Nepal’s conflict The question of UN role

In view of the recent visit to Nepal by Mr Brahimi, a high-level special advisor to Secretary General Kofi Annan, and the coming participation by King Gyanendra in the sixtieth UN General Assembly, it may not be out of place to reflect upon Nepal’s ongoing conflict and the role of UN, if any, in its resolution. It is a very complicated problem not only for Nepal itself but also for the international powers having a stake in its stability. It is not a clear-cut binary issue of ethnic, religious or cultural clash between two parties. It is a triangular conflict involving the King, the political parties and the Maoists who have taken to violence. The escalation of the Maoist violence has cross-border security implications for Nepal’s immediate neighbours — India and China. Having open border with Nepal, India’s security concern in this country is understandable. The border is crossed by thousands of people of both countries everyday without the requirement of visa or passport. It is a unique feature of Nepal-India relations. India played a decisive role in Nepal’s historic political changes in 1951 and 1990.

However, there is apparent confusion now in the Indian government whether to give Nepal the military assistance to fight its insurgency or not especially after the February 1 proclamation by King Gyanendra — a step interpreted domestically and internationally as an end to democracy in the country. The government leaders and diplomatic corps of Nepal have not been able to convince the international community that the King has no intention to really dismantle democracy sine die. He said in his February 1 proclamation that he will take just three years to bring the country back to track to parliamentary democracy.

Amidst this confusion and uncertainty, the security establishment of India is reported to be in favour of continued military assistance under the provisions of the 1965 treaty but the political leadership, particularly the Communist Party of India (a coalition partner in the government) and several other forces are reported to be advocating for a conditional aid depending on full restoration of democracy, press freedom and human rights in Nepal. The US and Britain have a serious interest in this Himalayan state because of its strategic location. They are said to be in consultation with India on the question of Nepal. American ambassador to India David C Mulford said, “US wants India to lead the international efforts to restore peace, democracy and human rights in Nepal.” That is also the position of Britain. However, the US also seems to be in confusion regarding the priority in Nepal. Is it democracy or security that comes first? US ambassador to Nepal James Moriarty put security first, saying on June 23, 2005 in Hawaii “a victory for Maoist insurgents in Nepal would be a humanitarian disaster of huge proportion.” He asked, “Should we give $2 million of security assistance this year or $500 million to refugee camps scattered throughout India in the not-too-distant future? That’s the choice we have to make.”

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, Donald Camp, who visited Nepal June 26-28 and met with the King and political leaders, put democracy first. He criticised the King’s February 1 step as a serious “setback to democracy.” In a written statement he said that “the US has delayed a shipment of M-16 rifles while we encourage restoration of civil liberties and multiparty democracy” in Nepal. He quoted President Bush saying, “The US stands for freedom and democracy around the world” and said, “This includes Nepal as well.” Then he quoted Condoleezza Rice saying, “Giving security priority over democracy gives us neither … Dem-ocracy is the only idea powerful enou-gh to overcome division, hatred, and violence,” and said, “We certainly believe that is true in Nepal.”

Although there may not be an outright contradiction between what Rice and Moriarty said, there does seem to be a difference of emphasis or priority. In a recent statement US Senator Patrick Leahy referred to Brahimi’s visit to Nepal and said, “he concluded that a solution to the crisis rests on three elements: “a return to constitutional order and multiparty democracy, an end to hostilities, and inclusive national dialogue towards a negotiated solution to the underlying causes of conflict.” The UN has a long history in Nepal, and it could play a key facilitating role on each of these elements. I would hope that the State Department would publicly support this. But the question for the UN is: Do Nepal’s immediate neighbours really allow UN role here? Or, will the government of Nepal itself accept it? Why has the UN not played a mediation role in Sri Lanka? Can UN really do a meaningful mediation in Nepal’s conflict despite a ‘reservation’ if not ‘outright disapproval’ of India and China? In view of the deepening crisis, can the Security Council invoke Chapter Seven of the Charter to be engaged in Nepal? There are a host of other questions to be considered.

Acharya is Nepal’s former PR to UN