Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Don't be mean


Girija Prasad Koirala was at his caustic best this week while ripping apart UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and, by extension, UNMIN. He wondered about the massive security of the UNSG ("I thought they were coming to scare me"), and threw a barb at the tight schedule ("They said he has only ten minutes. What can one say in that time ? he shouldn't have come at all.")

Koirala may have been funny but his only substantive criticism was that Maoists were entering the CA with UN-certified arms. Prakash Sharan Mahat echoed that: arms were not in containers, disqualified combatants were still in cantonments, and the UN had not kept a track of combatants and activities inside.

The NC criticism is flimsy. It's not UNMIN's decision to take back arms meant for security of Maoist leaders. The government has to review the past agreement and make a political call, UNMIN can then follow up. All other arms are still locked in the containers.

The discharge of disqualified combatants is not UNMIN's job either. There has to be discussion between the political actors and the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction about rehabilitation of those who did not meet the verification criteria. UNDP, UNICEF have a supportive role.

Does the NC have a roadmap of what to do with 4,000 people or is it suggesting they should just be thrown out? As reports from the Kailali cantonment this week revealed, the foot soldiers do not necessarily agree with their Maoist commanders on discharge, rehabilitation and integration options. The issue is complicated because of domestic politics, not because of international institutions.

Our politicians are still ignorant about what the UNMIN can and cannot do regarding activities inside cantonments. The Agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies (AMMAA) asks the UN to monitor the confinement of Maoist combatants. But this is only a broad supervisory role, the designated sites are 'under the command, control, communication and information of the Maoist army site commander'.

UNMIN has little enforcement authority. It can't dictate terms to the PLA fighters. If it learns about major violations, all it can do is communicate it to the JMCC and party leadership and request them to take corrective measures.

Could the UN have more effectively controlled, monitored and reported on all movements inside, including that of soldiers who walk out? Yes, but it would have required another mandate asking UNMIN to manage the armies, not merely monitor their management. It would also have also entailed a much larger contingent of arms monitors who were armed themselves. No one wanted that. The NC's criticism of the UN is, in this respect, self-criticism. Does it now feel UN should have had a more expansive role?

The other criticism against UNMIN is that it wants to stay on in Nepal. Even if this was true in the past, it does not hold now. The top brass is pushing for speedy integration because it wants an exit route. The UK, its key sponsor in New York, is internally divided. Both the foreign office in London and the UK mission at the UN are skeptical of further extension though the embassy here and the Nepal desk will push for more time.

UNMIN will probably get another extension if asked. But that is the result of Nepali politicians not having finished their work on time.

UNMIN can be criticised on many grounds. It is opaque and secretive about information it collects. Some individuals, claiming to work on behalf of the organisation, tried to get involved in the Tarai. The mission took a soft and flawed stand towards the Maoists when it withdrew from the government last September. It should have engaged with India better. The fact that the mandate is still not clear reflects poorly on the public information office. Whims of Kathmandu bosses have meant that some of the best ground staff did not get an extension.

But all this does not take away from the fact that UNMIN has been an important pillar of the peace process, having done a lot of behind-the- scenes unglamorous spade work.

Our left rants at the United States. The nationalists abuse India. And now the centre-right has found a new bogey in the United Nations. When will we grow up and confront our own weaknesses?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)