Ian Martin’s press conference of July 16, 2007 can be described by a single term – appalling. Martin's play on words, his "diplomatic" responses to straightforward questions and his purely consultant-like rejoinders were unbecoming an individual of his position, stature and responsibilities.
Judging by the nature of Martin's interaction with the press, one thing is clearer than ever before: The terms and conditions under which UNMIN was "contracted" to assist in Nepal's peace process are grossly inadequate. Furthermore, such inadequacies have not yet factored into the public's perception of UNMIN’s capabilities and as a consequence, have resulted in severely inflated expectations.
These mismatched expectations are a consequence of the fallacious argument that the Maoists were yearning to integrate into a generally accepted version of the democratic mainstream. They are and also a consequence of the UN's insatiable appetite for demonstrating its (virtually non-existent) peace making / peace keeping capabilities, at every possible juncture, despite the organization’s abysmal record of failure.
In laymen's terms, the factors outlined above amounted to an overzealous United Nations that blatantly failed to negotiate a mandate based on pre-defined success criteria and instead, rushed into a position that it was ill-prepared deliver on. By hastily entering an agreement (that resulted in the creation of UNMIN), the United Nations catered to the purported "urgency" of securing a position for itself that realistically, no other organization on the planet had the credentials to fulfil.
At the time of the signing of Nepal's Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the United Nations was uniquely positioned to dictate terms amenable to all concerned parties. Specifically, the UN could have negotiated its mandate in a manner that would have positioned it for success as opposed to a never ending string of carefully moderated excuses. Ian Martin regularly performs the shameless task of doling out half-baked truths and self-aggrandizing claims, much to the growing disappointment of educated Nepalis and the international community.
Now is as opportune a time as ever, to consider replacing Ian Martin as UNMIN’s head of mission in Nepal. Martin’s independence is impaired, his partiality is blatant and his general ineffectiveness can no longer be permitted to jeopardize Nepal’s peace process. Ian Martin and his immediate circle of Nepali advisors should be dismissed urgently if Nepal’s peace process and constituent assembly elections are to regain momentum.
Outlined below are sample responses from the Q&A session that followed Martin’s press official statement of 16th July, 2007. (A URL to the original document will be provided when the official transcript is posted on UNMIN’s website).
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- “I am not going to give the figures.”
This was Ian Martin’s mantra throughout the entire press conference. Despite the Nepali people’s right to information and the procedural transparency that the United Nations preaches to its member states, the UN’s own Ian Martin continually refuses to disclose vital information to our public. He refused to disclose the exact type and kinds of weapons that were documented during the first phase of arms registration and now he refuses to disclose the number of combatants that were found to be ineligible during the second round of arms verification.
Martin went on to make the following statement: “I agreed that we would present the findings and discuss them with the Maoist leadership before we made a public statement on the findings.”
The question we have for Ian Martin is on whose authority and with whose permission did Martin deem it necessary to seek de-facto approval from the Maoist leadership before disclosing UNMIN’s findings to the world?
Martin continually defers to UNMIN’s mandate to justify his team’s incompetence. Our question is according to which agreement or what mandate is Ian Martin obliged to consult the Maoist leadership before making available what should be UNMIN’s independent findings? This is complete madness and this sort of tomfoolery must end with immediate and full disclosure of all information that UNMIN is hiding. By keeping such secrets, UNMIN is compromising its independence and utility to Nepal’s overall peace process and is jeopardizing the probability of continued peace in Nepal.
- In response to a question from a member of the Press Trust of India, Ian Martin clarified what is encapsulated in the “Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Agreement on Monitoring the Management of Arms and Armies”: “It provides for what has generally been referred to as “weapons separation” in Nepal: the storage of weapons, the storage of weapons under a single key arrangement under which the Maoist commanders retain the ultimate access to those weapons.”
What precisely is the utility of separating weapons from combatants and then leaving the key with Maoist commanders? Did Ian Martin perform in his capacity as a trusted peace advisor to the Nepali Government and the Maoists by advising them that “weapons separation” alone only serves to prolong the threat of violence?
Exposing the UN to a position where the Maoists enter government and then use the legitimacy of the UN to further their political goals (while retaining the threat of force) probably isn’t the smartest idea Ian has had. Then again, Sri Lanka’s humanitarian situation is just as bad today as it was when Martin was posted there and East Timor is even worse off than it was when Ian Martin served to make peace in that country.
UNMIN’s posture of hiding behind technicalities in its mandate must be reversed immediately. It is ludicrous that Ian Martin should feel so incapacitated by a mandate that his organization negotiated for itself. If he truly feels constrained and unable to perform to expectations, it is Martin’s civic duty to appraise the UN’s Security Council of the urgent need to re-negotiate UNMIN’s role in Nepal’s peace process.
- In response to a question posed by a representative from the Voice of America, Ian Martin stated the following: “UNMIN is not working to any target figure: how many people would be excluded or verified as a result of those criteria, we don’t know ahead of the process playing out, and we are not working to any figure.”
It is a universally accepted truth that one cannot have results before one carries out the requisite analysis. The question is why Ian Martin refuses to disclose figures that are known to him and his organization? If UNMIN is not working to a target figure (and it strictly implementing the 2 criteria outlined in its mandate), there is no reason why it is unable to share the results of its work with the general public.
Challenges to UNMIN’s initial findings should be debated publicly and transparently. Hiding numbers (to which people can be held accountable) is very poor wisdom on UNMIN’s part. If Ian Martin wishes to continue being perceived as a fair, impartial arbiter in Nepal’s conflict, he’d best discontinue the practice of making personal agreements on the side with the Maoist leadership that go above and beyond what has already been documented, signed and ratified by all sides.
