Durable peace - Arms management is the key

Now that the government and the Maoists have signed the peace agreement on November 21, it’s time to think about making fragile peace durable. Arms management is at the heart of this task.

Violence sows the seeds of gun culture and spikes crimes, a trend that can be arrested only through a timely arms management and combatants’ integration. The accord is far from perfect, but it offers a contour of peace and hope. The agreement will be followed by the promulgation of a new interim constitution and creation of a new interim assembly, including the Maoists. The interim government will conduct the constituent assembly (CA) elections next year, which will decide the fate of monarchy and write a new constitution. Before this, the Maoists will have to put their fighters in 28 camps and lock up their weapons, which the United Nations will seal and monitor. The government will subject an equal number of Nepali Army weapons to similar UN supervision. Though this process has started, it has failed to separate armies from their arms.

Maoist leaders have asserted they won’t consider disarming combatants until after the CA polls. They will instead seek integration of their fighters into national security forces. Dina Nath Sharma said that only a vanquished army would give up weapons and that Maoist fighters were not defeated. That is a valid point. But armed Maoists did not march to Kathmandu with their force and arms. Instead, credit of April Revolution’s success should go to Nepalis who came out on the streets and the SPA-Maoist understanding to work for peace and democracy.

After the Maoist leaders join the interim government, there will be no justification for keeping two militaries: one professional and apolitical and the other ideological and committed to a party. Keeping the two will be a potential source of instability. The Maoists should be more coherent regarding arms management. Prachand wants to reduce the 95,000-strong national military to one-third its size while he also wants the military to absorb 35,000 of its combatants. Moreover, the Maoists are on a recruitment drive which will make integration more difficult. A substantial increase in the army will be burdensome and eat up a lion’s share of domestic resources.

A more pragmatic approach to managing Maoist fighters and arms should be pursued with urgency. Collecting rebel arms is not easy. But the chances of success increase if combatants see a reasonably good future for themselves. The more fighters give up their guns, better the prospects of lasting peace. Leaving weapons in the hands of ex-combatants would ensure resumption of violence. It is challenging that Nepal has to implement peace process without external mediation. The UN disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration template for rebel arms management might not be successful in Nepal for there is no full-fledged UN peace mission to control different variables. Nepal should devise its programme to manage arms, reintegrate fighters and reduce the army size. Such a programme should have five elements:

First, child soldiers should be separated from guns and sent home. They should have access to education. Counselling should be provided to help them leave their past and grow as normal children. Second, a comprehensive security sector reform programme should be implemented with emphasis on changing the security doctrine to suit new realities, modernise and train the military and police, and integrate a limited number of Maoists into government. Women fighters will improve gender balance. Such integration should be limited to preserve professionalism and morale of national security forces and to reduce

military size.

Third, the Maoist combatants should be given employment opportunities, preferably abroad. Most of them may choose foreign employment, rather than seek integration in the forces. By the time they return home, they would have been changed individuals, better equipped to integrate into society. Their absence will prevent the cycle of revenge and give the victims time to heal. Fourth, some Maoist combatants might prefer to set up businesses. The government ensures concessionary loans based on viability and size of proposed projects, perhaps without any collateral. Fifth, launching a buy-out programme could attract weapons not netted through other options. This option happens to constitute the core of UN’s DDR programme. Its success depends upon weighing the benefits of keeping a gun as against giving it up.

Maoist leaders, who will join the interim government, can ensure that the Nepali Army is prevented from influencing the CA polls. Their efforts should allay fears that Maoist fighters could play any role in distorting the CA poll outcome. Durable peace requires mutual trust among democratic stakeholders and promise of a secure future for Maoist fighters. We should not delay in creating those essential conditions.

Sharma is former ambassador to UN