Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

Towards the endgame in Nepal

The sooner a U.N. mission is in place to monitor the arms of the Nepal Army and Maoist PLA, the smoother will be the transition towards an interim government and Constituent Assembly elections.

29 June 2006
The Hindu

Towards the endgame in Nepal

Siddharth Varadarajan

EVENTS IN Nepal have moved so rapidly these past few weeks that King Gyanendra’s April proclamation restoring parliament seems to belong to another political universe. Like the Long Parliament which Charles I was compelled to summon in 1640, the reconvened House of Representatives moved swiftly to assert the sovereign will of the people against monarchy. The king was stripped of his powers, the government and army were renamed, anti-democratic laws scrapped, and political prisoners released. But the historical analogy ends there. England descended into civil war as the Crown and Westminster struggled for supremacy. In Nepal, however, the assertion of popular will over palace and privilege offers the country its best chance of ending a decade of conflict.

On June 16, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist leader Prachanda reached an eight-point agreement that is a tribute to the wisdom and broad-mindedness of the Nepalese political forces. At the heart of the agreement is the formation of an interim government with the participation of the former `rebels.’ Equally important are three propositions the seven-party alliance (SPA) and Maoists agreed to. First, that peaceful, competitive politics is the only way for parties to conduct their affairs and people to express their sovereignty. Secondly, that the weapons and army of both the government and the Maoists will have to be managed or monitored by the United Nations to ensure impartial elections. Thirdly, for there to be a “progressive restructur[ing] [of] the state,” elections to the Constituent Assembly must take into account inequalities of class, race, region, and gender.

It stands to reason that the sole `legal’ custodian of sovereignty — the House of Representatives — must perforce extinguish itself to make way for the interim government. At the same time, the eight-point agreement speaks of “making an alternative arrangement,” perhaps an all-party-cum-civil society standing conference, to which the interim government will be answerable.

Even though India is used to the dissolution of parliament before early elections, Indian policymakers fear dissolution of the HoR could lead to a power “vacuum” in Nepal. These fears are misplaced. The fact is that India, or South Asia for that matter, has so far only seen “transfers of power” from one sovereign authority to another in which the continuity of state institutions was ensured. This is what happened in 1947, and even in 1971, when Bangladesh was created. What is happening in Nepal, however, is a revolution where constitutional legality and political power become highly fluid and contingent. Different political forces have competing agendas but their interaction is mediated by the popular desire for peace and an egalitarian social transformation. Whether one likes it or not, parties and state institutions that are not compatible with these aspirations will disappear.

Nature of U.N. mandate

Despite the centrality of arms monitoring to the timetable for elections and perhaps even the entry of the Maoists into an interim government, insufficient attention has been paid to the precise form U.N. involvement should take. India, which was sceptical about outside participation, conceded to Mr. Koirala earlier this month that the U.N. might play a useful role on the arms management front. But New Delhi is still chary of a U.N. resolution, even though this is a must for the deployment of U.N. police or military observers to Nepal.

Notwithstanding its indifferent record in peace making, the U.N. has been reasonably successful in the verification and implementation of ceasefire accords in civil war situations, including the management of weapons and armies. Most of these missions have been under Chapter VI of the U.N. Charter on the pacific settlement of disputes. Two missions stand out for their success and relevance — the 1997 U.N. Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), and the 1992-1994 U.N. Operation in Mozambique (ONUMOZ), in which Indian peacekeepers also participated. In both cases, U.N. military observers came to verify and monitor compliance with political agreements that had already been reached by government and rebels. The separation of combatants from both sides was overseen, as was the decommissioning of rebel arms. In the case of Mozambique, the mandate included demobilisation of 76,000 government and rebel soldiers, as well as the subsequent integration of 10,000 soldiers into a new national army.

Though the armed conflict in Nepal has taken a terrible toll, the scale of hostilities pales into insignificance when compared with either Mozambique or Guatemala. Thus, implementing a simple mandate should not be difficult for any prospective U.N. verification mission in Nepal. All the more so since the decommissioning of arms and demobilisation of soldiers from either side are not necessary for the conduct of free elections and will not be part of the mission.

