Peace-Building and Reconstruction of Nepal:Role of the United Nations and International Community

Role of the United Nations and International Community

Statement by Kul C. Gautam
Political Forum: Transforming Nepal
ANA Convention, 2 July 2006

I just returned from a short visit to Nepal last week, where I could feel a sense of euphoria and excitement emanating from the jana andolan of April 2006.

While the peace process is still fragile, already some extraordinary changes have taken place in Nepal’s body politic that are irreversible.

It was so heartening and inspiring to see how the people of Nepal surprised the whole world by taking their destiny in their own hands.

Let nobody ever again say that the people of Nepal are too poor, too ignorant, and too docile to take charge of their own destiny.

The awesome burst of people power in the peaceful jana-andolan of 2006 is a warning to all – that the people of Nepal cannot be fooled by empty promises, and will not tolerate corrupt and oppressive behaviour from any quarters – whether it is the monarch, the Maoists or other political parties.

The events of the last two months – the historic proclamations of the parliament, the daring decisions of the SPA government, the courageous commitment of CPN-Maoists to join the political mainstream, and the vigilance of civil society to safeguard the gains of the popular movement – continue to amaze and inspire us all.

While we celebrate these exhilarating political developments, we should all be mindful that none of these have yet changed the material reality and deprivation of the Nepali people.

All our political parties, including the Maoists, and civil society are full of ideas on politics but they rarely present well-thought out and coherent proposals on economic and development issues.

Thus, neither the 12 point understanding, nor the 25 point code of conduct, nor the 8 point agreement, offer any specifics on improving the people’s livelihoods.

The focus on security, political and constitutional issues so far is completely understandable, but it will soon need to be matched by an even greater focus on issues of reconstruction and development.

Pretty soon the exhilaration of political revolution will wear off and people will be looking for the fruits of peace and democracy in terms of improved livelihoods and basic services.

And if those fruits of peace and democracy do not materialize soon enough, people will be disenchanted and disillusioned.

In the coming years, managing the revolution of people’s rising expectations might become an even bigger challenge for Nepal than perhaps managing the arms or the constitutional and political processes.

In fact, these are all inter-related.

Worldwide experience of countries in post-conflict transition suggests that consolidation of peace, political empowerment and reconstruction and development need to be planned and executed simultaneously or in close sequence.

As in other post-conflict societies, two types of insecurity are likely to be the greatest challenge for peace and development in Nepal.

First, the insecurity caused by remnants of armed groups, proliferation of small arms, and poorly managed disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process.

Many countries revert back to conflict and a wave of criminality just a few years after successful peace settlement, when the DDR process is poorly handled.

And 2nd, insecurity caused by human deprivation and lack of basic services, which needs to be tackled through carefully planned relief, reconstruction and development programmes to meet people’s basic needs.

The international community can play a helpful role in both of these areas by bringing to bear lessons from experience of other countries, by providing technical support, mobilizing financial resources and in the case of the United Nations, assisting Nepal to better manage and coordinate international support.

However, a word of caution and humility is warranted here.

Unlike most conflicts in other parts of the world, Nepal’s conflict is completely home-grown, and its resolution is also likely to be home-grown.

Efforts by the international community to help resolve the conflict in recent years were largely ineffective and unsuccessful.

Indeed at the height of the people’s movement the international community, including the Kathmandu-based diplomatic missions, seriously misjudged the popular mood and people’s aspirations.

Following the people’s movement, Nepalis have surprised the whole world by taking many dramatic and decisive steps to reconcile their differences to resolve the conflict, well beyond what conflict resolution experts could have imagined or recommended.

Learning from this, it would be prudent for the international community to show much humility and offer to help a Nepali-designed reconstruction and development programme, and not to import or imitate programme packages that have been applied elsewhere.

Unlike other countries where peace is brokered by outsiders – and DDR and RRR come as part of a donor-supported package deal – Nepal’s conflict was made in Nepal, and its post-conflict reconstruction and development programme too should best be developed by Nepalis.

Fortunately, there are enough Nepalis with the necessary talent, skills and competence to formulate and execute such plans. If necessary, Nepalis can also reach out to and access the expertise of a growing number of highly skilled expatriate, non-resident Nepalis who would be only too willing to offer their helping hand at this hour of special need and opportunity in their homeland.

Also unlike most other donor-driven and expert-led reconstruction and development plans, Nepal needs to reflect the democratic and participatory aspirations of its people by involving them in designing reconstruction and development plans.

