Friday, June 23, 2006

Assistant UN Sec-Gen Or Deputy Director?

“Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations Kul Chandra Gautam has said that the supervision and management of arms of both the Maoists and the Nepal Army is not an easy task and that it will take time to arrange all procedures.
“Dr Gautam stated this to journalists after his two-hour long meeting with Deputy Prime Minster and Minister for Foreign Affairs KP Sharma Oli at the Foreign Ministry.”

As a compatriot, Maila Baje commends Gautam, the highest-ranking Nepalese to serve at the United Nations, for having taken such an abiding interest in advancing peace and stability in his motherland.
In the preceding excerpts, Gautam was responding to queries about the expected one-month timeframe to manage the arms. “It is impossible to complete all the formalities in one month. It takes time to allocate budget, manpower as well as to arrange other logistic details,” he added.
The extent of Gautam’s involvement, however, raises important questions. For starters, Gautam’s area of responsibility lies primarily with the UN Children’s Fund. The assistant secretary-general title is merely suggestive of the equivalence of his UNICEF position in the United Nations personnel structure, a level above the D-2 rank.
Put another way, the chiefs of other United Nations specialized agencies such as UNDP, UNESCO and UNHCR, much less their deputies, are hardly identified in any other way.
The capacity in which Gautam has been acting is relevant because his comments would carry much less significance if he were merely making them during his vacation home.
The entire peace process suffers from enough ambiguity. SPA leaders, who signed the accord with the Maoists, now say Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala acted in haste and without proper consultations. The Maoists are talking about simply demobilizing, not disarming. Even if that were acceptable to the government, how precisely would the United Nations step in? One would expect the official position of the world body to come from Mathew Kahane, the top UN representative in Nepal.
Given the UN system’s general practice of not posting an international staff member to his or her native country, the concern over Gautam’s role assumes added importance. True, Gautam made clear that he had not met any Maoist leaders during this visit and that he is not on an official visit to Nepal. But that doesn’t do much to clarify the nature of his ostensibly unofficial/informal role. Is he simply putting together an unofficial briefing paper for Secretary-General Kofi Annan as the UN chief prepares to leave office and establish his legacy? Or is Gautam updating the Nepal mission of Annan’s official representative Samuel Tamrat, something the next secretary-general would consult?
And why has Gautam allowed this entire confusion to persist? There has been some speculation on Gautam’s family ties with Maoist leader Pampha Bhusal. It also has been surmised that Gautam, scheduled to retire from UNICEF soon, may be expecting some high-profile role in the emerging Nepalese order. The Nepalese people, at the very least, deserve to know more.
While acknowledging Gautam’s impressive professional accomplishments as an international civil servant, one must not allow the ambiguity of his involvement to overshadow – and perhaps even undermine -- the peace process.