Drawing the line

Ian Martin, the special representative of the United Nations secretary general, has been criticised of late for allegedly going beyond his brief in his behaviour and statements. Martin is now back in the capital after briefing the UN secretary general and the Security Council on the progress and the present state of the peace process in Nepal. The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN)’s one-year tenure is expiring soon and needs to be renewed if its role is to continue. It is here to help manage the arms and armies of the state and the CPN-Maoist, as well as observe the constituent assembly (CA) election. The government is yet to decide on the matter but renewal of the UNMIN tenure can be taken for granted, as its job has not been completed, mainly because of the failure to hold the CA election within the promised time. There is no disagreement in Nepal over that role.

What has ruffled feathers here is his comment and conduct regarding issues that are supposed to lie outside UNMIN’s ambit. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala recently disapproved of Martin’s statements, such as what should be done with regard to the marginalised people and particular geographical or ethnic communities. Indeed, the

incursions of foreign diplomats into purely domestic Nepali affairs should be seriously discouraged. Martin’s statements or even contacts or meetings with representatives of various Tarai groups or agitating ethnic groups, presumably to find facts or how the UN could be of help — though they may have been driven by good intentions — are hardly raiseworthy activities. However, at Tuesday’s press conference in the capital, he said that the parliamentary resolutions on the questions of the monarchy and the electoral systems are not matters on which the UN should take a position, and in this he was right.

In New York, Martin briefed UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon on the ‘volatile’ security situation in Nepal. And the secretary general’s report, presented to the UNSC on October 25, warned of the danger of things getting worse.

In this context, Martin hinted that the UN was ready to accept an expanded role in Nepal if

requested. His offer was obviously based on the assessment presented in the report and

reflected the view of the UN chief and the UNSC.

Of course, it is the Nepalis who should decide whether they need any kind of outside help. What is, however, to be criticised or resisted is the tendency on the part of some foreign diplomats to make unwelcome comments on purely domestic issues. Certainly, Nepal, a poor and small country wracked by serious troubles, needs the goodwill and cooperation of international organisations and friendly countries. But diplomatic norms should also be respected in the process. Admittedly, on this score, Nepali political parties and government leaders are also to blame in no small way. They should learn where and how to say No.