process that was designed by Nepali stakeholders, starting with the 12-point understanding of 2005.

Tamrat Samuel (left) and Ian Martin, Lalitpur, 2006

In its first days, many did feel reassured by UNMIN’s presence as a symbol and guarantor of the international community’s commitment to peace and democracy in post-conflict Nepal. After the Constituent Assembly elections of April 2008, however, UNMIN’s remaining task of monitoring the cantonments was conducted without distinction and at great cost. Even while repeatedly misleading the Security Council with its own version of events, the Mission leadership constantly sought to expand its mandate to be the arbiter of Nepal’s peace politics.

There is no doubt that the Mission’s inability to challenge the Maoists to stand by thier peace commitments contributed to that party’s obduracy, helping delay the peace process. Those who had lobbied hard for UNMIN’s deployment in 2006 were let down.

The question arises whether we should not seek accountability from the UMNIN leadership in the same manner we do from our politicians and bureaucrats. While Karin Langdren, the present chief, has been rewarded with a promotion and a Burundi assignment, the tone and tenor of UNMIN’s work was set by the former chief Ian Martin, and Tamrat Samuel, the designated Nepal handler at the UN Department of Political Affairs. Together, Martin and Samuel sought to inject UNMIN into our peace politics, seeking sociological roots to Nepal’s conflict when disarming of the Maoist Party should have been the priority. It is they who certified UNMIN’s erroneous reading of the Maoists as true agents of progressive change and the other major parties as carriers of the status quo.

Even as the Maoist leaders today engage in rearguard action to extend UNMIN’s term, we need to be clear that continuation of the Mission beyond 15 January will � ironically � derail Nepal’s peace process. In turn, this will guarantee the collapse of constitution writing, the deadline for which is end-May 2011. The Maoists have preferred to use UNMIN as a security blanket, and they would utilise another extension to filibuster further and influence the last days of the Constituent Assembly.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal lacked the sagacity and courage to convert UCPN (Maoist) into a civilian party when it was united under his command. Now, challenged by his two deputies, the chairman seeks to appease the cantonment commanders, peace process be damned. He seeks to link UNMIN’s departure to constitution making and government formation even though the 2006 agreement on the integration/rehabilitation of ex-combatants allows no conditionality.

Fortunately, the political parties and the international community are not about to be taken in by the Maoist bluff this time around. UML and NC on Wednesday reiterated their position on the non-renewal of UNMIN’s term, and Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal has remained steadfast. The word from New York is that the Security Council is not about to reverse its decision and provide another extension. The change of guard at the UK and US embassies in Kathmandu seems to have delivered a more balanced international approach, and China has spoken out against UNMIN extension as well. Germany and India joining the Security Council as non-permanent members on 1 January will favour the successful conclusion of the peace process.

Anyone who wants to see the Constituent Assembly proceed with its work must answer the question that UNMIN never asked � can any civilised society be expected to proceed with constitution writing when one party retains its private combatant force? Why did the Mission not publicly urge the Maoists to implement the repeated pronouncements of Chairman Dahal as prime minister, that the cantonments had in fact come under the Special Committee on integration and rehabilitation?

The urgent requirement of the next three weeks is to transfer the modest task of monitoring the 28 cantonments from UNMIN to the Special Committee, after which the work on integration and rehabilitation can begin in earnest. The transfer of responsibility should not be a problem in principle, because the committee as well as its technical secretariat include the Maoists members. And it is a good sign that the Maoists agreed to the appointment of experienced ex-general Balananda Sharma as coordinator.

Looking ahead beyond the fait accompli of UNMIN’s exit, the democrat-politicians and diplomats must stand firm as the Maoists seek to manufacture a deadlock. Chairman Dahal perhaps knows that if he pushes too far, the resulting political snowball can lead to a situation of no integration/rehabilitation at all. While the polarisation within his party may not allow the chairman a free hand any more, standing up to UCPN (Maoist) is the best way to promote its democratic evolution.

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