PEACE & REHABILITATION
Nepal faces a crisis as it contemplates integrating Maoist fighters into its national army.
Deeply set in the Himalayan valley, Nepal is a landlocked country covering an area of about 54000 sq. miles and having a population of 30 million. In recent times, Nepal has played a significant role in regional politics. A founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), Nepal has already hosted two summits and will be hosting the next one in 2013. However, during the same period, its domestic politics have seen extensive political turmoil, marked largely by assassinations, guerilla warfare and the abolition of the monarchy.
The King, though given a divine status by many of his subjects, had been in perpetual conflict with the elected representatives of the people. As a consequence, the parliament abolished the monarchy in 2008 and Ram Baran Yadav was elected the first President of the Republic.
Earlier in 1996, various political parties signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, mainly to accommodate former insurgent Maoist fighters. Apart from community rehabilitation, the agreement proposed to integrate Maoist fighters into the Nepalese army. However, the process failed to run smoothly. Close to 20,000 former guerilla fighters were forced to live in cantonment camps, initially meant as temporary arrangements for no more than six months. Subsequently, most of these fighters ended up spending close to five years there.
Given the extreme friction between the Maoists and others, many scholars and analysts predicted that only a small number of Maoist fighters would be willing to join the Nepalese army. However, upon interviewing 16,000 of them, analysts found that more than a half of the former rebels expressed their desire to join the military forces. The result, both unexpected and unmanageable, has created further discontent in the country. According to the agreement, those wanting to join the Nepalese army would receive physical training and undergo written examinations. Following a rigorous process, these former rebels would then be enlisted in the army.
However, the integration needs to be meticulously planned and maintained in order to avoid a ‘professional crisis.’ The Maoists, deemed ‘ untrustworthy’ and ‘highly undisciplined’ by analysts and ex-rivals alike, are still viewed as probable armed insurgents. Due to this perception, they cannot be trusted with senior level posts in the army. This fact alone has created feelings of discontent and animosity be-
tween the Maoists and others.
As a result, the Army Integration Special Committee introduced a People’s Liberation Army (Maoist) as a separate force from the Nepalese Army. The People’s Army is to be entrusted with ‘special responsibilities’ different from those of the Nepalese Army. Although Maoist fighters are natural warriors, according to this new agreement, most will adopt non-combat roles that include forest conservation, industrial security, disaster management and social development work.
Most in Nepal are skeptical of the true intentions of the Maoist fighters to join the army when their roles are mostly non-combative. This thinking reflects the non-maoists’ prejudices and their inclination towards being suspicious of the former rebels. Moreover, it also highlights the need to eradicate the hostility existing between the two armies.
It is imperative that non-maoists shed their extremist opinions about the Maoist fighters who are already a part of the government following the peace process. In addition, a strict set of tests as a prerequisite for the enrollment of ex-combatants ensures a fair chance for Maoist fighters to display their capabilities for new assignments. It also gives them an opportunity to prove those wrong who view them as elements disrupting the discipline of the army.
Realizing that further procrastination in finalizing the fate of a massive number of former rebels could serve as a threat to peace, Nepalese leaders collectively agreed on the integration of 6,500 Maoists into the army in November 2011. Many analysts viewed this ‘broad based’ decision as a positive step towards rehabilitation. Supporting the decision of the government, four major political parties collaborated to accelerate the process of integration.
Even then, Nanda Kishore Pun, Chief of the Maoist rebel army, expressed discontent and demanded that political parties should show ‘flexibility on numbers’ with regard to the induction of Maoists in the army. Pun suggested that an additional 2,500 Maoist fighters should be added to the integration list. The Nepali Congress immediately opposed this idea by saying that the so-called demand for ‘flexibility’ would only lead to more complications.
Battling uncertainty for the past five years, Maoist fighters have now grown impatient and the decision of their integration into the army has become a highly sensitive issue. Moreover, Nepal has experienced considerable changes within the government, which has also slowed down the peace process. Both the Maoist fighters as well as the government must realize that any further delay in arriving at a consensus would only lead to the extinction of a highly valued peace process.
Nepalese Army servicemen take part in a ceremony.