Two days ahead of the arrival of a five-member United Nations team in response to a government letter requesting the world body for arms management in the run-up to the constituent assembly (CA) elections, Maoist chairman Prachanda has written a letter to the UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, registering his party’s strong protest over the wording of the letter sent to the latter by Prime Minister G P Koirala on July 2. The Maoist reaction was not entirely unexpected and their sense of outrage cannot be dismissed as being unfair. The government should have consulted the Maoists on such a vital matter as it is covered by the 12-point and 8-point agreements, which form the very basis for going to the CA polls. The former agreement stipulates that, in the lead-up to the elections, both the Maoist and government armed forces are to be placed under UN’s or some credible international supervision, and the latter provides for despatching a request to the UN to help manage the armies and weapons of both sides and to monitor them in order to ensure free and fair CA polls.

However, the government of the seven-party alliance (SPA) deserves the benefit of the doubt as to its intent in sending the letter. The hugeness of the main task lying before the SPA and the Maoists dictates that they concentrate their attention on accomplishing it, while taking other disputes, such as the letter episode, in their stride. However, this row should give the government an idea as regards the peril of acting unilaterally and without taking the other side into confidence. It is indeed unfortunate that the Maoists had to learn about the letter three weeks later, that, too, through the news media, as Prachanda claims in his letter. Anyway, it would not be possible for the UN to begin its job here without the rebels’ nod. Without suitable rectification, this concurrence is unlikely, as Prachanda has called the application of two separate yardsticks to the two armies ‘highly objectionable and totally unacceptable to us’.

What is more important is both sides’ expressions of commitment to the CA polls, and Prachanda has promised all help to the UN team that is arriving here today. So things have not gone out of hand. Of central importance is the need for both to follow the 12-point and 8-point agreements, from which there can be no getting away under this or that pretext. Given good intent, mistakes and misunderstandings come and go. But the goal of the CA polls should stand paramount. Also of equal importance is the need to implement all the provisions of the 8-point agreement simultaneously. One cannot insist on enforcing certain parts while ignoring the others. To put it another way, commitments like the promulgation of an interim constitution must be carried out without further delay. The interim constitution will take care of the present atmosphere of uncertainty and doubt, in the process helping remove mutual misunderstanding. Things will then roll ahead.