Excerpts of a recent interview with Kul Chandra Gautam, assistant secretary-general of the UN and deputy Executive Director of the UNICEF.
Q. How have you assessed the current political development of Nepal?
Kulchandra Gautam: Let me be clear, how should I answer the question — as a UN employee or a Nepali citizen?
Q: You can speak as a UN employee.
Gautam: Wherever there is an armed struggle or conflict in the world, the United Nations has made attempts to restore peace. In Nepal too, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and other UN officials, besides the international community, tried to resolve the conflict. In reality, neither the UN’s attempts nor the international support helped resolve Nepal’s conflict. Eventually, it was the Nepali people who launched the movement and brought about a major political change. So Nepalis did what other people could not — they themselves came on the streets and fought for their rights. I am very happy that the 12-point pact, 25-point code of conduct and eight-point pact have worked to create an environment for peace.
Q: What has been the UN role in resolving conflicts?
Gautam: See, there are 191 UN members. So it is the duty and responsibility of the UN to respond to the support and demand of any of the UN member countries. Similarly, the UN will respond to support Nepal, whatever the demand or support Nepal seeks with the UN. Until now, fortunately the Nepalis themselves have managed the conflict and reduced tension. There is, albeit temporary, ceasefire. Now the main question is how to make it permanent — how to put an end to the conflict. Before that would happen, how are we going to manage the weapons? And then, how to hold the elections to the constituent assembly?
Given the role played by the UN in other countries, there is no question that the UN won’t help restore peace in Nepal if the Nepali people seek its help. UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has expressed his grave concern over Nepal’s conflict from the beginning. When Annan proposed “if Nepal wants any help, my good office is available,” the royal regime said, “we thank for the UN concern but it’s not necessary. We shall come and seek your support if the country needs it. Currently, we don’t need your help and support to resolve our internal matter.” So, the UN did not play any visible role in Nepal.
But the current government and the Maoist rebels have stated that it is necessary to invite the UN for resolving the conflict. The UN has already expressed its readiness to support Nepal for resolving the conflict. But Nepal has not sent any formal letter to the UN seeking concrete support. The UN is waiting for a formal letter.
When the UN receives the letter, it is going to help that will benefit Nepal.
Q: How long should the government take to send a formal letter to the UN? Have you talked with the Nepali officials on this score?
Gautam: As soon as possible. The earlier the better. If Nepal delays to send a formal letter, there will be delay in receiving the UN response. What we all Nepalis wish is to put an end to the conflict and hold elections to the constituent assembly as early as possible. Let there be a new government and a lasting peace. For that the people think that the UN support is imperative. We want the UN to respond to Nepal’s request as early as possible. But it is not that easy to respond to Nepal’s request because the UN is not there to address Nepal’s problems alone. There are several countries facing similar problems.
Let us see in East Timor. We have sent Nepal’s OHCHR chief Ian Martin to East Timor because in Nepal there is at least a ceasefire and the parties in conflict have joined their hands to resolve the conflict. But East Timor is burning. It is better for Nepal to send a formal letter immediately so that the UN can provide support as early as possible.
Q: How long will the UN take to respond to a country’s formal request?
Gautam: It depends on the nature of demand and support. For instance, it is easy to send a mission of 12 people just for consultation. It will take time to send five hundred people. This is natural. No one is waiting for Nepal’s invitation. We have to call people working in other countries. The UN does not have standing staff waiting for Nepal’s formal letter. So the UN has to either redirect its old staff or recruit new ones to send to Nepal. So it is not an easy task.
Q: As a Nepali working in the UN system, what should be the UN strength, you think, required for Nepal just to disarm and monitor the weapons?
Gautam: This is beyond my spectrum. But I think a mission of 12 people won’t be able to handle the task needed here. Our country’s topography is different as it has mountains and plains, which are not easily accessible. The UN strength should be in hundreds of people. So it will take time to send UN staff to Nepal.
Q: Some Nepalis have said that the UN is, thus far, not involved in disarming or decommissioning arms of more than thirty thousand rebels. What do you say?
Gautam: The use of words is very important. I have not heard the word — decommissioning arms. What I have heard is manned arms management. This is unclear. What does it mean? Does it mean decommissioning weapons, keeping the weapons in cantonment, demobilization or disarming? The government must be clear about this before it sends a formal letter to the UN. It is difficult to answer your question because I am not sure what it is that the government of Nepal wants.
What I have heard is that the Maoists want their People’s Liberation Army under the UN supervision. Nowhere it is said that the Maoist rebels will be disarmed immediately. It is not clear when and how they will be disarmed. What I understand is that the armed rebels will be under the UN supervision until the election to the constituent assembly, after the election the question of how and when to disarm the armed rebels and how to integrate them into the army will arise.
So the UN cannot make things clear as long as Nepal stands unclear. We have to be clear on this count before we seek UN support. The UN can respond to Nepal’s needs on the basis of what it exactly wants. Here, we have to be very careful while choosing words. Let us hope Nepal does not face an Angola-like situation though Nepal is a unique country and the Maoist rebels have also accepted competitive politics.
By Puran P Bista and Bishnu Budhathoki