Nepali Times
State Of The State
Mixed messages


The Memorandum of Understanding that Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey signed with the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Monday has saved his government from the doom of Agenda Item 9 strictures. But the diplomatic respite at Geneva extracted its price. Even though for the limited purpose of monitoring human rights, Nepal has accepted a 'third party' involvement between the government and the insurgents.

The MoU has now transformed Maoists into a recognised side of an armed internal conflict. Such a de facto recognition has given a moral boost to strife-torn Maoist leadership. No wonder, its supremo welcomed the development almost immediately. UN mediation has been the consistent rallying cry of the rebels. Chairman Prachanda can now credibly boast to his cadre that he has achieved one of his main objectives: international recognition.

With this, the legitimacy of rebel's control over certain unspecified areas within the sovereign territory of Nepal is established. Members of the present cabinet will have to reorient themselves to the new political reality. Tulsi Giri and his ilk will now have to accept that the Maoists have become more than a 'brand name' for a gang of armed troublemakers.

Political parties too have welcomed the development at Geneva for their own reasons. They probably think that the presence of UN monitors will somehow deter the newly appointed Regional and Zonal Administrators from acting too rashly. But this is the optimism of the desperate. If the experience of other conflict-afflicted countries is anything to go by, unelected officials are never too concerned with their international image. They aren't accountable to anyone, so they do what they have to do while others go on saying what they want to say.

Nepal's human rights sector will probably benefit most from the new arrangement. Instead of looking for indifferent journalists they can now narrate tales of woe to some of their own kind of different nationalities. The coalition of 25 human rights activists has welcomed the decision most enthusiastically.

For the media, the presence of UN human rights monitors is unlikely to make much of a difference. The English papers (like this one) will undoubtedly acquire some additional readers who will religiously peruse these op-ed pages and appreciate the subtleties of editorials on the importance of socks and trees. But international observers have almost no effect on the array of measures that a determined government can use to make mass media fall in line.

For the majority of Nepalis, the more things change in the capital Valley, the more their lot remains the same. It's quite unlikely that an international agency empowered merely to observe and authenticate will affect ground realities in any meaningful way. The rest of us in the country will have to wait for the day political parties are once again allowed to get back to the grassroots. Aidocrats of another supra-national body in their air-conditioned SUVs with conspicuous antennas will be seen racing across the kingdom as bemused citizens look on.

Perhaps our expectations from the international community are rather too high, if not downright unrealistic. International interventions complicate rather than facilitate conflict resolution. With one manufactured metaphor (comparing political leaders to contenders jostling for the master-bedroom of a house on fire) an ambassador succeeded in sealing the fate of all parliamentary parties in the country. By consistently calling the Maoists a 'political force', a few other western diplomats have now recognised them as such. Enemies are relatively easy to handle, dealing with friends like these is more complex business.

John Reed, a close friend of V I Lenin and an eyewitness to the 1917 October revolution, observed about the penultimate days of Old Order in Russia, "In the relations of a weak government and a rebellious people, there comes a time when every act of the authorities exasperates the masses, and every refusal to act excites their contempt."

Our unelected government seems to have fallen into a trap in Geneva but all of us will have to bear its unintended consequences. Cautious optimism is all that the Geneva accord deserves.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)