Democracy means consulting ordinary people, letting them voice their views and vision, empowering them to articulate their priorities and shape their future.

Experts – national as well as international – can propose ideas, offer options, stimulate debate, but we should create democratic forums for people’s input, especially for local and community development activities.

Because to the ordinary people, the issues of livelihoods and basic services are of paramount importance, political parties, including the CPN-Maoist, should assign their most talented leaders to the task of formulating ambitious post-conflict reconstruction and development plans.

It is not too early to begin to develop such plans, with options, so that these can be presented to the people soon after the country comes to a consensus on the political and constitutional issues.

If we wait till the political processes are over to begin developing reconstruction and development plans, much precious time will be lost, people’s patience will run thin, popular disenchantment will set in, thus creating an inauspicious start for our new loktantrik democracy.

So preparatory home-work needs to be started forthwith, but it would be best not to rush to implement new and untested programmes that have not been a subject of some national and even local debate.

On the other hand, we should already begin scaling up certain development and relief activities that are non-controversial, that are proven to work, and that can be conducive to meeting people’s most urgent needs and consolidating peace.

These would include, for example, certain basic health services, education, and child-specific demobilization, disarmament and reintegration activities.

Without being overly prescriptive, it is possible to already outline what might be some of the key components of a post-conflict reconstruction and development plan for Nepal.

I see key components of such a plan:

1. massive expansion of basic social services
2. disarmament, demobilization and reintegration
3. local development activities through bloc grants
4. targeted programmes for disparity reduction
5. upgrading of physical infrastructure, and
6. creating a conducive environment for investment by the private sector, NRNs, and FDI.

Let me discuss each of these briefly.

On the expansion of basic services, in spite of the conflict, certain primary health programmes, including childhood immunization, nutrition and water and sanitation activities have continued to be implemented throughout the country, and enjoy the support of all parties, including the Maoists.

These programmes should be expanded, paying particular attention to ensure that disadvantaged communities are not neglected, but given special priority.

But education programmes have suffered immensely in the past decade.

According to the latest analysis of the Millennium Development Goals by the UN Country team, Nepal is unlikely to reach the goal of universal access to primary education even by 2015. That is a real shame.

Education is the most enabling and empowering of all goals, and we must do everything possible to ensure that we do not fail to achieve this goal.

Unfortunately, education programmes and educational institutions have been unduly politicized in Nepal.

Governments in the past allowed education programmes to be used to glorify the King and the royal regime. And the Maoist school curriculum in their base areas glorifies violence and emphasizes political indoctrination and military training from the youngest ages.

Frequent disruption of schools by student unions of all parties, but especially the Maoists, has deprived children of their right to education.

We need to create a national consensus on depoliticizing education, especially at the primary level.

As UNICEF and many NGOs have argued, the sanctity of schools as zones of peace should be honoured. We should make schools child-friendly, non-discriminatory and violence free. And expand such schools in massive scale.

Turning now to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, DDR programmes are part of all post-conflict peace-building and reconstruction plans.

To move away from a culture of violence to a culture peace, Nepal will need a strong DDR programme.

Some elements of DDR, such as security sector reform, decommissioning of adult troops, and power sharing agreements among the conflicting parties may have to wait till the conclusion of the peace process.

But a full-scale child DDR must be pursued as a matter of urgency even in the middle of a war.

Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and statute of international criminal court, use of children in armed conflict does not only mean child soldiers carrying guns, but abduction of children from schools, homes, markets and streets; using children as cooks, messengers, porters, informers and performers in cultural activities aimed at harnessing support for armed conflict.

Under such definition, Nepal is rife with the abuse of children in armed conflict. Working closely with organizations with expertise in child DDR, programmes should be initiated to prevent such abuse and to rehabilitate child victims of conflict.
So many children die or are injured because of landmines, socket bombs and other explosive devices. Mine awareness education and a vigorous programme to stop the proliferation of small arms and light weapons must be made part of the DDR programme. Failure to do so will lead to increased criminality and gang violence as we are already witnessing in Nepal.

A key issue of DDR in Nepal would be what to do with the Maoist combatants and the need to reform and possibly downsize the Nepal Army for peacetime needs of the country.

Given Nepal’s geopolitical situation, resolution of any conflict with our mighty neighbours is only conceivable through peaceful diplomacy.

The main role of the military in today’s Nepal is therefore to help keep internal law and order, to deal with internal rebellions, to help with international peace keeping operations and to assist in natural disasters.

In light of this, there maybe some room for reducing military expenditure and downsizing the Nepalese army, basically for two key functions – one to offer support for international peacekeeping and the other to deal with rescue efforts in natural disasters.

