1 December 2003

Only three years ago, Ms. Aparna Mehrotra was tucked away in an interim office at the U.N. Development Programme. Until, as luck would have it, she was discovered by Iqbal Riza Chef de Cabinet of Secretary General Kofi Annan. The frail Pakistani Qawwali fan determined there and then to tuck here, so to speak -- to the extent he was capable -- closer to his domain of oversight. With a promotion of course. Mobility should carry with it some upward movement -- again to the extent of one's capacity. When a post became available in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, he tried but failed. A gutsy manager there put her foot down and let it be known to some members of the then Appointment and Promotion Board that she would not accommodate "Riza's favoured" candidate. Then another D-1 post opened up, that of the Focal Point for Women in the Secretariat. Well, what better focal point than the focal point? The necessary pressure was applied and appropriate presentations were made stressing, of course, the urgent need to have someone immediately fill that crucial position. An accelerated promotion on a regular post was readily provided. Whispers spread around the glasshouse and beyond. But who cares. Riza had already caused an uproar when he evaded staff rules by arranging a P-5 recruitment for his son Imran. The only concern he and Ms. Mehrotra had was how did "unforum" find out. The rest could be taken care of internally. After all, who would question the unquestionable need to activate the promotion of women. However, a short time later, that urgent need was no more that urgent. Iraq became the main issue and suddenly the Focal Point moved closer to help a special team particularly after the discreet and decent Rafeeuddin Ahmed was appointed Special Adviser. Those curious about "that woman's" knowledge or experience on Iraq were told it was a matter of enhancing the "gender question" within the group. Clearly, if there was real interest in the woman gender they could have appointed more than one woman amongst the over seventy special envoys around the world. But it was a flimsy excuse. Poor Sergio Vieira de Mello and his outstanding team had to cope with such pampered mediocrity in New York. Although Ms. Aparna continued to be quietly tucked, word again spread about her increasing role. Now that the Secretary General is to nominate a Special Representative for Iraq, a Special co-ordinator for operations in the region, and a representative to oversee the financial aspect resulting from the Donor's conference in Madrid, no new appointment was certain except for the Indian woman with the Pakistani fan. Early November, word came down to prepare a proposal appointing her as head of the "support group" for the International Advisory and Monitoring Board(IAMB) although it was not yet clear who or what that group will support. When eyebrows were raised again, a first meeting was hurriedly scheduled with some members not yet named, citing of course a relevant resolution And that's "Reform." That is dealing seriously with the issue that could make or break the U.N.!