Peace & Birds Of Passage

From Republica Daily (Sept 13, 2010)

The simmering rift regarding the Nepal peace process has suddenly erupted in the form of a war of words between the United Nations Secretary-General and the Government of Nepal, though the former may not even know what is being written in his name. At the level where this rupture matters, in Kathmandu, it has to do with how the political parties in the present (caretaker) coalition perceive the peace process, and how the Western diplomats who define the international response understand it.

Many outside observers are taken aback by the willingness of Madhav Kumar Nepal to build a distance with the UN, which has been a partner in the country’s development throughout its modern era starting in 1950. But this was the result of exasperation, given the inability of UN officials and the Security Council’s Permanent Five led by the United Kingdom to understand the urgency of returning Nepal to a democratic peace by challenging the Maoists to stand by their commitments of three years ago.

Many of the Western embassies and powerful donor organizations in Kathmandu make the critical mistake of regarding the democratic vanguard in the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) and in the Madhesi and other political parties as representing the ‘status quo’ against socio-political evolution. In this reading, the Maoists are the harbingers of transformation, whose only mistake was the turn toward violent politics, which has now been corrected by participation in elections.

There is also injustice done to the parliamentary parties by those who consider them as mere tools of India, which is seen to be playing a hegemonic role in Nepal. New Delhi’s position may well coincide on occasion with that of Nepal’s democrats, and in the present context in relation to the Maoist commitments under the 12-Point Agreement and the Comprehensive Peace Accord, but that hardly means that Nepali politics march to the Indian drummer. A level of humility would be in order among the internationals when they consider a polity with the sophisticated ability to bring a violent insurgency above ground within all of two years. The Nepali peace process was defined mainly by the political parties of Nepal, it is owned by the people of this country, and so circumspection is required when one is but a bird of passage.

The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) was invited to the country mainly to provide a face-saving for the Maoist rebels, who had come to realize that their ‘peoples war’ was in terminal decline. The Mission’s mandate was limited to assisting in the Constituent Assembly elections, verifying the number of ex-combatants, and monitoring the cantonments and national army. It was felt necessary in 2006 to keep the army under UNMIN surveillance to protect the elections of April 2008 from possible misuse by the royalists. It is clear to anyone other than he who insists on extreme literalism that the Mission’s mandate had to be truncated after the election and verification tasks were completed. But the Security Council failed to comprehend the changed ground reality in Nepal, relying solely on the self-serving reports prepared by the Mission leadership in Kathmandu and the handlers in New York.

UNMIN is a self-congratulatory entity that became a drag on the peace process even as it lobbied hard and unsuccessfully to carve a more central role in Nepal’s transitional politics. The Mission’s position and posture regarding our peace is informed by an a-historical understanding of Nepal’s present, reflected also in problematic reports of the International Crisis Group (ICG). The international community reads the ICG reports as its Peacekeeper’s Guide to Nepal, and UNMIN is known to wait for them before preparing its own missives to New York. If Nepal’s intelligentsia were not so tongue-tied, it should by now have organized non-donor-funded seminars to study the strengths and weaknesses of the UNMIN and ICG reports.

It is one thing to call the Maoists’ fighting force the ‘People’s Liberation Army’ as the rebels have named it, and quite another to regard it as a parallel force to the national army. In the latest report to the Security Council prepared by UNMIN, the Secretary-General suggests that the constitutionally formed government of Prime Minister Nepal is not ‘duly constituted’; praises Representative Karin Langdren for exemplary work; sees no need to consult the Kathmandu government in coming to conclusions about UNMIN’s role and record; and unilaterally rejects the criticism of UNMIN in Kathmandu as tendentious.

Meanwhile, the Mission’s leadership (including former chief Ian Martin, presently active in New York lobbying against the Kathmandu government) seeks to project all criticism of its work as a finger pointed at the entire United Nations in Nepal. There is recklessness evident in this willingness to sacrifice six decades of cooperation on the basis of a flawed understanding of Nepali society, exploiting the polarization of Nepali politics to protect one’s own flanks.