Ian Martin must immediately discontinue the application of his self-mandated criteria of partial and preferential disclosure. Unlike the Maoists who worked towards arms figures that were leaked to their commanders by Krishna Sitoula, UNMIN should not be working towards figures either on behalf of the government or the Maoists!
- As part of his response to a question on whether Maoists are refusing to discharge minors, Ian Martin made the following statement: “There are other practical issues that need to be discussed, like the payment of allowances retrospectively for the period that people have been in the cantonments, which the government and the Maoists have agreed in principle but the modalities for that are obviously also relevant to the discharge arrangements.”
Again, Martin is exceptionally sensitive to issues concerning UNMIN’s mandate, but only in areas where he knows the Maoists may take offence. But when it comes to issues that clearly put the Maoists at an advantage (e.g. the discussion of retroactive payments to Maoist combatants who are disqualified as minors), Martin does not seem to have any problems discussing such issues that are clearly outside of UNMIN’s mandate.
Why on earth should Nepali tax payers dish out salaries for children that the Maoists have used (in contravention of international law), as combatants? It would seem that the act of paying allowances retrospectively is on par with condoning the use of child soldiers who will then be discharged in time to join the ranks of the YCL.
Ian Martin seems at complete ease discussing principled agreements (for which the modalities have not been worked out) without taking into account the damage his irresponsible utterances entail. And yet, Martin displays displeasure and unease when he is asked to provide details on mandated tasks that his organization is expected to deliver on – tasks for which the modalities have already been agreed to.
Martin needs to either strictly comment on questions that relate to his mandate or he needs to be prepared to openly discuss questions that pertain to all dimensions of Nepal’s peace process. Selective, biased responses are unacceptable.
- In response to a question posed by a journalist from the Independent, Martin made the following comment: “I stress that no group that pursues its aims through violence in this context will have any sympathy from the international community.”
In passing this comment, Ian Martin seems to have forgotten how much sympathy the international community has bestowed upon the Maoists who for all practical purposes, are the interlocutors of the violent methods practiced by groups in the Terai. These are rather “tough” words coming from a man who doesn’t mind sipping beer in the company of Baburam Bhattarai, an individual who for the better half of his adult life has lived by the oath that “power comes form the barrel of a gun.”
This is precisely why no one takes baseless threats from the likes of Ian Martin with any seriousness. The hypocrisy is just too obvious. As a long time sympathizer of the extreme leftist movement, Martin fools no one with his attempt at harsh language. Had he dared utter such words in any environment other than Nepal (and without the backing of a major regional power), Martin’s ass would have been back on a plane to New York in a heartbeat.
As a seasoned peace expert, Martin should know better than to make hollow threats. It doesn’t suit his role, doesn’t suit his institution and such hypocrisy ultimately undermines UNMIN a thousand times in the eyes of the UN’s critics and increasingly in the eyes of the Nepali public.
- On a question about Maoist commanders now filling the ranks of the YCL, Ian Martin had the following to say: “It was agreed between the Government and the Maoists that some from the PLA could be discharged in order to participate in other ways in the peace process, the political process.”
Who in the present government agreed to permit undocumented Maoist PLA personnel from participating in the political process? The Nepali people are entitled to know the names of the geniuses who negotiated this agreement with the Maoists. Furthermore, we are entitled to know why these individuals in the Government have not stepped forth to explain why such a monumental concession was necessary?
Is the name of the culprit who permitted this slip with the peace process cracks Krishna Sitaula? Or was it coordination amongst the three sisters (Prachanda’s wife, Yechir’s wife and Sitaula’s wife) that made allowed for PLA combatants to be discharged before being registered?
How dare Ian Martin say in retrospect that it would have been a better idea for the all combatants to first be registered and then discharged to take up positions in the YCL? Where was Ian Martin when the decision was made to prematurely discharge PLA combatants? Isn’t Martin a subject matter expert in these areas? Why didn’t he have the sense to recommend the enforcement of such criteria to before the YCL was created? Clearly, this isn’t the first time Martin has disclosed his knowledge of Maoist combatants running wild in the ranks of the YCL – he has made such disclosures to Nepalis behind closed doors on other occasions as well.
Once more, UNMIN (and specifically Ian Martin) needs to highlight issues such as Maoist combatants being in the ranks of the YCL before these events occur. It may not be in UNMIN’s mandate to outline probable scenarios to all stakeholders in a transparent manner. By this measure, it should be in UNMIN’s mandate not to engage in wishful thinking after the fact.
- An RSS reporter posed a very pertinent question to Martin on the Oslo Forum and its perceived usefulness to Nepal’s peace process. In response, Ian Martin had the following disclaimer: “My invitation to that was in a personal capacity and didn’t have particularly to do with the current state of Nepal’s peace process.”
In what capacity Martin was invited to Oslo is irrelevant at this point. However, what is relevant is that Ian Martin, even with his years of experience and his in-depth subject matter expertise, demonstrated a blatant disregard for a fundamental enabler that makes the UN what is supposed to be – an INDEPENDENT body.
As for Ian Martin, pictures that circulated the internet of him introducing Baburam Bhattarai to Kofi Annan in Oslo, don’t bode well for Martin’s perceived independence. If nothing else, such public displays of disregard for an enshrined principle of the United Nations charter is an insult to every Nepali and all of Nepal’s well wishers who pray for lasting peace in Nepal.
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