Some statistics will illuminate the point more clearly. In Guatemala, for example, 2,928 combatants from the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG) were demobilised and 535,102 weapons and rounds of ammunition handed over to the U.N. mission. In Nepal, according to data provided by Maj. Gen. Ashok K. Mehta in his new book, The Royal Nepal Army, the total number of “armed guerrillas” as of December 2004 is approximately 4,000. Even more revealing is the Maoist army’s stock of arms. Gen. Mehta estimates the PLA’s total weapons holdings at 2,895. Of these, nearly half, or 1,370, are .303 rifles. If the Maoists have emerged as a major political force in Nepal, it is perhaps not so much because of their guns — clearly, they do not have too many — but due to the appeal of their programme, most of which the SPA has now adopted.

As things stand, the Nepal government and the Maoists have agreed on a code of conduct for their armies. But violations of the informal ceasefire have occurred, with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kathmandu alleging that Maoist soldiers have killed nine individuals over the past month. If the Guatemala model is followed, a formal ceasefire needs to enter into force on the day the U.N. monitoring mission in Nepal (‘UNMINEP’) deploys. In consultation with Nepal Army and Maoist commanders, the barracks and assembly points where soldiers and weapons are to be sequestered for ease of monitoring can then be identified.

In Guatemala, the separation of soldiers and guerrillas was carried out through the establishment of two concentric areas — security zones and coordination zones — around eight URNG assembly points. Army units were not permitted to enter the security zone and police units could do so only in coordination with U.N. observers. In Nepal, since the army is also to be monitored, the ‘UNMINEP’ mission would need to be larger. At all assembly points and barracks, heavy guns would have to be warehoused under a double-locking system but army and PLA soldiers would retain personal weapons. Beyond a specified perimeter, however, personal arms would have to be deposited so that the presence of armed men and women in public areas does not compromise the free and fair nature of elections to the Constituent Assembly.

What India must do

For the U.N., Nepal can be the first practical project of the new Peacebuilding Commission, of which India is a member along with more than 40 other nations. But the mandate for the deployment of military or police observers will have to come from the General Assembly or Security Council, most likely the latter. The relevant resolution must be Chapter VI and not Chapter VII. Like the Guatemala resolution, it must make no reference to the situation in Nepal being a potential threat to international peace and security. It must also limit itself to the goals agreed to by the Nepalese political forces themselves. This is important because individual UNSC members — such as the United States — oppose the inclusion of Maoists in an interim government without first surrendering their arms and may seek to impose a broader mandate. This is where India must counsel its new `strategic partner’ to abandon McCarthyism and accept reality.

Along with the doctrinal shift in the use of civilian police and human rights experts recommended by the Lakhdar Brahimi panel on U.N. peace operations, the proposed U.N. mission in Nepal must work closely with civil society leaders who are already monitoring the code of conduct. In Mozambique, ONUMOZ went through difficult times but emerged with distinction because of the Mozambican people’s desire for peace. The fact that this desire is just as strong in Nepal suggests the implementation of the transition roadmap will also be a success.

As an important neighbour that facilitated the broad partnership between the SPA and the Maoists, India need not worry about being kept out of the loop. Nor should it aspire to offer anything other than non-lethal logistical support for the U.N. mission in Nepal. It is not in the interests of the U.N. or of the Nepalese political forces — including the Maoists — to do anything that will make the people of India less secure. Coincidentally, the U.N. military adviser in the Department of Peacekeeping is currently an Indian, Lt. Gen. Randhir Kumar Mehta.

It is also time India adjusted to the impending reality of an interim government in Nepal with the participation of Maoists in key portfolios. One of the first acts of the new government will be to formally request the release of Nepali Maoist prisoners in Indian jails, including senior leaders like Mohan Baidhya (`Kiran’) and Chandra Prakash Gajurel (`Gaurav’). Rather than waiting for this request, which has already been made orally by Mr. Koirala, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should take the necessary legal steps for their immediate release. Such an act will not alter the balance of power between the SPA and the Maoists but will generate goodwill for India.

2 comments on “Towards the endgame in Nepal

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    July 7, 2007

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    July 1, 2006

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This entry was posted on June 29, 2006 by in Nepal, United Nations.



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