UN Maoist Arms Controversy: Overkill or Negligence

Published: Mon 26 Feb 2007 09:57 AM
The UN and Maoist Arms Controversy: Overkill or Negligence?
From: Nepali Perspectives
Terms such as "arms management," "arms inventory," "combatant registration," etc., are often used interchangeably when speaking of Nepal's peace process. The reality is, there is no overlap in the definitions of any of these terms. And truth be told, no matter which of these fancy "consulting" terms one cares to apply, none of them are even close to completion in Nepal.
Based on what Ian Martin has disclosed, the process of inventorying Maoist arms and registering Maoist combatants (in a best case description) has passed the first of many stages. A cursory review of the details appears so grossly incomplete and inaccurate, one is left wondering what kind of fools our government takes its people for?
Based on the information UNMIN has divulged, there is absolutely no allocation of accountability to any group (the Maoists, the Government or the UN), should the details of the information ever be found to be inaccurate. With the predictivate statements that have already been made, one wonders the degree to which information to be discovered (during successive phases of the arms management process,) has already been tainted.
For the UN, Nepal has been (and will continue to be) the ultimate consulting job. A project staffed with high paid Subject Matter Experts with unlimited funding. A case study for the world on "successful" UN intervention and above all, an engagement where the stake holders provide absolutely no direction. In consulting jargon, Nepal is to the UN "the gift that keeps giving," a "fat cow begging to be milked."
The information that has been disclosed (upon which a decision to include the Maoists in the interim parliament is to be made) is hardly of marginal value. What has been produced represents a near complete waste of time and resources; findings with absolutely no decision-making value, layered with disclaimers that add even more abiguity to the overall process.
Had the UN team been properly managed, the decision-critical criteria publicized and the proper expectations set, there would be no room for controversy today. Despite repeated warnings, the government did not bother to implmenet even the most basic controls and here we are, stuck with results from months of work (and hundreds of thousands spent), that are impossible to interpret.
UNMIN confirmed that it registered 30,852 Maoist combatants. They then proceeded to state that once the full modalities of the second stage of verification are finalized (exactly when is this going to be?), any minor found to be associated with the Maoist "army," will be honorably and automatically discharged. Further, it was stated that the criteria that qualifies an individual as a Maoist combatant is whether his/her recruitment occurred prior to May 25, 2006.
The implication is clear: the declared number of 30,852 Maoist combatants is inaccurate. When the very individuals who conducted the registration process qualify their findings with layer upon layer of exceptions, what legitimacy are the people to accord the process or its results?
Two very relevant questions arise: One, why couldn't the UN determine illegitimate combatants during the registration process? Two, precisely what (aside from further integration, training and preparation) will be fundamentally different when UNMIN applies the combatant criteria at a future date?
More to the point, what's the value of disqualification later, when the information collected now will be the basis upon which critical decisions such as funding allocations will be made? This episode should go down as one of the most disgustingly squandered and zero value-add exercises in the UN's history!
The same goes for the registered weapons, advertised at 3,482. A great start to yet another "project" that has no end in sight.
By Ian Martin's own admission, his team "is not and will not be in a position to state whether the weapons it has registered correspond to the full total of weapons held by the Maoist army." Neither can his team verify whether the registered 3,482 weapons correspond to the 3,430 weapons declared by the State. So what exactly is it that the UN team is in a position to do?
Unfortunately, this isn't where the nonsense ends. While Martin's team alludes to a "high degree of correspondence" between the weapons registered and those listed as missing by the State, they are "not in a position to confirm or refute reports of weapons purchases by or on behalf of the CPN-M, although the weapons registered include a number of weapons not held in the stocks of the state security forces, such as AK-47s."
First, Martin's military advisor needs a wake-up call. Chinese manufactured T-56 Type-II assault rifles appear identical to the infamous Kalashnikov rifels (AK-47), but they are not the same. This is an important distinction because the information has specific strategic implications.
Second, doesn't the registration of weapons not found in the Nepalese Security Forces' arsenal verify that purchases were made by the Maoists? Or is UNMIN trying to play smart by claiming a technicality suggesting that the weapons might have been donated to (and thus not procured by) the Maoists???
How can Ian Martin, the head of the UN's Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) make a public statement that offers completely contradictory information and expect Nepalis (and the world) to take him (and the UN) seriously? Diplomatic as he may be, Ian Martin is no Bill Clinton. (Where's Senator Patrick Leahy and his trust-worthy Nepal-expert Aid, when Nepal needs them?).
Here's the icing on the cake of lunacy – the mother of all sick jokes: It is based on this unverifiable, incomplete, inaccurate information (produced by UNMIN), that Girija Prasad Koirala will make a decision on whether Maoist arms have been adequately managed. The answer to this question (which is undoubtedly going to be "yes"), will determine whether the Maoists should be inducted into the interim parliament.
