Tag Archives: book review

Did UN official accused of bias by Israel protect Maoist violence in Nepal ? (Book Excerpt)

– by NepalForeignAffairs.com team

Former senior UN bureaucrat Kul Chandra Gautam’s book is already creating a lot of ripples.

Ian Martin was the head of Amnesty International before serving as UN special envoy to East Timor and Nepal. He acted as the inaugural head of UN Mission In Nepal (UNMIN) from 2006 to 2009. UNMIN was established to assist Nepal’s peace process following the peace agreement between Nepal government and Maoist rebels in 2006. Martin is a Cambridge educated Briton, whose controversial role in Nepal led the Nepal government to reduce UNMIN’s mandate, before finally ending the mission in 2011, on a rather bitter note.

Martin has been heavily criticized by Israel for a report prepared by his team in 2009. He led a UN committee of four to investigate incidents during the Gaza War. Israel was joined by the US in calling the report as biased. Israel’s criticism stated, “in both spirit and language, the report is tendentious, patently biased, and ignores the facts presented to the committee.”

Ian Martin was the head of United Nations Mission In Nepal (UNMIN) and led a committee to investigate incidents in the Israel-Gaza conflict. (Picture: ictj.org)

For the first time after the time of UNMIN, some of their activities and unreported incidents have been brought to light in a book by a former senior UN bureaucrat. Kul Chandra Gautam, who served as Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, has been involved with Nepali civil society and in the peace process. His book, “Lost in Transition: Rebuilding Nepal from the Maoist mayhem and mega earthquake” is out tomorrow. It has already created a lot of ripples in Nepal, including very approving reviews for its counter-narrative to the dominant view in Nepal that eulogizes violence and undemocratic means to grab power by destabilizing the state.

What follows is an exclusive excerpt from the book, detailing some role of UNMIN and its high officials in Nepal that very few people other than Gautam have been privy to.

Kul Chandra Gautam, a former senior UN official details some of the unknowns regarding UNMIN’s role in Nepal. His book is out tomorrow (Picture: ipsnews.net).

… People began to see that UNMIN was unable to restrain the massive pre-election threats and violence by the Maoists against candidates of other political parties. Following the elections, and the installation of the Maoist-led government, people saw many illegal and criminal activities taking place in Maoist cantonments or by Maoist combatants outside the cantonments. UNMIN’s seeming inability to control or even monitor such activities began to erode the public’s faith in UNMIN.

A video-taped speech by Maoist Chairman Prachanda at a party training event in the Shaktikhor cantonment just prior to the 2008 CA election revealed how the Maoists had hoodwinked the UN into accepting much larger number of combatants than was actually the case, and how the party intended to use its cadres, including its ex-combatants, to influence the election. UNMIN’s credibility nosedived, when instead of protesting the Maoists’ cynical remarks disparaging it, UNMIN sought to defend itself and the Maoists by saying that Prachanda’s remarks “needed to be understood in a certain context”.

Some dramatic cases of criminal activities in the Maoist cantonments; the free access and use of the cantonments by Maoist leaders for political training and indoctrination; and the seeming inability of UNMIN to do anything about such actions, led to serious disappointment with its performance, especially given the Nepali public’s very high expectation of UNMIN. Increasingly a growing number of leaders of the non-Maoist political parties, civil society and the media became critical of UNMIN’s performance, many attributing a certain pro-Maoist bias on the part of UNMIN.

Worried about their poor judgment, in early 2010, I wrote a long memo entitled “Quo Vadis UNMIN?” and shared it with Karin Landgren, Ian Martin and Tamrat Samuel. I cautioned them about giving undue benefit of doubt to the Maoists and unfair criticism and pressure on NC/UML to be more flexible and compromising. I have retained copies of my long private exchanges with them – mostly by emails – in my files.

In essence, the UNMIN leadership listened to my views politely, but generally chose to ignore them.

