Nepali Times
"We can work something out."

Nepali Times: How do you think the UN will respond to the letter that the Nepali government sent the secretary general requesting help with demobilisation?
Shashi Tharoor:
In recent weeks, I've been so consumed by my candidacy for the secretary-generalship I've not seen the letter. So, the only answer I can give you would be the diplomatic one which is that I'm sure the letter would be considered very carefully and in consultation with all interested parties. Obviously the UN would like to help Nepal get out of the crisis but we'd normally like to act in a way that is acceptable to all the parties concerned.

What does arms management mean concretely?
To be honest, we don't know what it means concretely because the way the UN does business is that once we have agreed in principle to do a particular job we send an assessment mission to the country concerned which will actually take a look at how the job would be done, look at practical considerations such as logistics, where would you locate the headquarters, where you'd get your supplies from and all that stuff. We also look at a viable concept of operations which means talking to the various parties so that they behave in a manner that conforms with your approach. Only when that has been drawn up would we be in a position to make a proposal to the government and to the Security Council. So these are early days yet, I'm afraid.

From the UN's experience in other hot spots, how do you rate Nepal's chances of attaining lasting peace?
I'd rate it fairly positively for a number of reasons. First, we actually have an agreement amongst the contending parties. That is often a huge, huge consideration because all too often you find yourself in a situation where one party, or in the case of Darfur, a couple of parties, have not signed up and therefore you don't have a viable concept for resolution. In the case of Nepal because all the parties have come together on this we should be able to work something out fairly successfully. Secondly, our sense is that where we can be useful would be in areas where we have very clear expertise, and value-added. But the nature of these considerations has to be borne in mind. For example, the UN does different things in different countries with elections: in some we observe, in some we certify, in some we monitor, in some we actually help run the elections. Now, which particular one of these various approaches would be right remains to be seen.

Finally, on what you term "arms management", which is a term we don't usually use much in the UN, again it depends on what concepts seem most realistic. There would be some which would actually call for containment of soldiers, some calling for disarmament of people on both sides and some might be a less intrusive mandate which would simply call for observation. This has to be worked out after on-site reconnaissance, and consultation on both sides.

So, which option would be most realistic for Nepal?
I wouldn't want to step into that particular minefield just yet.

How come Ian Martin was sent to East Timor at a time when the peace process in Nepal is at such a critical stage?
Simply, there was an immediate urgent crisis in East Timor and we had someone available who had prior knowledge of the territory. Ian Martin was our first envoy there when we set up the assistance mission before elections, and it was a question of someone being available who was needed. In fact, had he been in East Timor and a crisis had arisen in Nepal, we'd have sent him to Nepal for the same reason. It's a question of using on-the-ground expertise.

Finally, would you rather be the recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature or become the secretary general of the UN?
I'm not sure that either is entirely within the realm of the feasible at the moment. (Laughs). But let me just say that I'll seek one first and the other later.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)