Arms Management By UN: Deferred Not Resolved
Arms Management By UN: Deferred Not Resolved
By M.R. Josse
There has been considerable hoopla and hype around the separate but identical letters dispatched on 9 August to the UN, signed by PM Koirala and Prachanda respectively, requesting its assistance in five specific areas. Yet, a dispassionate analysis on its contents indicates that the prickly issue of arms management, primarily though not exclusively of the rebel forces, has merely been deferred, not resolved – not by a long shot.
Before attempting to justify that piece of political heresy, let me begin by recalling that the week-long UN mission led by Staffan de Mistura had on 4 August left for New York – of course, with a de rigeur transit stop in New Delhi – with agreement on non-controversial issues (monitoring cease-fire and human rights situation and observing the elections to the constituent assembly) but sans agreement on the make-or-break question of armies and arms management.
LARGELY ON MAOIST TERMS
That, very largely, remains the situation as of this time. The two sides have, for now, deferred the nettlesome issue of arms management by merely agreeing to the idea of keeping rebel arms and armies in specific cantonments to be monitored by civilian UN officials, as also for the state army to be confined to barracks, also to be monitored by UN observers – while leaving the complex, sensitive details for later. Very possibly, here too, the devil may very well turn out to be in such details.
The modalities for the actual process of weapons verification and related issues are to be discussed between all concerned – including the UN – only after a UN team for the purpose is okayed at the highest levels of UN authority, composed, funded and dispatched, at an unspecified time but, hopefully, soon.
The 9 August agreement is largely on Maoist terms. First, it is a far cry from the contents of the PM's 2 July request letter specifying the "decommissioning" of Maoist arms – to which the Maoists subsequently raised a hue and cry, deciding before the de Mistura mission descended upon Kathmandu to send their own missive protesting such an objective.
Second, the 9 August agreement undeniably represents a dramatic, some would even say craven, climb down from the official position that it is the government that would be the principal interlocutor with the UN. As it now turns out – this, following Baburam Bhattarai's withering warning on 8 August against a likely breakdown of peace talks and a resumption of hostilities – the government and the rebels are on an equal basis, as far as the UN, or the wider world outside Nepal, is concerned.
That is, of course, a far cry from the situation not too long ago. It is bound to have far-reaching consequences that many of those who are today rooting for the five-point agreement may come to regret. But, it fulfills splendidly the long-felt Maoist need for such international recognition, denied not only by the humbled royal regime but also by former democratic governments as well, including that led by Koirala.
Third, the Maoists are keen that UN involvement not be expanded to cover the peace process itself, as also that UN observers are civilians. This is plainly yet another unilateral concession by the Koirala-led seven party government. In Lebanon the world has witnessed the impotence of lightly armed UN military personnel in either curbing the activities of the Hezbollah, which represents a state-within-a-state, or in preventing Israeli soldiers crossing the Blue Line at will.
It is thus the height of political naivete to assume that a group of civilian UN observers will be able to check the Maoists, whose arms would not have been surrendered or decommissioned but merely monitored, in casting them rudely aside – if they should choose to do so for any reason in the future.
Finally, since all relevant references made thus far, where arms management is concerned, are to "arms and armies" – both in the five-point as well as in the "historic" eight-point agreement of 16 June – such phraseology could offer the Maoists a loophole large enough to drive a tank through. Indeed, they could legitimately argue that subsequent deals with the SPA government and the UN does not cover their militia.
Two points deserve further consideration: one is that the State has only an Army and no militia to back it. According to Prachanda's own admission at a press conference in Birtamod on 13 August, while his PLA of seven division is composed of some "thirty to thirty five thousand fighters" he admitted that his party also had an over 100,00 strong "people's militia". (Kathmandu Post, 14 August).
Meanwhile, it is an enormously revealing feature of the diplomatic scene today that key members, even in the relaxed ambience of a cocktail party, are as tight-lipped as the proverbial oyster in offering even off-the-record comments on topical political issues that certainly figure in their reports back to headquarters.
Some rare and formal signals from the international community have been culled and is now detailed for readers' edification. Although some newspapers have rushed to proclaim India's happiness at the turn of events of 9 August, a closer examination reveals two important caveats.
The first is that Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran's purported welcome has not come directly from him. It has taken the form of second-hand observations from Finance Minister Ram Saran Mahat who met Saran while in New Delhi recently, filling in for DPM and Foreign Minister K.P. Sharma Oli who was indisposed.
The other is that, as Saran stated as per Mahat, "they are very clear that the rebel Maoists should not join the interim government carrying arms." Besides, as an unidentified senior Indian official has been quoted, India "does not want any direct role in monitoring the arms carried by the rebels or the demobilization and decommissioning process later on with UN support." (Kathmandu Post, 11 August). Note, in particular, the use of the terms "demobilization" and "decommissioning" – both clearly anathema to the Maoists.
