The irony was lost on most who were at the Nepal Army base at Panchkhal on Wednesday. At a time when Nepal is readying to welcome the full strength of a United Nations monitoring mission, there was the chief of army staff inspecting Nepali soldiers readying to leave for UN peacekeeping duties in Congo and Haiti.
No one should have any illusions about the involvement of the United Nations in arms management in Nepal's peace process. The UN's role was the face-saving way to get the Maoists and the army to agree to stop fighting. For the guerrillas it offered an opportunity to lay down arms without making it appear like it was a surrender. And for an army dragged into a dirty and unwinnable war, it was a neat way to come out smelling like roses and at the same time save its own lucrative UN peacekeeping contract.
It took a lot of shuttle diplomacy and behind-the-scenes effort to get the Indians to overcome their hang-ups about letting the UN in. Delhi finally agreed as long the UN was not a 'peacekeeper', but a 'monitor'. Ian Martin's team is hobbled with a limited mandate: both for arms management as well as to prevent new conflicts from igniting, for example, in the volatile tarai.
The UN is a popular institution in Nepal, the blue flag has a good reputation and people have high expectations about its role. But this is a conflict we got ourselves into and we must solve it ourselves. The UN can help, but can't force us to shake hands.
Even so, the UN must be allowed to tackle potential spoilers to the peace process. After all the bad press it's got in Rwanda and East Timor in recent years, the UN needs Nepal as much as Nepal needs the UN. Here is one place where the world body has arrived before things have completely fallen apart.
There is a lot of cynicism about the UN, especially among Kathmandu's well-heeled who like to poke fun about how slow it is. What they forget is that the UN is us, it reflects the inefficiencies and sloppiness of its member states. We mustn't forget that 'arms management' is a euphemism for disarmament. The containers in the cantonments are a step towards ultimate decommissioning and the renunciation of violence as a political weapon. There is no going back on that, and the UN is here to help us undo our past.