Nepali Times
Disarming candour

The Nepali people have a hope that the United Nations Mission to Nepal (UNMIN) headed by Ian Martin will follow international standards to ensure that the Maoists arms and army are 'managed' in a way that the public can go into the constituent assembly elections free of fear and intimidation. This involves both the successful technical task of disarmament as well as monitoring current threat levels Nepalis are exposed to.

Last week, Martin presented a report (see picture) that referred to the completion of the 'first stage of registration of combatants and weapons'. What that means to us is that the job is not finished. Yet, the impression is given that the figures provided are essentially correct. We are told 3,428 weapons registered by insurgents are in containers.

We don't want to be alarmist about the quality of the arms management process. It is well known that the Maoists have mostly relied on looted arms and ammunition to conduct their war. We also don't believe that they ever controlled '80 percent' of the countryside, or held huge arms caches. So we believe Martin when he refers to the 'high degree of correspondence between the types of weapons listed by the (Nepal Army) and the types of weapons registered'.

But there are questions UNMIN would nevertheless need to answer to prepare the public for upcoming elections. Where are all the assault rifles? What of all the pistols? Does UNMIN have a view on the fact that a majority of hardcore guerrillas are not in the cantonments? And how will all this affect the conduct of elections in an environment free of fear and intimidation?

UNMIN's count of 'Maoist army combatants' in the cantonments is 30,852. We have reported large numbers of civilians joining the Maoists after the Ceasefire Code of Conduct was signed in August. Does UNMIN regard all of them as combatants? If it has yet to 'verify' who it calls the Maoist army combatants, how can Martin already call them that and give the impression that whoever the Maoists say are combatants are to be regarded as such?

In the run-up to elections, UMIN's task is not just to de-arm society but also work to defuse the military mindset of the Maoists. Until a situation evolves where the king and a reactionary army are able to create instability, it is the Maoists who will be seen as the chief threat to peaceful competitive politics.

There may have been a need to deal with the Maoists gingerly in the past as they risked all to join the mainstream. But UNMIN must now make a more public demand of the former insurgents. This way, it will also help them to evolve into a legitimate political party.

The sooner that happens the better it will be for Nepal's future.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)