BAN´S POSTPONED VISIT
United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon was scheduled to make a two-day trip to Nepal from 28 April as part of his three-nation tour of India, Myanmar and Nepal. Unfortunately, his visit to Nepal had to be postponed even as he went ahead with his visit to India and Myanmar. According to Robert Piper, UN resident Coordinator in Nepal, the secretary general “reschedules his Nepal visit to allow time for preparations for the Lumbini meet and avoid distracting key peace negotiations.”
This announcement came after criticism from some quarters that Ban should not visit Nepal to co-chair the meeting of the International Committee for the Development of Lumbini with ex-Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda), who is also the chair of the high level national steering committee for Greater Lumbini Development Project. It was argued that Dahal, being the chairman of the Maoist party, was responsible for the killing of thousands of Nepalis during the 10-year civil conflict in Nepal and hence, the UN secretary general should not share dais with him.
This message perhaps gave an impression to the office of the secretary general that Nepal was not ready to welcome Ban with the government and political leaders being fully engaged in the peace building and constitution drafting process. However, Ban was officially invited by Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and the government as well as the entire country was prepared to welcome him. The Constituent Assembly and the political leaders have been working for more than 1,200 days on those two issues and, therefore, Ban’s visit would not have made any difference. On the contrary, the secretary general could have pushed the political leaders to complete this historic task the Nepali people have entrusted them with.
Some civil society leaders suddenly and hurriedly raised this issue, in what could have been a planned strategic move. Though a few intellectuals were seen as spearheading this campaign, there was perhaps a bigger force behind this that wanted to ensure Ban does not go to Lumbini to co-chair the meeting of the 16 nation international committee, which was established in 1970 in New York. This committee comprises of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
The development of greater Lumbini is of national interest. Therefore, political and civil society leaders should have kept it above their individual and party interests. Also, the formation of the high level Lumbini development committee is a domestic issue and they should not have made it an international one. Further, Nepal is celebrating 2013 as Lumbini year in order to attract more tourists, including Buddhist pilgrims. Ban’s visit to Lumbini, therefore, could have made a significant difference to that initiative.
Ban had first come to Nepal for a two-day visit in November 2008. During his Lumbini visit he had said, “I am awestruck by the beauty and profound significance of this sacred site, the birth place of Lord Buddha…As secretary general of the United Nations, I sincerely hope that the life, philosophy and teaching of Lord Buddha will guide us to promote peace, harmony and reconciliation among people of different religions, belief, culture and creed.”
Nepal is going through a critical phase in its history. The transition period has been long and there are still many challenges ahead of us. With the postponement of the secretary general’s visit, Nepal lost a golden opportunity to host a good friend; to promote peace, harmony and security; to fasten the writing of the new constitution; to promote Nepal and Lumbini globally once again; to explore additional funding for the greater Lumbini development project and to restore the image of Nepal as a peace loving country in the world.
For Ban Ki-moon, he would have been the first UN secretary general to visit Nepal twice during his tenure. He could have helped accomplish the peace process which UNMIN had left unfinished, and repair the damage done. Political leaders and CA members are now seriously working to complete the task of constitution writing, albeit at the 11th hour. Ban could have taken a partial credit for expediting the completion of the peace process in Nepal because of his visit.
Nepal lost an opportunity to restore its image as a peace loving country while Ban lost the chance of being the first sitting UN head to visit Nepal twice.
Lord Buddha’s message of peace, compassion and devotion to the service of humanity is more relevant today than at any other time in history. Non-violence and peace is possible when there is no greed for supremacy of power and wealth. Gautam Buddha had said, “True victory of peace is that where no one is defeated”. In Nepal’s context, the true victory of peace was achieved in 2006, when the 12-point comprehensive peace accord was signed between the government of Nepal and Maoists. The election of the Constituent Assembly was held in 2008, and the writing of a new constitution is now in its final phase.
Following the visit of UN secretary general U Thant in 1967, the international community has been deeply involved in the development of Lumbini—the birthplace of Shakyamuni Gautam Buddha. The government of Nepal, with the assistance of UN and the international community, has made some progress toward the implementation of the master plan, which was designed by world-renowned Japanese architect Professor Kenzo Tange in 1970.
Nepal has been playing a crucial role in the United Nations by being one of the G-77 countries, the current chair of the Least Developing Countries (LDC) group and one of the main contributors to the UN peace keeping force. Ban’s visit to Nepal would have, thus, strengthened this relationship further in a way that could have been beneficial to all stakeholders including Nepal, Ban and the UN, while boosting Nepal’s international standing.
The writer is the patron of the Non Residential Nepalese (NRN) Association