June 8, 2012
On June 7, 2012, the NY Daily News published an except from Karin Landgren’s introduction to “Nepal’s Peace Process at the United Nations”, Volume II. Ms. Landgren was the head of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) from 2009 to 2011:
On Friday, 14 January 2011, at 5:00 p.m., the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) lowered its flag, closing down an operation that had lasted four years. I no longer exercise any official role with respect to Nepal, having left to take up functions as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Burundi. My perspective now is from an entirely different peace process, on another continent.
The second half of UNMIN's mandate, the years 2009 and 2010, were fraught times for the peace process. In May 2009, republican Nepal's first democratically-elected Prime Minister resigned after only nine months in office. Mutual confidence fell to new lows, and in May 2010, the parties came close to permitting the expiry of the Constituent Assembly, the most visible achievement of the new dispensation. Constitution-drafting made slow progress.
Some political leaders appeared to challenge the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the Nepal Army actively sought to extricate itself from being monitored, the Maoists gave insufficient reassurance of their commitment to multiparty democracy, and India, Nepal's most influential neighbor and a strong supporter of the peace process from the outset, took a harder policy line. Fears grew for Nepal's young democracy through turbulent months of bandas and disruptions, brinkmanship and confrontation.
In 2011, Nepal saw two more changes of prime minister, and three further extensions of the Constituent Assembly. It also saw a gradual decline in inter-party violence, including the use of youth militias, pressure for more democratic decision-making within political parties, and slow, not always steady, movement towards resolving outstanding peace process issues. A full evaluation of Nepal's peace process must await, at a minimum, the new constitution, final resolution of the future of the Maoist army, and fresh elections. Meanwhile, several aspects of the UN's experience in Nepal suggest lessons for other political missions.
The challenge of a limited mandate
Peace processes take time, and with true stability and democracy usually the work of decades, the question is how much the UN can contribute in a limited timeframe, and in a given geopolitical setting. UNMIN remains the UN's shortest-ever stand-alone special political mission. Indeed, UNMIN was always intended to be short.
The Mission's mandate was sourced exclusively and very restrictively from within the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The CPA addressed many underlying drivers of Nepal's conflict, but rarely did so with much specificity. Subsequently, all the major political parties faced internal disagreement about the interpretation and implementation of the CPA.
For many, the Maoists' electoral success in May 2008 further spurred the distancing process. By 2010, some political actors voiced regret at having signed the peace agreement, saying that they had 'given away' too much; others claimed that the peace agreements had been 'superseded', an argument also put forward to UNMIN by Nepal Army officers. A senior government adviser chided the UN for taking the peace agreement too literally. UNMIN was increasingly presented in a highly polarizing light.
The role of monitoring mechanisms
For the duration of the UNMIN mandate, the fundamental objectives of the monitoring regime were met, during the 2008 elections and thereafter, with not a shot fired in anger between the Nepal Army and the Maoist army, and no weapons disappearing from the weapons containers.
The arms monitoring process was born of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which specified that 'both parties agree to the monitoring of the management of arms and armies by the United Nations Mission in Nepal'. This was amplified within three weeks by the bilateral Agreement on the Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies (AMMAA). Among Nepali peace agreements, the AMMAA was exceptional for its precision, and for the coherent implementation and monitoring process, which it set out.
Similar arrangements were lacking for other provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. While another high-level national monitoring mechanism had been envisaged, it was never formed. A "special committee to supervise, integrate and rehabilitate the combatants of the Maoist Army" foreseen by Article 146 of the Interim Constitution (2007) was effectively convened only in January 2009, and for months at a time its operation waxed and waned. Various ad hoc agreements concluded by the political parties during these years were also undermined by the absence of structures for monitoring implementation and resolving disputes. Such agreements regularly featured deadlines for delivery so short as to be almost surreal, an over-promising that gave fodder to parties wanting to accuse each other of failure or duplicity, adding to political tension.
In November 2009, I reminded the Security Council that the Mission was seeking an unambiguous exit strategy. Council members had also begun to insist that the parties themselves take responsibility for the arms monitoring arrangements. From March 2010, political leaders designated by their parties came together in a series of "review" meetings convened by UNMIN, dedicated to reviewing options for handing over the Mission's mandated role. However, the members of the review mechanism sought to have UNMIN remain until the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist army personnel was resolved.
Through the Mission's final days, it was not clear that the parties would reach agreement on taking over the shared monitoring of arms and armies. They did so as the UN flag was lowered outside UNMIN at dusk on 14 January 2011. The Mission appears to have stayed long enough for some agreements to stick, and despite rhetoric to the contrary, peace was becoming a habit. Some observers also considered that India's two-year membership of the Security Council beginning in January 2011 may have been an additional factor, given its significant influence in Nepal.
UNMIN's limited mandate was poorly understood, and the Mission leadership was often asked why the UN had not yet "delivered peace". Once the elections had taken place, the Mission's mandated focus on monitoring the management of arms and armies arguably tended to make this appear the crux of the peace process, when there were deeper political problems at issue. The Secretary-General frequently reminded the Council of the discrepancy between the mandate, and the needs of a peace process which encompassed not only elections and arms monitoring but commitments to deep societal transformation, the military and social integration of the Maoist army, and culminating in the adoption of a new constitution.
Every special political mission hopes to leave behind adequate confidence among the (formerly warring) parties, shared responsibility and national ownership for the long haul of peace consolidation. The agreement of 1 November 2011, addresses core issues of a government of national unity, a high-level political mechanism and the future of the Maoist army personnel. It also revives peace process commitments to the political, economic and social transformation of Nepal that were intended to resolve problems of class, caste, region and gender, and the issue of continued impunity for wartime crimes. Five years after the CPA, the parties continue to recognize, proclaim and commit themselves to the fundamentals of peace in Nepal.