Nepali Times
State Of The State
Don’t be mean to UNMIN


The government has declared rather condescendingly that it will finalise the decision of the extension of UNMIN's term by the first week of December. Perhaps Ian Martin is expected to be grateful. Parties to the comprehensive peace agreement have refused to allow an enlargement of its role.

Quoting Ram Bahadur Thapa's planted interview in state-controlled The Rising Nepal, Xinhua reported with unconcealed glee: 'The mastermind [sic] behind the decade-long guerrilla warfare and building of People's Liberation Army charged that UNMIN is going against its mandate by behaving like activists and journalists." Apparently, UNMIN has succeeded in annoying both neighbouring member states and parties to the agreement in just one year.

The reason they are angry is because the presence of the Blue Jackets reminds them of their own failures. Had there been an acceptable alternative to multilateral monitoring, the term of UNMIN would probably have been allowed to lapse. So UN SUVs with proboscis antennae will continue their high visibility presence outside famous eateries along national highways for at least another six months.

Putting a limited mandate and an expiry date on UNMIN is a pity. Its expertise could have proved to be useful in at least two areas: security sector reform and mainstreaming marginalised groups.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal's latest pre-condition for constituent assembly elections is a prior amalgamation of Maoist combatants and the Nepal Army. Such an extreme position may be posturing, but the importance of rehabilitating armed guerrillas is a task that can't be postponed forever. The necessity of rightsizing the national army on the one hand and absorbing guerrilla fighters on the other is where the UN's expertise is potentially useful.

The second agenda of reforming security forces is even more complex. The establishment of unquestioned civilian supremacy over the military may require constitutional guarantees, a legal framework, competent personnel in the defence ministry, and specially the setting up of a Security Committee at the cabinet secretariat or an inclusive, independent and high-powered Peace Commission. These intricacies can't be worked out without international assistance, and the UN will be the least controversial.

The national army has to appear inclusive to command the respect of the entire nation. The Bhadrakali brass is perhaps as aware of this necessity as anyone else. But reconciling the urgency of inclusive recruitment with the immediate need of downsizing the force is a dilemma the defence ministry can't resolve on its own. Extensive political consultations and technical preparation will be necessary to devise an acceptable formula. The UN can probably provide technical input and facilitation services for such an exercise.

When Nepal becomes a federal republic (no longer 'if') the police will probably have to work under provincial governments. The military and paramilitary are to meet external or internal security threats. It's necessary to prepare for this, and UNMIN could be helpful.

There is no reason to take offence if anyone offers his or her assistance in countering existing or incipient threats to peace. All that a UN officer did by meeting a madhesi insurgent in Bihar was to expose the duplicity of the Indian establishment which denies the presence of insurgency leaders in their land. Baluwatar should have allowed the UN to handle this situation by themselves. Nepal needs the goodwill, expertise and assistance of international organisations to resist unwarranted arm-twisting by powerful neighbours.

Those who feel the UN's role here is unproductive rather miss the point. The UN is high-profile and showy because that's how it is designed. Ostentation is built into the system. The UN puts procedures above principles, objectivity above impartiality and process above outcome. It is rigged for effect rather than impact.

Despite all its shortcomings, UNMIN is an indispensable component of the ongoing peace process in this country. Enlargement of its terms of reference deserves consideration if parties to the peace agreement are conspiring to postpone elections indefinitely.

Mission impossible?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)