Nepali Times
Guest Column
No whipping boy


Private sector management consulting thrives on three demand attributes: the need for specialised skills, credible facilitation, and a 'whipping boy'.

From an economic perspective, consulting business models works well because consultants and their employers are guided by similar incentive structures: consultants by lucrative fees and the prospect of add-on business, and executives by perceived success and associated increases in compensation.

Each undertaken task involves a careful analysis that weighs the potential costs of failure against the benefits of success. In conducting such pre-contractual due diligence, consultants perform internal analyses that weigh the probability of success against the consulting firm's exposure to failure, often referred to as reputational risk.

The longterm cost of failure to the service provider's brand name (and associated losses in future fees) often outweighs the benefits of accruing non-contingent, short-term revenues.

What does all this have to do with Nepal's peace process? A lot. The functions performed by the United Nations in conflict situations are very similar to services provided by private sector management consultants. The only significant difference is that the cost of employing the UN in Nepal will not be borne by the Nepal government, but by the international community.

With recent statements made by Maoist leaders, the very rationale for UN involvement in 'arms management' has been thrown into doubt. Even before the Maoists reversed their commitment to having their arms managed, the absence of a high-level roadmap to constituent assembly elections already presented a significant risk to UN operations.

The UN system needs a success in Nepal just as much as Nepalis need to succeed in their struggle for peace. Unfortunately, there is less of an incentive structure for internal parties in Nepal's conflict to allow effective UN involvement.

Although publicly every group claims that it wants to see peace in Nepal, the Maoists in particular demonstrate a documented pattern of behaviour that implies they want peace under one condition: Maoist victory. Naturally, such a condition is unacceptable to the Maoists' partners in the April Movement.

So far, the UN has carefully managed perceptions by assuring the government and the rebels of its willingness to help solve Nepal's conflict. Official (and unofficial) UN emissaries have also repeatedly highlighted that the UN's involvement in Nepal will be a "process". This means UN involvement will first have to overcome its own red tape and only be initiated once the government and rebels have acceded to peace on mutually acceptable terms. Similar to a strategic roadmap that management consultants are empowered to work toward, the UN needs a clearly outlined set of rules, regulations, standard operating procedures and metrics for success before it can do anything meaningful in Nepal. The UN needs a detailed mandate, and not just a 12-point or 8-point agreement.

The UN may recommend different models of peace making to the concerned parties in Nepal, but it will never advocate a single model. Doing so would be a cardinal violation of the UN's own operating procedure. Plus, this is a decision to be made by the seven parties and the Maoists, not any external third party. The UN will be happy to provide organisational expertise backed by its unique charter. But for obvious reasons, the UN will not want to position itself as a whipping boy for a peace process that by any meaningful account, is yet to kick off.

The pre-Dasain 'summit' needs to focus on producing a detailed roadmap that convinces the UN that its role is desired and a necessary complement to peace in Nepal. Anything less will almost certainly result in the resumption of violence, either as 'peaceful' street protests or all-out urban warfare.

Which way the situation steers is completely up to the seven parties and the Maoists. This time, there are no whipping boys.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)