UNMIN became so influenced by the circle of self-proclaimed “progressives” that it ignored and dismissed the views and advice of many Nepalis who had a much deeper understanding of and respect for the United Nations, including those who had served in senior positions in the UN system …

In September 2010, UNMIN had prepared a report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (S/2010/453) on the status of Nepal’s peace process recommending further extension of UNMIN’s mandate. This report was so unbalanced and objectionable that four former Foreign Ministers of Nepal coming from different political parties – KP Sharma Oli, Chakra Bastola, Ram Sharan Mahat and Prakash Chandra Lohani – wrote a joint letter of protest to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

As former foreign ministers, and strong supporters of the United Nations, they registered their objection to the tone and content of the whole report and pointed out several specific paragraphs which were against the letter and spirit of Nepal’s Comprehensive Peace Accord and related agreements. They objected to the report’s treatment of Nepal’s national army on par with the former rebel force, whose members were in temporary cantonments awaiting integration and rehabilitation. They also objected to the report essentially treating the Government of Nepal on par with the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

Indeed, neither the UN nor most Western diplomats insisted with the Maoists that if they wanted their cooperation, they had to unequivocally renounce violence, accept political pluralism (not just “multiparty competition”), and abandon their declared objective of “state capture” through either ballots or bullets.

Martin’s implied assertion that Nepalis … could not think for themselves, reminded me of the former Singapore Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani’s book entitled “Can Asians Think?” Yes, I argued, Nepalis can think for themselves.

Karin Landgren replaced Martin as UNMIN head in Nepal. UNMIN has been controversial and accused of protecting Maoist violence in Nepal (Picture: frontpageafricaonline.com).

Reading Palpasa Café in English

By James Sharrock

Palpasa CafeThe English language translation of the best-selling Nepali novel Palpasa Café by Narayan Wagle is out now. Palpasa Café is the story of an artist, Drishya, who falls in love with a Nepali American returnee, Palpasa and also, via a college friend, sees the effects of Nepal’s conflict in the hills.

Wagle’s book stands out primarily as an alternative account of the war in Nepal and an embodiment of what the central character, Drishya, calls ‘the stand…of the people who resisted the war-mongers on both sides.’ In broad brushstrokes, like the artist Drishya, Wagle too uses the novel to protest ‘against both warring sides…., my colours showing my support for the third camp.’

Wagle best features are in the broader canvas he paints – firstly in the disappearances and general tension of post-royal massacre Kathmandu and then, of the conflict in the hills. Wagle’s descriptions of schools being blown up, emptying villages, indiscriminate bombs, Maoist attacks on district HQs and mourning Nepali families are extremely hard-hitting and powerful. Novels in this form have a resonance than goes beyond anything produced from Wagle’s journalistic day job. Palpasa Café, almost incidentally, also neatly observes the individual stories in many other aspects of Nepal e.g. diaspora Nepalis, Gurkhas, Nepali-foreigner relationships and internal migration for school and work.

There are faults and things perhaps lost in translation. The descriptions and dialogues between Drishya and Palpasa seem, at times, highly stilted. Their awkwardness is intentional but maybe loses something in English. At their first meeting in Goa the repetitive description of Palpasa’s eyes as ‘fresh, juicy’ like ‘slices of pineapple’ sounds downright corny. The vocabulary improves later though. For example Drishya writes a beautiful letter to Palpasa via her Grandmother:

Your hopes are pinned on the gods, the farmers’ on the mountains and mine on you. I made you dance and you were happy.
The day I saw you dance was the happiest day of my life. It was as though the snow on the mountains was melting in the sun and a magnificent rainbow had appeared on the horizon.

Later too the Maoist underground figure Siddhartha and Drishya argue engagingly around the age-old debates of art and politics and whether it is ‘possible to create without destroying’.

Siddhartha, the old college friend and confirmed Maoist, sums up the difference between him and Drishya saying ‘You give too much weight to the importance of the individual.’ Drishya believes ‘in the supremacy of the free individual’ and cannot accept violence and deaths in the name of a supposedly greater communal good. Wagle too runs with this thread and privileges the individual victims’ stories above all other narratives.

There are times when the story comes apart. The description around the killing of Siddhartha, who is alone at the end, appears more much vivid than the bombed bus episode later. We are also asked to believe that Drishya is spectacularly unlucky in terms of being affected by the war. The individual tragedies and conflict inside the main protagonists is not always well connected with the outer violent conflict in Nepal. In general the Maoist figures and security forces have no real role in this novel and are intentionally shadowy, almost non-human ideologues. However, Wagle himself, in his final cameo appearance within the pages, acknowledges with a wink that he might not have done his characters justice and that ‘all written works are incomplete. Something’s always missing. There’s always more to add.’

Wagle’s message throughout the novel seems summed up by a simple boatman who rows Drishya away from death:

The boatman strained against the current. ‘It’s so sad to see war in our country,’ he said. It’s terrible to see our own people die. Don’t you think so, bhai?’