As a passionate believer in the cosmopolitan ecumenism of the United Nations, it grieves me greatly to pen this essay sitting in an UNESCO café in Paris. The UN is a clumsy giant, but then I am also a great believer in the virtues of clumsy institutions: they survive and evolve. It is, instead, the neat but rigid ones that collapse and die due to their brittleness, much as the former Soviet Union did. In these globalized times of great change, the UN is also the only legitimate global institutional commons that humankind has to debate and democratically decide collective courses of corrective action.
The sadness comes from the UN’s latest failure in Nepal, a tragedy that need not have been. The UN system had been misused in the past by international hegemons to force their self-centered policies onto the rest of us, especially in the developing, decolonized or “Second World” countries. But super power unilateralism had been too discredited, we thought, to be seriously worried about in the twenty-first century. How wrong we were! It survives as a regrouped syndicate that self-styles itself “the international community” and its warped views of what the global order should be harkens back to the hegemonic 1950s, perhaps even earlier to the colonial missionary zeal of the 19th Century. In its latest incarnation, it has come piggy-backing on the hegemonic ambitions of regional powers; and the UN has found itself as another unwitting piggy-wiggy.
It must be admitted that the UN’s political peacekeeping mission in Nepal, the much-maligned UNMIN, essentially failed in its mission: while the ceasefire is holding, mainly because the Nepal Army has maintained the discipline of remaining quarantined in barracks, neither the peace process nor the political framework needed to keep it sustained in the future is seen anywhere on the horizon. Furthermore, there have been as effective ceasefires in the past but neither those nor the current one are due to UN efforts. The UNMIN was brought in to buttress a flawed appeasement of insurgents through a fairly fraudulent 12-point Delhi-midwifed political wheeling-dealing that none of the actors had any intention of honouring.
For all the protagonists, the ostensibly warm welcome was only a “strategy” for other aims: exchanging ‘bullets only’ for ‘bullets and ballots’ for the Maoists, becoming unaccountable new rajas for the parliamentary parties, and erasing Nepali history and identity to facilitate control over Nepal’s resources and polity for the “international community”. Only the Monarchists seemed to appreciate the value of UNMIN. The indefatigable Nepali blogger Maila Baje wrote in Jan 15 2007: “By seizing direct control, King Gyanendra knew he was risking his throne. The monarchy may have lost the gamble, but the country hasn’t. The United Nations’ arrival as part of the peace process has ended New Delhi’s monopoly in its tiny northern neighbor.” By departing without completing the peace process, the UN too has fallen victim to hegemonic ambitions of upstart powers.
UNMIN’s original mandate was to provide a fig leaf of arms sequestration during the Constituent Assembly elections. And we know what a sham that was after the Shaktikhor videotape exposé! Despite valiant rationalization efforts to the contrary by starry-eyed, primarily romantic EuroAmerican boutique Left in reports of the International Crisis Group as well as in the latest (Winter 2010) European Bulletin of Himalayan Research, it is too well-known even by ordinary villagers that real fighters and their effective arms such as those that downed Nepal army helicopters never came into the cantonments, and even those that did were seen moving about freely all over the country. Since more fig leaves were needed to cover a shameless process, UNMIN’s mandate was repeatedly extended; but all the haberdashery of New York could not cover a naked emperor.
As the 12-point Delhi architecture began unraveling, UNMIN found itself the target of all the protagonists venting their frustrations, arguing that they had been hoodwinked by the others. Today Nepal has gone back politically to 2002, with bickering political parties unable and unwilling to do what they promised and were mandated to do. Even that mandate ran out in May 2010 and an inherently intractable Loktantrick impasse stares the country in the eye even as it lurches from one political accident to another. The Mughlani wheeling-dealing envisaged taming their erstwhile Chakrata wards much as a wild elephant is tamed by two domesticated ones. Unfortunately, the wild one became the dominant one after the CA elections and ad hocism began to replace the collapsing political architecture. In the unraveling, the first pillar to go was the keystone “government by consensus” enshrined in the interim constitution. Competitive politics that followed ensured not only mal-governance but no consensus on the new constitution’s architecture as well. Currently, the two domesticated elephants, the Kangress and the UML as well as their siblings, are using their combined brute force to marginalized the Maoists, quite successfully so far, but in the process debasing the idea of civilized parliamentary politics and the very raison d’être of the CA.