Nepals Arms Management Under UN Auspices?

Published: Fri 18 Aug 2006 03:14 PM
Arms Management Under United Nations Auspices?
By Shashi P.B.B. Malla & Ralf Narendra B.B. Malla
The time for rejoicing has arrived. The 7-party government (which has no mandate from the people) and the Maoists (which continue to terrorize the people) after having signed various joint agreements on sundry subjects with any number of points, have now finally agreed on a 5-point 'joint' letter to the United Nations regarding the management of arms of the Nepalese Army and the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Significantly, the letters were identical in content, but sent separately. This speaks volumes about the degree of mutual trust between the two sides. Anyway, the number 5 is a holy and lucky one in Nepalese numerology.
The letters indicated very vaguely the UN's future role in the peace process. The usually bland government organ, The Rising Nepal made the tall claim that "the clouds of uncertainty looming over the sky of Nepalese politics" had been cleared. However, the main points of the so-called agreement include various contentious issues. In an interview with the anti-monarchy and anti-army (it regularly ferrets out and makes a mountain of a molehill news discrediting the army) broadsheet, The Kathmandu Post, the Home Minister and Koirala confidante, Krishna Prasad Sitaula sought to dispel the grave doubts that have since arisen about the UN involvement.
First, the government and the Maoists have agreed that the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should continue to monitor the human rights situation in Nepal. Now, we are all aware how this very high office has functioned in the past. It usually delegated its work to other so-called non-government organizations (NGOs). This resulted in the human rights situation being monitored by NGOs, whose neutrality towards the two parties in the conflict was at least doubtful. The authors strongly believe that atrocities are atrocities, no matter which side committed them. It is unacceptable that the observers turned a blind eye to so many human rights violations in the past. Given the thousands of displaced, maimed and orphaned Nepalese, a commitment of both sides to respect human rights unconditionally would have been the only credible thing to do.
Second, the two parties have ostensibly agreed to assist in the monitoring of the 25-Point Code of Conduct. What does this mean? In clear text, it means that the code of conduct has already malfunctioned. It is so to say a dead horse and should be flogged to new life! In the above interview, Sitaula conceded, in fact, that the Maoists had to date failed to keep their side of the bargain. That is, the commitment to return seized property, abstain from extortion, not obstructing political activities of other political parties, ending threats and the use of force and the deep ingrained psychological fear in the people at large — all these remain to be implemented or "translated into action". If there is no confidence in the people — with the government and the Maoists -- how can the 7-party regime jump the queue and attempt such a far-reaching understanding?
Political change has come, but this has fallen well short of expectations. The SPA (specially the United Marxists-Leninists and the smaller Communist parties) and the Maoists see the Palace as their main threat and most of their actions and outbursts have been directed to stripping the powers of the monarchy (which would have been the prerogative of the future constituent assembly). In his latest rant, Prachanda made the weird claim that the monarchy is already "suspended" and should remain so in the self-styled 'interim statute'. There is also an undercurrent of hostility directed against the army because of its presumed nexus with the palace. On the other hand elements close to PM Koirala do not find it beneath their dignity to hobnob with unscrupulous and unprincipled generals attempting to jump the gun (ignoring the army ethos of seniority and merit) by accepting astronomical pecuniary benefits. People have already become highly disillusioned with the functioning of the present government. An objective survey conducted by the "" rated the performance of the 7-party alliance after hundred days of unmitigated power as follows:
Good 9.3%, Satisfactory 26.9%, Bad 60.9%, Don't know2.9%
This is indeed a sad reflection on the government, but with the opposition silenced, it can muddle ahead. Thus, we have less opinion as ever of current 'leaders' of their leadership and statesmanship!
Third, the parties seek UN assistance in the "management of arms and armed personnel of both the sides." Qualified 'civilian' personnel are to be deployed to monitor and verify the confinement of Maoist combatants and their weapons within the designated cantonment areas. Firstly, it seems quite unclear why and how civilians would be qualified to monitor and verify any arms management that the Maoists agree to. How and by which criteria civilians would be selected and qualified is the next question to be raised here. Secondly, the two sides failed to spell out whether the Maoists would be separated from their arms within the cantonment areas (as the government demands) or whether they would retain control over their weapons (as Big Brother Number One Prachanda would prefer). Instead the agreement simply states that the modalities for arms management would be worked out at a later stage. Bottom line: it seems that all that the two sides could agree on this matter was that they disagree. The possibility of dispute over arms management is still present. Thirdly, how many of these civilian 'personnel' can the UN field? A whole 'army' of monitors will be necessary, if they are to do their job effectively.
Fourth, the Nepalese Army –soldiers and officers — will be confined to their designated barracks. They will not be allowed to use their weapons "for or against any side". While it may be necessary for the government to demonstrate that it is willing to show the same restraint with regard to armed force as the Maoists seem intent to, the wording also implies that the government almost seems to regard the Army as a 'third party' in the conflict. This highlights the alienation between the Army high command and the government. If the inclusion in an interim government is the carrot to the Maoists, then surely the Army should be the stick. The government has thrown the stick away.
The Maoists have already hidden their arms and ammunition and will be free to roam the countryside incognito to continue to terrorize the people -- before and after joining the government and/or preliminary to and during the constituent assembly elections.
Fifth, the UN should "observe" the elections to the Constituent Assembly in consultation with the two signatories. Again, this leaves a lot of room for interpretation, but given the ambiguous nature of this 5-point agreement and the remaining controversial questions (such as the role of the monarchy and the modalities of the constituent assembly elections) it seems hard to believe that consultations between the mentioned parties will bring close to a tangible result.
Sitaula has already designated the beginning of the Nepalese New Year (mid April) for these elections. Has the government and the election commission done their homework? Will the people be educated and informed in time to be able to make valid and intelligent choices?
Now, Sitaula and the 7-party alliance have the naïve idea that the UN's assistance in arms management can be separated from the other burning political issues. In his words, the Nepalese being "citizens of a sovereign and independent country" can solve their problems themselves. Why then has help been sought in monitoring human rights, the 'infamous' code of conduct and the elections to the constituent assembly? More to the point, the 12-point accord with the Maoists resulted from massive Indian pressure (government and Leftist parties) in the Indian capital! The tacit US support for India, their strategic partner has also led to the present imbroglio. Now, Senator Arlen Specter, Chairman of the US Senate's powerful Judiciary Committee has drawn a parallel with the Hamas in Palestine and the Hezbollah in Lebanon and has warned that US assistance will discontinue, should the Maoists join the government without first surrendering their arms. Given remaining hurdles over a meaningful implementation of this agreement and the many details to be worked out, it is clear that a lot remains to be done before Nepal can declare an end to an insurgency that has cost so many lives.
From Frankfurt/Main and Kathmandu
[The latter writer served in the German Armed Forces.–Ed]

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