UN-Maoist Equation: Changed Dynamics

Earlier this week it was announced that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had appointed Ian Martin as his personal representative in Nepal for support of the peace process, initially for six months. Martin, a human rights specialist who since May 2005 has headed the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in (OHCHR) Nepal, will be joined by a four member multi-disciplinary team to assist the relevant parties, in areas where it has been asked to help.


Ostensibly, the above would tend to support Annan’s “firm commitment” to the peace process on which he is “very much focussed.” Yet, a closer scrutiny suggests that there is a visible backtracking by the world body commensurate with the even clearer loss of enthusiasm by the Maoists for a strong UN role in peace-building.

The first indicator is that the much-publicised week-long mission headed by Swedish diplomat Steffan de Mistura, which paved the way for Martin’s appointment, has now been downgraded from “assessment mission” to a “pre-assessment mission.”

If the former terminology had been consistently used to describe de Mistura’s brief assignment that concluded on 4 August, the latter has now been used, as is evident from the following disclosure in a UN press release: “Building on the recent pre-assessment mission to the country, Martin will conduct extensive discussions with key actors in Nepal.” (Himalayan Times, 28 August).

Second, in contrast to the general expectation the post-de Mistura mission that has actually been dispatched from UN H/Q in New York is an exceedingly lean one. It is difficult to envisage it guaranteeing a sustainable peace here and reassuring Nepal’s neighbours as well.

Bluntly stated, it appears to be tailored for a minimalist UN role. My hunch is that it has been conditioned by lack of enthusiasm in the Glass Palace on the East River influenced by the increasingly negative attitude of the Maoist leadership towards the make-or-break issue of arms management in the aftermath of the “historic” five-point agreement that was heralded with so much fanfare on 9 August.

Third, in place of an acknowledged expert on peacekeeping and peace-building to head the mission, Annan has chosen an official who is already Nepal-based. Could it therefore be that UN boffins on the 38 th floor of the UN Secretariat did not think it worthwhile to rope in an individual far more qualified than Martin, a former Amnesty International functionary?

Even granting that Martin has been involved with the UN operations in Timor-Leste, the complexity of the Nepalese situation, not to mention vast differences in scale and unique geo-political sensitivities, should surely have suggested a UN official with far more extensive diplomatic/political experience.

With acclaimed experts being thin on the ground, and with so many trouble spots around the world for the UN to monitor, was it concluded that such an individual’s talents would not be properly utilized heading a nominal mission that does not hold out great prospects for a huge UN diplomatic success?

Recall that the Maoists had been pretty vocal in insisting that the UN team should be small, should only consist of civilians, and not be mandated any role in political negotiations, even if it be limited to that of a facilitator in breaking log-jams affecting the peace process.

Finally, it is striking that although UN officialdom had disclosed that de Mistura’s report to the Secretary-General would serve as an input for Annan’s own report on the subject, where he would draw his own conclusions, “as well as the advice and support from all sides and member countries.” (Rising Nepal, 4 August), revealingly there is no mention – yet – of the Secretary-General’s own report on the subject.

Naturally, diplomacy being diplomacy, it would be the height of naivete to expect any confirmation, or even contradiction, of the above analysis.

However, it is enormously edifying to recall below what the Maoists have said on UN intervention, especially in the crucial area of “arms management” for which the specifics or details have still to be worked out.

Maoist Stance

Before actually getting down to that, perhaps a brief backgrounder will be useful. Assuming that to be the case, let me recall what I had observed in a piece published in one journal’s 3-9 August issue entitled: “Maoists fine-tune, reaffirm or change policy in adverse international clime.” Here are some excerpts:

“Initially, the Maoists were wary of the world body and repeatedly indicated that all problems in Nepal should be settled by the Nepalese themselves – a stance that, incidentally, then coincided with that of the former regime.

