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UN Debut: Brand New Ball Game Set To Begin?

UN Debut: Brand New Ball Game Set To Begin?

By M.R. Josse

On the very eve of the arrival in Kathmandu of a five-member UN team led by Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura to assess Nepal's requirements and possible UN role to facilitate the peace process – including in the critical role of arms management of the two antagonistic parties – Maoist supremo Prachanda dashed off an email letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan emphatically objecting to any attempt at one-sided decommissioning of arms.


While the legal status of Prachanda's letter to the UN Secretary-General remains somewhat ambiguous, in as much as the UN deals primarily with governments of member states, a few aspects of that missive, as revealed to the media by the Maoists, are particularly noteworthy.

[Indeed, as much was indicated in Foreign Minister K.P. Sharma Oli's comment: "They were not meant to send any letter because the agreement has authorised the government to correspond with the UN."] (Himalayan Times, 24 July).

First, of course, is that Prachanda has forcefully underlined that "any talk of 'decommissioning' of the arms only of the PLA (People's Liberation Army of the Maoists) before the election to the constituent assembly is just unthinkable." As he put it, "such arbitrary and unilateral application of two different yardsticks to two armies is highly objectionable and totally unacceptable to us."

Then, there is his sharp rebuke to the SPA government for having violated the terms of the 12-point agreement (of 22 November 2005) and the eight-point pact (of 16 June 2006) in formally requesting for UN assistance in facilitating the peace process.

Finally, Prachanda has – quite rightly, incidentally – drawn the top UN diplomat's attention to his charge that the SPA government had sent the request letter to the UN "unilaterally and secretively."

That, as most will recall, is perfectly in accordance with facts: though the letter was dispatched via the UN's man-on-the-spot in Kathmandu on 2 July, the contents were only revealed on 19 July – after repeated demands that the contents be made public and Foreign Minister K.P. Sharma Oli's red-faced admission that he, too, had not seen the final text of the letter before it was dispatched.

Prachanda has, however, indicated that he is ready to cooperate with the UN team in its assessment mission.

According to the text of the Prime Minister's letter to Annan, he requested, inter alia, the UN to take charge of the decommissioning of Maoist combatants, the monitoring of the cease-fire code of conduct and the constituent assembly elections slated to be held by "mid-April 2007. It also requested the world body to "monitor and assure that the Nepal Army is inside the barracks and is not used against any side."


At this juncture it will be germane to note that the idea of the 'decommissioning' of Maoists arms has been publicly backed by the West, principally the US, the UK and the EU.

Thus, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Richard Boucher, said at a public forum in New York on 15 July (Kathmandu Post, 16 July) that the US supports a possible role of the UN in the ongoing peace process in Nepal, by disarming the Maoist rebels. In fact, he went on to point out that while the Maoists have expressed commitment to people's rule "the Maoists must disarm their armies for peace and security."

No less significant was Boucher's pointed comment that the Nepal Army still "has an important role to play."

Incidentally, all that is entirely in line with what American Ambassador James F Moriarty had frequently been pointing out here before he left for an unusually extended vacation for the US on 1July.

Note may also be taken of the following public comment by former British Ambassador Keith George Bloomfield perceived for long as being sympathetic to SPAM forces: "UN supervision would not be enough because until the Maoists do not agree to decommissioning the arms permanently, there will remain the risk of them going back to the jungle if by any chance the result of the constituent assembly elections is not to their liking." (Himalayan Times, 24 June).

More recently, there was this significant recent comment by a visiting European Parliament delegation. The spokesperson, Neena Gill, told the media that the Maoists "are only willing for management of arms (not disarmament") pointing out that "though the rebels are keen on joining the interim government they are not for disarming before the elections."

She also went on to say that the Maoists could not be part of the government or go to elections bearing "guns on their shoulders." All of which clearly translates as suggesting that Maoist arms and combatants must be decommissioned before the peace process can move any further.


Assuming, in principle, that the UN does enter into the peace, elections and conflict resolution areas, what will have to be determined is the precise role and scope of their mission. Among other things that will clearly have to be agreed upon is the size of the UN mission, including possibly its peacekeeping/monitoring component.

How big will the UN presence be in all, if it comes about? Clearly, that is undecided at present; it will also have to be worked out between the concerned sides, including by the Maoists if they still wish to play ball. That, naturally, invites the follow-up query: what if they don't? The answer to that will, of course, only be indicated by time.

As noted before in this space, it remains to be seen if the UN can scrounge up the required funds and manpower to perform their mandated task in Nepal. If not, will a West (including Japan) that contributes the major portion of funds to UN coffers and – as we have seen – insists only on the Maoists' decommissioning of arms/combatants cough up the required funds otherwise?

That aspect apart, there is also the sticky issue of who will head the UN effort. As widely believed if it is to be an Indian or an American, it does not require too much imagination to predict that it will be strongly resisted by a China that borders Nepal. Besides, China is, like the US, a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

In any case, in that context it may be worth recalling that only recently a Chinese scholar Prof. Wang Kwangwei told the Maoist mouthpiece Janadesh (vide People's Review, July 20-26 issue) that China would also insist in coming into Nepal under a UN umbrella if certain countries, such as India, the US and some in Europe, wish to do so.

Considering China's sensitivities vis-à-vis Tibet and taking note of the Indo-US "strategic alliance", it is entirely likely that there would be intense politiking within the UN system in determining (a) the exact role of a UN mission (b) the overall size of its team and (c) its composition in terms of the nationality of key personnel.

In sum, while Prachanda's email letter to Annan has put the proverbial fly in the ointment, it is very likely that Nepal will now be transformed into a playground for a brand new ball game, the outcome of which cannot, at this stage, be accurately predicted.

Before the UN game is terminated in Nepal – if it really gets off the ground in any meaningful way – what is certain is that Nepalese politicians and Foreign Office mandarins, among others, will learn a great deal about how international diplomacy and politics really operate.

Who knows, they might even rue the day that the Nepalese parties concerned were unable, or unwilling, to resolve their problems by themselves?


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