Army integration:A Gordian knot
KATHMANDU: Political deadlock has stalled the process of supervision, integration and rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants, who have been living in seven cantonments across the country. It is also stalling the discharge of minors and other disqualified fighters, who failed to meet the verification criteria of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).
The Maoists have linked the
issue of army integration to the process of political transition, and this linkage has stalled progress on integration and rehabilitation of more than 19,000 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) personnel, who are holed up in UNMIN-monitored cantonments.
Currently, there are about 15,756 male and 3,846 female combatants in these cantonments. While, 4,008 disqualified are also waiting to be discharged.
“There must be a package solution. The question of security cannot be separated from the overall political and economic reform,” said Barshaman Pun ‘Ananta’, in-charge of the PLA, at a seminar last Thursday. He said that the Maoists would be ready for integration only if there were a guarantee that the constitution would be drafted.
“The combatants cannot be linked with other issues. They should neither be a bargaining chip nor an agent to hold the country hostage,” said Dr Ram Sharan Mahat, a Nepali Congress leader. All political parties, however, seem to agree that the tasks of the technical committee and the Special Committee must move ahead. Although there are internal differences within all major political parties about integration and rehabilitation, they have all agreed to abide by the Special Committee’s decisions.
Even the Maoists say they are prepared to move ahead on the process of integration, although they realise that a very small number is likely to be integrated in the Nepali Army (NA), the area of their choice.
The latest political fighting over the election of the Constitutional Committee (CC) could
further delay the process.
When he came to power, Maoist Chairman Puspha Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ said that the combatants would be completely under the supervision and control of the government. Peace Minister Rakam Chemjong is now insisting on the same.
However, the command and control of the PLA combatants is still with Prachanda.
“We’ve made it clear to the combatants that they are now under the command and control of the government and the Special Committee. If they want to stay in the PLA, then they will have to renounce the membership of the party,” said Ananta.
However, this is easier said than done. The Maoists are still reshuffling: They are moving the PLA personnel around, and with the Special Committee and the technical committee defunct, there is little room for observers to complain.
“The combatants need some sort of a command structure, so in the absence of the Special Committee, we cannot
completely disown them,”
explained Ananta. “The combatants are taking tax-payers’ money but serving the Maoists,” alleged Bhanubhakta Dhakal of the CPN-UML. Speaking at a discussion programme recently, Kul Chandra Gautam, former assistant general secretary of the United Nations, said that the nation was faced with two contradictory requirements: reducing the size of the NA and integrating the Maoists in the security forces.
Given the need to reduce the size of the NA, “it seems logical that priority should be given to rehabilitation and management of the Maoist combatants, rather than to their large-scale integration, which will further inflate the size of the NA. On the other hand, given our commitment as part of the peace process, creative ways must be found for some degree of integration of the combatants in Nepali security forces, including the NA,” said Gautam.
The technical committee under the Special Committee for supervision, integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants, during its three-month tenure, visited three cantonment sites, interviewed commanders at the battalion, division and company level and submitted a technical report to the government, outlining action plan for completion of their mandate. Their three-month term expired on June 29. The technical committee is concerned about ethical issues during surveys, issues which would question the validity of its findings, and which could create further complications in the future. So far, the combatants are under direct supervision and control of the UCPN-Maoist, and they have little freedom to express their own voice,” said a member of the technical
“Fear of retribution as well as ideological orientation enforced by senior commanders is likely to dictate the combatant’s opinion during interviews,” said a member of the technical committee.
“All the combatants in the cantonments want to be integrated in the NA. They have devoted more than 10 years in the armed force, and want to continue to do the same” said Shuresh Ale Magar, a Maoist Constituent Assembly member. The Maoist leaders are whipping up the expectations of the combatants, saying a majority of them would be integrated into the armed forces.
Gautam opined that this could complicate things by creating undue expectations. “There is a need to explain to the combatants that the actual number of fighters who’re likely to be integrated will be small,” he