A careful reading of the Secretary-General's report, UNMIN head Karin Landgren's briefing and interviews with key UN officials and interested member state representatives here reveals that the UN is deeply worried and has 'palpable concerns' about current tensions, the lack of progress in the peace process, and the impending end of UNMIN's mandate. The key players in Nepal need to do a lot more to address these concerns.
At the Security Council meeting last Friday, there was more intensity and urgency than usual.
Members reaffirmed support for the peace process, but grappled for ways to "impress upon the government the need for urgent and tangible progress on CPA implementation". Members felt that the formation of a high-level political mechanism, and a review of the implementation of the CPA so far could be helpful. The need for the government and parties to take decisions that will allow UNMIN to complete its tasks within the mandate period was emphasised so that it can lay out an exit strategy. And SC members appreciated UNMIN's efforts in difficult circumstances - where polarisation has deepened, risk of confrontation is high, and all parties use it as a scapegoat for their own failures.
What may be adding to the frustration here is the recognition that UNMIN's mandate limits its influence in shaping wider outcomes. It can only encourage dialogue between national actors, and push for convergence and consensus.
The underlying political analysis that marks many of these suggestions sees the growing political acrimony between earlier drivers of the peace process, or their steady marginalisation from the centre of politics, as the key factor.
The trust deficit between the parties - especially between Maoists and non-Maoists - has increased after the impasse in May. But the roots lie deeper. The end of the power-sharing arrangement after the CA elections; the inability or unwillingness of the Maoists to make a break with their violent past and reassure other parties about their democratic commitment; the absence of any movement on security sector reform, the resurgence of the 'don't touch the army' line and the tendency to see integration as a tactical tool on both sides; and serious differences on the nature and breadth of social transformation are at the crux of the matter. The UN knows that it is not its business to seek to bridge these macro differences - it is up to the national actors to come to an agreement as to how their society is to evolve.
To see the UN as a 'pro-Maoist' institution, as the 22 parties have hinted, is to misread why UNMIN is here in the first place. It is here to assist the peace process. The Maoists are a 50 per cent stakeholder in the peace process, and the key partner in the task of determining the future of former Maoist combatants. If the peace process is stuck, the UN is stuck. Talking about the peace process, and urging actors to focus on it, necessarily means leaving space for the Maoists. UNMIN is not here to do a humanitarian job, as a former finance minister implied. It has an inherently political role. The accusations against the UN only reflect the changed domestic political context - where the peace process has slid down the list of priorities, liberals and conservatives are united in their desire to keep the Maoists out, and Maoist actions have only added to doubts about their end goal.
What now? The UN can see things going downhill, but it can do little to alter the domestic political equations. This in itself is a testament to its limits and shows up the hollow nature of accusations of 'UN interference'. Until the only foreign actor capable of intervention, India, decides to engage in a 'course correction' itself and recognises the benefits of getting the Maoists back into the power-sharing equation, the process is stuck.
In January, we will be back to a situation where the government will have to - even if it does not want to - request UNMIN to stay on. Some in New York feel an extension should not be granted easily, for that may be the only way to hold Nepali actors to their commitments. A few member states, including China, have emphasised the need to wait till January and then look at other options. But unless something drastic happens, UNMIN will probably stay on. The real question is whether Nepali politicians can find a way to use the UN more constructively by then, and finally address the situation of having two armies in the country. This could then pave a way out for the international body.
There is a serious message the Security Council is sending to Nepali actors - do not take the UN for granted, get your act together, re-engineer the consensus, implement commitments on both sides, don't look to violence or counter-violence as solutions to the problem, tackle the fundamentals, isolate the spoilers, and convert your fragile peace into a sustainable, stable arrangement.
My way or the highway - FROM ISSUE #476 (13 NOV 2009 - 19 NOV 2009)
Wages of distortion, by CK Lal - FROM ISSUE #476 (13 NOV 2009 - 19 NOV 2009)
United Nations for nation - FROM ISSUE #475 (06 NOV 2009 - 12 NOV 2009)