Nepal faces a cri­sis as it con­tem­plates in­te­grat­ing Maoist fight­ers into its na­tional army.

Southasia - - Contents - By Kinza Mu­jeeb

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.

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