Arms management : Parties should fulfil their commitments

The eight-point agreement signed between the seven-party alliance (SPA) and the Maoists clearly stipulated the reason behind the execution of arms agreement, which is to create an atmosphere for conducting free and fair elections to the constituent assembly (CA). As long as arms are in possession of any group, it might use them to intimidate the voters, not to help them use their free will, and the elections would turn into a farce. Having felt the need to create a positive atmosphere to build the confidence of the voters, both the sides have realised the importance of management of arms before going to the polls.

Now, after setting the scene for the elections to CA and hopefully after the adoption of an interim constitution in a few days, the entire attention of the government, the SPA, the Maoists and civil society has to be focused on organising the CA polls in a free and fair atmosphere at the earliest.

When the UN delegation arrived recently, there was much hope that having agreed on the need to manage arms the SPA and the Maoists would reach a common stand on the modus operandi of arms management. Although the two sides could not come to an agreement then, the people have not lost hope and expect the leaders to reach an agreement within this week.

All the sides agree that the rationale behind arms management is to lift the pressure from the people who have been living under the threat of arms for almost a decade. The objective of arms management has to nullify the possibility of arms being used by any person or group to intimidate the electorate. It has been proposed that conditions be created in which use of arms or threat of the use of arms would not be permitted. The Nepal Army has barracks all over the country and they could be confined to the barracks and their arms and ammunition similarly stowed away in locked storerooms. The UN arms management team would ensure that arms and ammunition would remain separated from their users as long as the CA has not decided on the future of Nepal Army. Until the settlement of this issue, the UN team would continue its supervisory duties.

But where do we keep the arms of the Maoists, who do not have barracks? However, this is not an insurmountable problem. Temporary arrangements could be made to station the Maoist army at certain agreed places and their arms and ammunition could be stored under UN supervision. In this respect, the proposal of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) is practical and will significantly facilitate the process of arms management without breaching any agreement. If there is clarity on the objectives of arms management and the management of armed forces, the modalities should not be a hindrance. The separation of arms and ammunition from their probable users is the main issue. An agreement in this regard should thus not create any problem. The directive agreed upon by the SPA and the Maoists in the eight-point agreement is clear on this issue.

Permanent peace can be attained only through a new constitution to be drafted by the CA, which shall lay down the premises for the creation of a new Nepal. The creation of a free and fair atmosphere for holding the CA polls assumes supreme importance. Any side’s insistence on imposing their own formula for management of arms would demolish the whole process of peaceful negotiation. The core issue is to free the people from threat of arms, and for this, the separation of arms from their possible users should form the bottom line of any arms management agreement.

There are some who try to discriminate between the state’s armed forces and that of the Maoists on the basis of certain legalistic theories. These people are the ones who have been creating hurdles on the path to reaching a common agreement. Since the focus is on the need to separate arms from the two forces, all irrelevant issues should be set aside and all the sides should acquiesce to mutually agreed modus operandi. For this purpose, the proposal put forward by the CPN-UML deserves serious attention.

Nepal’s fledgling economy cannot sustain an armed force in excess of 120,000 (the combined strength of the two forces). We have no threat from our neighbours with whom we share excellent relationship. The CA has to decide on the fate of over 120,000 armed personnel. This process is bound to take a long time. In the meantime, the state has to take the responsibility of maintaining the militia of the Maoists as well as the Nepal Army until a final decision has been reached on the size of the national force.

The deadline for submission of a joint agreement on arms management to the UN by the government and the Maoists is approaching. The SPA, the Maoists and the civil society have unanimously agreed on the importance of peace and formation of a CA. The political parties have to display wisdom by implementing their own commitments.

Upadhyay is a former foreign minister