To add insult to injury (and ridicule to an already ludicrous situation), we find Shekhar Koirala warning the political parties to not "entangle (themselves) on the issue of arms" for fear of missing the (unrealistic) June deadline for constituent assembly elections.
Exactly why did Shekhar's uncle Girija insist on Maoist arms being managed if the issue was of no consequence? By Shekhar's logic, since the act of holding elections takes priority, the UN's work is immaterial to decision-making. (Does anyone remember who made similar arguments about holding elections and the number of candidates that paid for the cost of the experiment with their lives? The same arguments against holding elections for the sake of elections, applies here).
Then comes Bam Dev Gautam with his infinite wisdom that "Maoists would repent if they have hidden their arms" – right. Is it Bam Dev's UML cadre who are going to make the Maoists "repent?" When was the last time Bam Dev checked the allegiances of his own party's ranks? He'd better check again before he makes another comedic threat and embarasses himself.
Dr. Minendra Rijal appears to be the only level-headed leader in the crowd. His statement was that "the issue of arms allegedly hidden by the Maoists should not be made a matter of controversy." And he's absolutely right. The UN's work is sufficiently ambiguous to the point where any lingering doubts over whether the Maoists have hidden arms becomes a moot point. (UNMIN: "we can't say if they bought arms, but we can't deny it either; there are arms that aren't part of the Army's inventory, but maybe they were gifts to the Maoists and thus were technically not procured"??? Come on people!!! Wake up!!!).
Whether one evaluates UNMIN's findings using the yard-stick of "completeness" or "accuracy," the outcome is identical – the results are self-admittedly incomplete and undoubtedly inaccurate.
In all fairness, the mismanagement of this whole process falls squarely on the shoulders of the SPA leadership and the Maoists – not the UN. It is our leadership's incapacity at managing the UN (in a way that allocates accountability for the results that Martin's team produces) that has yielded information, squarely in the "grey zone."
Had Nepal's inept leadership been able to manage Ian Martin's team, UNMIN would have told the SPA and the Maoists long ago that the arbitrarily set June timeframe for constituent assembly elections is completely unrealistic. Instead, the Maoists saw in the UN an opportunity to gain legitimacy and the SPA, an opportunity to claim forward progress – yet another publicity stunt that is backfiring. The UN presence is truly so much more than both of these selfish, short-sighted applications, combined.
When irreconcilable gaps appear in the analysis the UN has submitted (and they most certainly will), the SPA leaders will claim ignorance, the UN will come up with some technical excuse (based on its mandate) and the Maoists will carry on with business as usual – blame the invisible "reactionaries," suppress the Madhesi movement and make whimpering excuses about how the demand for a federal structure was originally theirs.
But truly, who gives a rat's ass about who said what first? The bare facts are that the Madhesis' are doing things the democratic way while the Maoists did it the terrorist way. Unfortunately for the Maoists, that which they exploited and thrived on is finally catching up with them. Who could have imagined the Maoists would be brought to their knees by the very "people" they radicalized (over 12 years), in a matter of 2 weeks?
The outcome of UNMIN's first report should be sufficiently worrisome for the world to read into the sham of a process that Nepal's leaders are managing, using the UN as a smoke screen. Ambiguous, meaningless criteria are set, meaningless information collected and decisions made independent of whether the pre-determined criteria are met.
This precedent presents an extremely dangerous environment for the "client" (Nepal's government), the "consultant" (UNMIN) and it presents a very high risk scenario for the Nepali population. Historical events would indicate that any hopes of the "client" becoming a responsible actor is wishful thinking (especially in a situation where the opportunity for commissions based on UN contracts is zero and it is actually not the "clients" money that is being wasted anyway).
The onus then lies on the "consultant" (UNMIN) to set the record straight and to earn it's keep by diplomatically maneuvering the thin line between what it considers appropriate (by mandate), and necessary (by what it is seeing in Nepal). Expressing "concern" over registered combatants abandoning cantonment sites is the diplomatic thing to do but unfortunately, Nepal is far beyond any stage where a resolution is being drafted for discussion in the Security Council.
The frustration that Ian Martin probably feels at having to work with a bed-ridden Prime Minister is understandable. However, as a professional, in a field where the lives (and futures) of millions of people are at stake, Mr. Martin should take the opportunity to provide his superiors in New York a "closed-door" assessment of what is really going on. There is still time to bring sanity to Nepal.
If Ian Martin fails to take the initiative in this regard, he has the potential to single-handedly exacerbate the UN's "lame duck" reputation and negate every ounce of goodwill he earned for his work in East Timor. If Mr. Martin's quest for professional excellence is what is driving his instinct to remain unaccountable, the Nepali people can only hope and pray that at some point, Mr. Martin's conscience affords him the courage to do the right thing – set realistic expectations for Nepal's peace process. The clock is ticking....

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