Nepali Times
State Of The State
The lazy days of summer


Norwegian peacemaker Vidar Helgesen is in Kathmandu. He has been involved in the conflict resolution processes of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, two countries that still have a long way to go towards peace and stability.

But at this point, lessons from failures may be even more significant than experience of successful peace processes. The role and responsibility of the international community in peace, reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation are likely to increase in the days ahead.

The arrival of the former Norwegian deputy foreign minister this week coincided with the government's decision to invite the United Nations as a supervisor for arms management. The rebels are unhappy with the government writing to the UN on its own even though UN involvement in the peace process has been their long-standing demand. But Girija Prasad Koirala seems to have assumed that as the legitimate government of a UN member state, he is well within his rights to request the world body for technical assistance in resolving a domestic conflict.

The 12-point understanding between the parties and the Maoists in November 2005 had an escape clause about involving 'any reliable party' and by the eight-point declaration of 16 June, the two sides had agreed to urge the UN to help in 'management of arms and armed personnel of both the sides and to monitor it in order to conduct elections for the constituent assembly in a free and fair manner'. In the past, India has been against any interlocutor other than itself but even South Block now seems to want a limited role for the world body.

India's CPI-M acted as a mediator and some leaders even functioned as guarantors in the formation of an unlikely alliance between politicos and armed rebels. But Sitaram Yechury, a confidante of Shekhar Koirala (nephew and close aide of the premier) and Baburam Bhattarai alike can only do so much. Beyond a point, any understanding, agreement or declaration without the endorsement of a legitimate authority becomes pointless.

Under the circumstances, no agency other than the UN can legitimise an armed group as a political force. But we must realise the limitations that the UN works under. During a recent visit, Kul Chandra Gautam admitted it may take months to decide and post peacemakers on the ground after appropriate requests are received from the host government. We may not have that much time to keep Maoists guerrillas in hibernation once the monsoon is over.

However, Kathmandu-based dips are on vacation for the next month so we won't see much happening. Summer holidays are almost a religious ritual for the UN system and other western missions here. Once scheduled they can't be cancelled, the dates are written in stone-whatever may happen in the host country.

Even though the UN expected a request letter from the government, its Res Rep Matthew Kahane is already on holiday. So are other Kathmandu-based diplomats. Nepali officials are often accused of delaying decisions, what about decisions delayed by this mass summer hiatus?

UN priorities also change. Nepal's OHCHR chief Ian Martin has been dispatched on damage control to East Timor but who's going to do damage control in Nepal if things fall apart here? Martin is one diplomat with enough credibility, competence and commitment to influence the Maoists and the military alike. His absence from Nepal at a critical time when the UN's role is called for can only delay a resolution.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)