In the same context, readers' attention is now invited to Prachanda's Birtamod blast at India, thus: "India is watching how we move ahead, and how the interim constitution is made…I assume that the release of Baidya should be seen as India's last weapon." (Kathmandu Post, 14 August). What the Post did not report but which is very revealing is that the Indian authorities did not permit a direct meeting between Prachanda and Baidhya still languishing in jail in Siliguri. Since, by all accounts, that was the ostensible purpose of the Prachanda/Bhattarai mission to Siliguri one can well understand Prachanda's ire or angst.
Moving on to the US, most revealing is a news report in which visiting US Senator Arlen Specter, in answer to a query about the Maoists, stated: "If you are going to have a government, it has to be a peaceful one and all parties should have the willingness to abide by democracy and democratic rules, and that means by negotiations, not by force of arms."
To anyone who understands English, the anti-Maoist thrust is clear enough, especially on those who do not subscribe to "democracy and democratic rules" or who do not abjure politics "by force of arms." In other words, that formulation does not differ, in essence, from the string of comments on the subject made in the past by Ambassador Moriarty or his political bosses in Washington.
Indeed, the very next day he made things clearer by saying that the Maoists can "be part of the government if they are sincere and give up their arms and follow democracy…" (Kathmandu Post, 15 August).
Coming, now, to the EU, once again there is its familiar tendency of taking a generalized line large on hope willfully bypassing the nitty-gritty. It's statement of 11 August (reported, for example, in the Kathmandu Post the following day) states, inter alia, "the Presidency believes that the UN can play an important role in assisting in the peace process, in bringing much-needed stability and in increasing confidence and trust between the parties." Ho hum.
Far bolder and more explicit were comments offered at a pre-departure press conference by Neena Gill in Kathmandu on 19 July at the close of a six-day mission by a delegation of the European Parliament. Gill stated, inter alia, that it shouldn't be a problem including the Maoists in the government if they "give up armed struggle and start to establish norms of law and order." And so on.
Incidentally, no comments from China, Pakistan or Russia – all of whom are following events here closely – in the above context have been noticed by this analyst.
OUR OWN POLITICOS
Of course, our own politicos have hardly been quiet or unified on the subject. Without too much comment or elaboration, let me now present a menu of their pearly words of wisdom on the theme being discussed here or related to the Maoists, arms management and the UN. Thereafter, feel free to draw your own conclusions.
For starters, here is Prachanda: "The CPN-Maoists will not be involved in the government until there is a solution to the political situation in the nation and the establishment of a new Nepal…A political agreement is essential for arms management." (Himalayan Times, 14 August).
Home Minister Krishna Prasad Situala of the NC widely perceived as being close to the Maoists observed: "The army and the arms of the CPN-M will gradually be confined to designated cantonments. The UN will be here then. The UN will then verify (arms and army) and begin monitoring. After the arrival of the UN we will discuss the management of the Maoists arms and reach an agreement (on the arms issue). Similarly, the Nepal Army will gradually remain in their barracks."
Significantly, he went on to admit "it is too early to comment on separating the Maoists from their arms." Also, he explained: "The Maoists must set up camps and complete the job of confining their army within the camps before the UN arrival." (Comments from Situala's interview published in Kathmandu Post, 14 August).
UML's Bamdev Gautam, also perceived as being extremely close to the Maoist leadership, frankly weighed in with the following: "It is not possible to surrender arms immediately, rather this issue can be resolved through negotiations and understanding among the political parties, Maoists and the UN." (Kathmandu Post, 12 August).
Speaking in Baglung, Janamorch Nepal's chairman Chitra Bahadur KC had a different take from his Left colleague Gautam: "The Maoists should not be taken into the government unless their arms are managed. Nation should not go for constituent assembly polls before it." (Rising Nepal, 13 August).
On a group level, following a meeting of the NC's parliamentary party at the PM's residence on 12 August, it was reported that they discussed the five-point agreement "with some lamenting its ambiguity." (Himalayan Times, 13 August).
PM Koirala, for his part, was quoted by a NC source as stating that the Maoists should lay down their arms before joining the interim government. (Kathmandu Post, 13 August).
His daughter Sujata, speaking in distant Phidim, was reported as having stated at a function: "The ongoing talks have settled the issue of management of Maoist weapons: however the result is yet to come." (Himalayan Times, 12 August).
Then, there is the formidable DPM Amik Sherchan, another politico considered close to the Maoist leaders, grimly warning: "If the peace process is not a success the Maoists will take up arms again." (Himalayan Times, 12 August).
Finally, Nilambar Acharya, one of the drafters of the 1990 Constitution, a former Ambassador, and considered close to former NC PM, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai: "There must be (a) monopoly of the state over organised weapons. They should be processed by the government alone…Arms management is necessary to protect the freedom of citizens."
With the diverse above assessments and observations it would be a brave heart who could assert that now that the UN is about to descend on Nepal on a multi-pronged mission, including tackling the ticklish issue of arms and armies management, the nation is on the brink of a new era of sustainable peace, communal harmony, genuine democracy with her traditional independence and sovereignty intact.
This commentator must confess that he, for one, is not that intrepid!