Internal law and order should normally be handled by a well trained and equipped police force, like in Costa Rica, a peaceful country without a military.

But we must recognize that military service, both in Nepal and in the Gurkha troops abroad, is an important source of employment and income for many impoverished families in Nepal. Great care should be taken to ensure that any downsizing of the army does not lead to increased unemployment, impoverishment and discontent which can be very destabilizing.

A major part of post conflict DDR in Nepal should therefore be to create new employment opportunities through skill training, loans and financing for starting small enterprises and businesses by former soldiers, including the Maoist ex-combatants, as part of long term demilitarization of Nepali society.

A well-organized placement in foreign employment which is very popular among unemployed Nepali youth, could be part of the DDR package.
This might be a unique programme that some international donors might be willing to support.

In the short term, when peace returns, consideration should be given to transforming parts of both the Nepal Army and Maoist PLA into civilian development corps to help with Nepal’s post conflict reconstruction and development.

Managing the Maoist PLA poses a particular challenge. The Maoist proposal to merge the PLA and NA would seem to be problematic on two counts.

First, it would seem objectionable to have an ideologically indoctrinated contingent loyal to one political party becoming part of a national army.

Second, at a time when we are trying to downsize the army, expanding it by adding additional contingents seems illogical.

Nevertheless, since we have the reality of the existence of the Maoist PLA and there is a need to accommodate them as part of the peace process, creative solutions should be found, especially if the Maoists renounce armed conflict as a legitimate method for bringing political change in a democracy.

For example, a part of the solution that might be a win-win proposition relates to the large number of women in the Maoist-PLA and militia.

Special provision could be made to enlist some of the women in the PLA into the Nepal Army, provide them high quality professional training, and give them special assignments, for example, as part of the Nepalese contingents in UN peace keeping operations where there is a big demand for women troops and officers.

Such an arrangement could also help bring about greater gender diversity in the Nepalese Army which is heavily male dominated.

As Nepal is going to need several thousand additional primary school teachers in the coming years, and women teachers are in short supply, some of the Maoist women in the PLA or the militia could be recruited as teachers, provided special training and sent off to areas where there is teacher shortage.

The above would only be feasible as part of a peace settlement accompanied by a solemn commitment by all parties not to use violence as an instrument for political change.

The third component of a post-conflict reconstruction plan I suggest is local development activities through bloc grants.

Poverty eradication and empowerment of people and communities are the declared aims of the government as well as the key demands of the Maoists.
A focus on these objectives can provide the essential common ground for peace and reconciliation.

The locus of our poverty eradication activities should be at the community level in Nepal’s far-flung villages. But all too often most development programmes are concentrated in the capital city and a few other major towns, either by design or by default.

Among the on-going development activities whose investment funds go directly to local communities are those from the Poverty Alleviation Fund and the provision of direct grants to village development committees (VDCs) that was started in the mid-1990s as the “Let Us Build Our Own Village” programme.

Because of the on-going conflict and dissolution of VDCs and DDCs, the “Build Our Own Village” programme has been disrupted. But its principles remain sound.

Thanks to these bloc grants, VDCs implemented a variety of local development activities ranging from construction of schools, health posts, local roads and trails, drinking water supply schemes, to occasionally payment of teachers’ salaries.

The total budget allocation for this programme for all of Nepal’s 4000 VDCs was a very modest NRs. 2 billion. It is doubtful that any other development expenditure reached so many villages and benefited so many people in Nepal.

Even if there was some leakage and inefficient use of some of these funds, a much higher percentage of these funds reached and benefited ordinary people than almost any other comparable investment.

When elected local governments are reestablished, Nepal should consider progressively increasing the VDC grant to double, triple or even quadruple the amount originally allocated per VDC. Let this be seen as one of our key peace dividends for the people.

In proposing the quadrupling of such allocation, I would suggest some significant modification in the purposes and manner of utilizing these funds, including the introduction of a system of incentives for villages to upgrade their infrastructure and basic social services with measurable indicators.

For example, we could institute a system of classification of all VDCs of Nepal into 3 or 4 categories based on some measurable indicators such as the percentage of girls enrolled in primary school or female literacy, access to clean drinking water, contraceptive prevalence, infant mortality rate, etc.

Some of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), duly adapted to Nepal’s realities, would be ideal candidates for village development indicators for such a programme.

The programme could be developed in ways that would promote a healthy competition among neighbouring villages, ilakas and districts to upgrade themselves from one category to the next using the agreed indicators of MDGs.

