At first glance,Nepal looks like that rare diplomatic prize: a successful peace process. A ten-year civil war is over. An election last April shocked the outside world by producing a victory for the former insurgents,the Maoists. But they rule in coalition,have done nothing drastic and seem settled in mainstream politics. The temptation for the outside world is to declare victory and shift attention to other,bloodier,conflicts.
That would be a mistake even if it were an option. The peace “process” has ground to a halt. On January 23rd the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) expires. It will,again,at the request of the Nepali government,be extended for six months,in the forlorn hope that the deadlock can be broken.
In a report to the Security Council this month,Ban Ki-moon,the UN’s secretary-general,lamented the lack of progress: on drafting a new constitution for the country,which last year became a republic; on returning property seized by the Maoists during the war; and on curbing the thugs of the Maoists’ Young Communist League. Above all,however,he rightly stressed the failure to implement commitments to merge the Maoist People’s Liberation Army with the formerly royal Nepal Army.
The UN’s main job in Nepal is to monitor former Maoist soldiers and their weapons. They are at present held in seven cantonment sites around the country,pending the “integration” of some of them into the army proper. But that is not happening,because few of the parties involved want it to. The army itself is loth to see Maoist guerrillas enroll other than as the most junior recruits.
India,Nepal’s giant and often overbearing neighbour,is quietly backing the army in its intransigence. It seems alarmed by recent signs that the Maoists are cosying up to China. It regards the army as a bulwark against any radical lurch in Nepali policy. But India,always reluctant to see international involvement in Nepal,also wants the UN out. Its diplomats accuse UNMIN of “mission creep” to prolong its mandate. Even if that were true,however,it is hard to see how the UN can quit before the armies are integrated. And it is hard to see how the peace process can be counted a success so long as there are two armies,one of which appears to obey the civilian government only when it suits it.
© The Economist Newspaper Limited 2008