Last summer I had the opportunity to visit Kosovo for about two weeks. Like Nepal, Kosovo too has an enormous UN presence, but fortunately for Nepal, the UN's presence is substantially smaller than that in Kosovo. One of the disturbing images I noticed was the graffiti sprayed on UN SUV's by frustrated Albanians labeling the UN as "killers". Of course, the label – "killers" is not justifiable at any cost, especially considering the number of humanitarian missions the UN has in operation in Kosovo. But one thing is for sure, the prolonged presence of UNMIN and its inability to meet its most basic objective in Nepal will inevitably draw more criticism and anger towards UNMIN just like in the case of UNMIK in Kosovo.
Almost two weeks ago, daily news papers carried a story where the British Ambassador had spoken in public about how polls were not possible taking into account the poor law and order situation in the country. Similarly, the following week UN Security Council met in New York and approved UNMIN's tenure extension. Although Britain did propose an extended mandate, China was quick to veto Britain's proposal quite rightly. However, there is a hidden meaning to Britain's proposal to extend the mandate of UNMIN.
In lieu with the British envoy's assessment that polls would not be possible given the present law and order situation; other international powers have also reached similar conclusions and have thus pushed Britain to propose the extension of UNMIN's mandate in Nepal for two reasons. It now becomes obvious that the security situation might be taking a turn for the worse especially considering the casual attitude demonstrated by the government in handling the Terai demands. Similarly, the possibility of election happening depends primarily on the ability of the government to solve the deepening political crisis that seems to be only escalating in the Terai day by day.
Taking into consideration the growing lawlessness in the country and the escalating political crisis in the Terai, many in the international arena are beginning to believe that the elections will be deferred for the third time. However, what really worry the international community about the deferral of the polls are the consequences. Given the track record of the present government – unimaginable corruption and divisive in nature; a section of the international community feels that the UN with its technical expertise is the only international institution that can realistically help Nepal through this fragile transitional process as they know the SPA, if left alone to govern, will make more mess.
For about two years the international community has been toeing India's policy vis-à-vis Nepal. Unfortunately, things haven't worked out as planned for India. The Maoists seem to be far from India's influence and the Terai groups would want India to be sympathetic to their cause. This situation has obviously put India in an awkward position considering the fact that its policy is far too stretched and scattered. This policy of appeasement of all political groups has proved to be counter-productive. But the net result is that; the Nepali peace process is in danger by the very forces perceived to be in the close influence of the Indian government – Maoists and the Terai parties.
As a result of the failure of the Indian policy to successfully democratize and mainstream the Maoists and other warring ethnic groups; the international community now feels the urge to independently pursue their own policy towards Nepal. As the Terai boils, other ethnic groups have also started to raise their demands. The possibility of an ethnic war or a civil war becomes more and more a reality day by day given the lackluster policy of the SPA government. Therefore, the international community wants an extended mandate for UNMIN so that the international community can play a greater role in solving the Nepali problem by leveraging its influence with political parties and other ethnic groups.
However, is an extended UNMIN mandate desirable to Nepal's national interest? The answer of course is, no. Most western countries have their own vested interest in solving Nepal's problems. If the UNMIN is allowed a greater mandate, what we will have in Nepal is a constitution that will probably reflect the desires of other western countries rather than having what we Nepalis want in our constitution.
The other problem is related to the often controversial issue of nationalism and sovereignty. If it was bad enough having the Indian's club together an unholy alliance (SPA-M), think about UNMIN with various international players trying to impose their policy for Nepal all at once. It is a recipe for disaster. More importantly, UNMIN has been very poor in its performance over the last two years; it hasn't even been able to assist the Nepal government in its most basic objective – completion of arms management before elections.
Secondly, the intent of the UN also becomes increasingly questionable. UNMIN and OHCHR have both kept mum over the systematic abuse of political opponents and human rights abuse perpetrated by the state and primarily the Maoists over the last two years.
This whole concept of India card and the China card is just a myth. It is in the interest of both India and China to have a stable democratic Nepal because; Nepal provides both India and China a geographical avenue for economic opportunities to flourish between the two countries. Therefore, it is in the interest for both India and China to work closely on Nepal affairs to thwart any designs to allow western countries to enter the Nepali political platform more visibly and that fundamentally means keeping the UNMIN as far as possible from the politics of Nepal.
Lastly, what is most important is defining and allowing Nepal's national interest to prevail for both India and China. For that matter, it is not in the interest of Nepal to have an extended mandate or mission for UNMIN after its extension expires in June. The need of the hour is for the Nepali political actors to identify the ideology that is the real threat to Nepal's national security and democracy.