A system of rewards and recognition could be built into the monitoring and evaluation scheme to encourage VDCs to accelerate their graduation from one level to the higher category.

Funding allocations under this scheme would be fairly standardized and comparable across all VDCs. However, additional programmes could be developed to give particular priority to those regions and communities that are disproportionately disadvantaged, such as the mid- and far western development regions which are characterized by high levels of poverty, low human development, and deep gender disparities.

Using direct development grants to all VDCs to encourage them to promote goal-oriented, indicator-based development planning and implementation could be a very special way for Nepal to pursue the Millennium Development Goals.

This would also be a meaningful way in which relevant UN agencies and other donors could support Nepal’s efforts to promote community-based, results-oriented development outcomes.

If properly designed and executed, such programme could attract considerable international support, as the donor community is fully supportive of the MDGs.

I would suggest that such a programme of poverty alleviation, reaching out directly to local communities and empowering them, be made the cutting edge of a major post-conflict national reconstruction programme that becomes part of a new era of peace, reconciliation and dynamic development in the country.

The 4th component of a post-conflict reconstruction plan involves targeted programmes for disparity reduction.

It is widely felt that most development programmes have failed to adequately reach and uplift the most deprived communities of Nepal – the dalits, janajatis, madhesis, etc. And girls and women have not benefited from development efforts in equal measure with boys and men.

Affirmative action is needed to reach and uplift these population groups. A series of programmes need to be developed that are specifically targeted to reduce disparities and promote inclusion, but avoid segregation, ethnocentrism, and dependency.

Turning now to upgrading of physical infrastructure, if Nepal is to become a prosperous nation and develop to its full potential, heavy investment will need to be made in its basic physical infrastructure development.

Four areas of priority would be – development of hydropower and local electrification; a transport grid that penetrates into all parts of Nepal; information and communication network that connects all people and communities; and development of tourism as a major income earner.

While the state has the responsibility to invest in major infrastructure projects, the private sector and foreign direct investment can contribute much if the state helps create a conducive environment.

Among potential investors we need to look to the growing number of non-resident Nepalis abroad whose remittances have become a key pillar of our national economy and whose potential for increased investment is bound to grow.

It would be in Nepal’s interest to provide most-favoured facilities to attract investment by expatriate Nepalis, as is the case in many other countries.

Nepal can count on generous support from the international community for its post-conflict reconstruction and development.

But donors as well as private investors will look to Nepal to create an environment of good governance and investor-friendly policies.

In this context, actions, not just words, of the CPN-Maoist will be carefully watched and monitored. A state where para-military groups can demand “donations” and impose parallel taxes from individuals, businesses and companies, is not going to generate investor confidence.

A state where locally improvised “people’s courts” mete out summary justice does not meet the standards of rule of law and respect for human rights.

The old ideological rhetoric denouncing imperialists, expansionists, reactionaries, bourgeois capitalists, feudal class enemies and the like maybe good for arousing revolutionary passion among one’s supporters, but it does not create an atmosphere of trust, tolerance and respect that are essential elements of a pluralistic democracy and investor-friendly economy.

To the credit of CPN-Maoist, they seem to have undergone a deep soul-searching, recognized the mistakes and follies of previous Marxist-Leninist-Maoist communist governments and movements, and come to the conclusion that they need to adapt to the norms of competitive, multi-party democracy in the 21st century.

A logical next step of this realization would be for the CPN-Maoist to completely renounce bullets in favour of ballots as the only legitimate method for effecting political change. That would greatly speed up the peace process in Nepal which looks very promising but still fragile at present.

Nepal’s other political parties too proclaim that they have learned from their mistakes of the past, and will adhere to norms of good governance in the future.

As action speaks louder than words, Nepalis as well as friends of Nepal will be looking for signs of genuine transformation in the behaviour of our political parties, including the Maoists.

In the land of Lord Buddha, the Prince of Peace, we have had enough fighting, hatred, violence and destruction. The time has come now for all Nepalis to unite behind the common cause of peace and prosperity for our people.

We all say, we love our country. We are proud to invoke janani janmabhumischa swargadapi gariyesi.

If that is really the case, let the true test of our patriotism be not to try to prove that my ideas or my ideology is superior to yours, but to try to find common ground among the rich diversity of our ideas that can unite us all in the pursuit of a Nepal that we all want to see as sundara, shanta, bishal.

Thank you.

(Mr. Gautam is Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author in his personal capacity, and not necessarily those of the United Nations or UNICEF.)