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Partisans for peace

Partisans for peace

Author: Yubaraj Ghimire
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: May 23, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/partisans-for-peace/464750/

Introduction: The United Nations Mission has not been an unbiased mediator in Nepal

United Nations Mission (UNMIN) came to Nepal three years ago when the main parties in the conflict, and then the peace process, thought that the UN body with its vast experience of mediation and assistance worldwide would manage a miracle here as well. It was on the insistence of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (CPN-M) that India, which has always opposed such a presence in its neighbourhood, gave in. The 12-point agreement that the seven pro-democracy parties in Nepal signed in November 2005, under India's mediation and facilitation, clearly stated that "some international body", preferably the UN, would be involved in the peace process that was to formally begin in June 2006. And so, UNMIN came as a trusted agent to the peace process.

By then King Gyanendra had surrendered power to the political parties, and the Maoists had committed to be "part of democracy." This was followed by the Maoist pledge to give up the guns which they had carried on their shoulders for a decade, beginning in February 1996. Nepal's peace process has been through ups and downs, and with the monarchy gone, the Maoists and the pro-democracy parties have lost the perceived villain for every failure. India, the mediator, is not trustworthy any more in Maoist eyes. While quitting as PM, Prachanda stated clearly that India not only has expansionist designs, but also "interferes" in each and every major decision in Nepal. He said he was quitting because he does not want to appease "the alien lords"' in order to remain glued to the chair. India has never been popular in Nepal, but an incumbent prime minister blaming it for his exit is unprecedented. Even in the midst of its elections, India officially tried to assuage the Maoists, stating it had no intention of interfering in Nepal's internal affairs. With the new government in place, there are speculations here that India's current Nepal policy has failed, and needs immediate review. Delhi's next move is yet to unfold, but that does not minimise its role in Nepal's progress and political stability.

There is however, no such expectation from UNMIN. It is still present in the country, although much reduced in size and strength. But it now faces questions about its impartiality and credibility while performing its assigned job. Israel's foreign ministry issued an unwelcoming statement on Ian Martin, the person who headed UNMIN until he was given an exalted position in the Gaza strip four months ago, questioning his credentials in contributing to peace there. In fact, what caused extensive damage to Martin and UNMIN's reputation is Prachanda's much-circulated videotape (an address to Maoist combatants in January 2008) in which he boasts how he got UNMIN to certify that the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) was three times as large as the actual seven thousand. UNMIN has come with an unconvincing explanation that it did its job with utmost sincerity and impartiality. Israel's foreign ministry's question circulated officially is simple: how can someone who was "fooled by Maoists in Nepal," be effective in Gaza?
While Martin may have to respond to that, UNMIN, under his successor Karen Landgren is in a soup in Nepal, for a different reason. The Nepali Congress, the second largest party in the legislature, which had demanded re-verification of the Maoist combatants in the wake of the Prachanda videotape revelation, has now lodged a formal complaint with the United Nations Secretary General that it has been misquoted on its position on the controversy surrounding the "sacking and reinstatement" of army chief R. Katawal. Landgren was called into the party office by the Nepali Congress working president and told that the misreporting of the official stance of the Nepali Congress was not acceptable.

In fact, the Security Council discussion and UN Secretary General's recent report on Nepal has claimed that Nepali Congress was in favour of removing Army Chief R. Katawal, but changed its position once he was fired by Prime Minister Prachanda. "That was never our position. We had been consistently advising Prachanda not to remove the army chief", says Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat, central committee member of the Nepali Congress, and a former foreign affairs minister. Katawal 's reinstatement into the post by President Rambaran Yadav triggered Prachanda's resignation, and what's more, the army issue is at the heart of the new political polisarisation in Nepal. With UNMIN seen as 'biased,' its unsung and unwept departure is expected anytime now. But what remains to be seen is its impact elsewhere, especially in other conflict-affected countries. Will the UN be accepted as a trusted and capable agency for peace? Nepal's experiment with UNMIN was not a happy one.

- yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

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