The international community must regard the Nepal Army as the national army of Nepal, and it is up to the civil society which has challenged the military in the past to keep it within civilian control. The Maoists themselves must now consider the Nepal Army as their own army as well, for the UCPN (Maoist) is now fully part of the national establishment. The soldiers have stayed within the bounds of the peace process even as the Maoists have moved the goalposts and refused to implement their signed commitment to disband the cantonments within six months as promised (through the formula of integration and rehabilitation, and it is already three years since). Meanwhile, the army has come under the control of elected civilian governments – including even under the Maoist defence minister in 2008-2009.

The mainstream political parties which represent the left-democratic spectrum of Nepal cannot be called yathasthithibaadi (status quoist) by any stretch of imagination, and indeed there has been no status quo situation in Nepal since the People’s Movement of 1990. That was when the people at large found their voice, and the marginalized communities arose to demand ownership of the state and polity. It was during the democratic era between 1990 and 2002 that the country saw exhilarating advances in participatory development, local government, media and parliamentary governance.

Many a observer’s lens is also clouded by this talk of yathasthshibaad, attached to the very parties which stand for democracy, pluralism and peace – which guarantee sustained social transformation. The dozens of politicians who spent a decade or more in the Panchayat prisons fighting for pluralism are hardly given their due, while there is much excuse made for the rebel supremo who spends eight of the ten years of the ‘people’s war’ in safe houses and resorts in India. Overall, such an attitude shows disrespect for the peace-and-democracy leanings of the Nepali public, so gloriously exhibited in the People’s Movement of 2006.

Would that there were institutional memory in the various embassies, to remember that they had accepted the 30 long years of the Panchayat regime, or the fact the donor organizations were here during the decades when the injustices and marginalization were rampant – that understanding alone should have allowed the development agencies to see what a great departure 1990 was, instead of believing that all the problems of today started at that date. The Nepali public, at least, remembers how at the peak of the People’s Movement of 2006 the ambassadors all trooped to the residence of Girija Prasad Koirala, urging him to accept the half-way concessions made by Gyanendra. Thankfully, he did not listen.

A recent informal survey conducted among some donor representatives and Western ambassadors showed this kind of understanding – that the CPN (Maoist) had started its insurgency against a royal regime rather than our parliamentary system; that by the end the rebels held a ‘compact zone’ covering 80 percent of the Nepali countryside; that the Maoists actually did have the 19,000 fighters that UNMIN ended up verifying. Some ambassadors do not see a problem if the entire Maoist cantonment force was to be integrated into the army, and that anyone who challenges the Maoists to get them to democratize is a rightist – borrowing unashamedly from the UCPN (Maoist) lexicon.

Such is the disconnect that many representatives are blithely unaware of the extremism in Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s speeches, as when he talks of swimming in the blood of a million citizens; or the inflammatory threats against critics; or his dangerous ultra-nationalism meant only to protect his position in his party. There is also a willingness to disregard documentation at hand: Baburam Bhattarai talking to a UK website about continuing the ‘protracted people’s war’; the naked Shaktikhor video with its state-capture plans; the published Maoist draft constitution which is but a manual for the establishment of a People’s Republic of Nepal. As of last week, there were some internationals who doubted that Chairman Dahal had promised a ‘cultural monarchy’ in a bid to garner votes from the royalists, or that the voice in the ’50 crore rupee audiotape’ is actually that of Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara.

The consolidation of Nepal as a federal democratic republic requires the writing of a constitution, which is not possible unless the peace process is successfully concluded. This requires the political parties and the international community acting in concert to challenge the Maoists to stand by their peace process commitments. The Maoists must be challenged to come to consensus on a plan for integration and rehabilitation within UNMIN’s extended term, with agreed timelines and benchmarks within the extended period. This will not only democratize the Maoists and ensure their long innings in politics, but will allow them the possibility of leading a government, and will give us a new constitution.

The expiration of UNMIN’s mandate on Sept 15 allows an opportunity for the United Nations, and the Western powers who define the Security Council’s response on our peace process, to finally take off their blinders and stand on the side of peace and democracy in Nepal. You will be surprised, the Maoists will come along.

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