“Gradually, however, they shifted their position and began to indicate their desire to see the world body participating in the peace process in some capacity or the other. This took most concrete form in Article 3 of the 8-point Agreement relating to the UN’s involvement in “arms management” of the two relevant sides.”

Soon thereafter, however, “Maoist leaders began to voice their preference, once again, for dealing with Nepal’s political problems internally, asking ‘only’ for UN technical and post-conflict assistance. It hardly requires the brains of a rocket scientist to conclude from the above backtracking the familiar charge of the Left the world over that the UN is nothing but the stalking horse of the world’s greatest imperialist/capitalist power, the United States of America…”

Now follows an illuminating sampling of Maoist thought including on the UN role in “arms management” and related areas.

On the very day that news of Martin’s appointment appeared in Kathmandu dailies, senior Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai stated on the record that “without political understanding , there is nothing that the UN delegation can achieve” (Kantipur, 26 August). Elaborating, Bhattarai said: “What we will decide, they will provide only technical assistance…Without political understanding they can be nothing.” He added that his party had already informed the UN that in such circumstances it was “not necessary” for their delegation to come to Nepal.

Speaking at a Biratnagar press conference, another Maoist leader, Ram Bahadur Thapa (Badal), was quoted as asserting that as arms management is an internal matter of the CPN-Maoist and the Nepal Government, his party would not accept the UN’s conditions on this issue. “This is a political issue, we would not accept the UN dictating on the issue.” (Rising Nepal, 26 August).

According to another newspaper report, Badal stated: “We are expecting only financial service from the UN and its expertise on the matter.” (Himalayan Times, 26 August).

Similarly, speaking before the arrival of the latest UN mission, Barsha Man Pun “Ananta” was quoted in Kantipur as ruling out the surrender of Maoist weapons, in these terms: “Surrender of weapons right now may not be possible. We’ve called for a change in the state structure.” (People’s Review, 24-30 August).

Along the same lines are Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara’s utterances, including this one: “We will disarm ourselves during the restructuring of the nation.” (Himalayan Times, 24 August).

Apart from the arguments and declaration by the Maoists, it is interesting that of late they have been castigated by their colleagues in India and even the UK for being too soft, if not betrayers of the Maoist cause.

What may be noted, though, is that the Maoists have secured a long-sought strategic goal: recognition from the UN. That, of course, came in the wake of the SPA joining forces with the Maoists, as underlined in various written agreements, and the government’s rescinding of the “terrorist” label.

It is thus entirely on the cards that, having now secured such recognition, the Maoists have little or further interest in the world body, particularly in any effort on its part to decommission their arms.

Betrayers of Cause?

In the summer 2006 issue of the British newspaper Socialist Resistance, for example, Liam MacUaid attacked the Nepalese Maoists charging that the Nepalese rebels are no longer accountable to the workers, peasants and the urban poor whose pressure forced King Gyanendra to make concessions to democracy in April. “Instead of relying on the support that they were able to mobilize in the cities they are now making secret deals with an incompetent bourgeois crook.” (People’s Review, 10-16 August).

The “crook” referred to is Prime Minister Koirala. MacUaid also charged that instead of offering a real way forward the Maoists seem certain to fight the forthcoming elections as loyal defenders of the new ruling class constitution.

Equally harsh are the criticisms of Azad, spokesman of the Indian Naxalites, for, among other things, agreeing to the UN to monitor Maoist weapons (People’s Review, 17-23 August). Azad stated that it was dangerous to monitor the cease-fire and disband the People’s Liberation Army because the UN is a tool of the US and Nepal’s reactionary rulers will work for the interests of imperialists.

Against the backdrop painted above, the changed dynamics of the UN-Maoist equation is on public display. The way things look presently, that equation will be subjected to further changes in the future. It should, all in all, be a fascinating learning experience for all.

M.R. Josse
M. R. Josse is a writer on Nepal and the author of Nepal: Politics of Statemate, Confusion and Uncertainty and Nepali Politics 2002-03: Gotterdammerung, The Twilight of the Gods.