Buffer gone

The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) has come to an end at a critical juncture in the peace process. Established in 2006, UNMIN was mandated with monitoring the arms and personnel of the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Nepal Army under a peace agreement that brought to an end a decade-long civil war. UNMIN was successful in holding the peace and helping the conduct of elections to the Constituent Assembly. However, Nepal’s peace process has still a long way to go. The country hasn’t even begun writing its constitution and an extended deadline looms. Parties are so bitterly polarised that 16 rounds of voting have failed to elect a new prime minister to replace Madhav Nepal, who stood down in June last year. Over 19,000 Maoist fighters remain confined to camps around the country and are yet to be integrated into the armed forces. UNMIN played the vital role of a buffer between the Maoist fighters and the Nepalese army. That buffer has now been removed.

A new team of monitors comprising members of Nepal’s security forces and the PLA will now take over UNMIN’s responsibilities. While it is Nepal that must ultimately take charge of its own security, there are serious doubts whether the new arrangement will work. After all, there is little trust among Nepal’s political parties and that between the Nepal Army and the PLA is non-existent. In the absence of a neutral buffer to hold the peace, will the country slide back to civil war?

South Block is reportedly jubilant on the termination of UNMIN’s role in Nepal. It has been uneasy with UNMIN’s accommodation of the Maoists as an important stakeholder in the peace process. This is because Delhi views the Maoists with suspicion. It is likely that Delhi sees UNMIN’s departure as an opportunity for an enhanced role for itself. Helping the various stakeholders break the current impasse is welcome. However, Indian officials are likely to be tempted to craft a government that excludes parties that are seen to be anti-India. The outcome of such crafting will be disastrous for Nepal and India as well in the long run. India must facilitate an inclusive peace process. Else, it will fuel Nepal’s return to civil war.

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