Peace process What does army recruitment mean?

A national defence policy under which entire defence system can be strategically managed is urgent.

The ongoing peace process appears almost stalled owing to several factors. While China has offered military support worth Rs 207 million — and Rs.100 million offered to the Defence Minister during his China visit recently — the Nepal Army (NA) has started recruiting about three thousand cadets when the process of the adjustment and rehabilitation of about twenty thousand Maoist combatants living in unhygienic conditions still remain in limbo. The special constitutional committee to guide adjustment of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is in the process of formation but is yet to take full shape as the Nepali Congress — the opposition party in parliament — is refusing to participate. Moreover, while the CPN-Maoist is insisting on the integration of the PLA with the Nepal Army, other political parties harbour reservations.

The recruitment of army personnel at this juncture has succeeded in drawing the attention of those whose main concern is the forward movement and the culmination of the peace process. It is true that the recruitment of three thousand cadets is not so significant an event in itself. As a matter of fact, what has raised doubts is the timing of such an inappropriate action when several issues regarding its structure are to be considered and decided. One pertinent question may be raised on the urgency of the recruitment. Can the Nepal Army not wait for a few more months before initiating the process of recruitment? It can be inferred that the Nepal Army must have acquired the permission of the Defence Minister, who is also a member of the special committee.

If the Nepal Army has not taken the approval of the Defence Minister, it cannot take decisions on its own as in normal times. Interestingly, the internal management of the Nepal Army had never been transparent. It might have had the liberty to function on its own discretion during monarchy, but in the changed political context its internal management cannot be above public scrutiny. If the Defence Minister has approved Nepal Army’s recruitment plans, it either reflects the military mindset of the Minister, or he is merely interested in getting the Maoist cadres recruited in the Nepal Army.

It is generally accepted that till 1994, the strength of the Nepal Army was about thirty thousand. With the Maoist insurgency, its strength increased to over thirty thousand during 1999. Its number got inflated with the insurgency spreading across the country and has now reached the strength of about ninety-one thousand. Apart from Nepal Army, there are about thirty thousand people in the security agencies including the Armed Police Force and about forty thousand in the Nepal Police.

The most critical task before the government is to adjust and rehabilitate the combatants as early as possible to bring the peace process to a logical conclusion. If 19 thousand combatants

are inducted into the present strength of the security forces, it would definitely be an unnecessary burden on the country’s financial commitments. What is urgently required is a national defence policy under which the entire defence system and security management should be properly viewed and decisions taken broadly and strategically.

If the country’s security demands more, not only nineteen thousand combatants but the cadres of Youth Communist League (YCL), Youth Force (YF), Tarun Dal and other Madhesi outfits (both armed and unarmed) should also be recruited. If there is danger from outside, our military strength should be able to ward off such threats. First of all, we must decide our national requirement. Perhaps, we may need only a few thousand soldiers and to fulfil the need we may have to downsize the army instead of recruiting more soldiers. But in doing so, the nation has to secure the future of those who may be losing their jobs and also those of the tens of thousands of unemployed youths. Their bright and secure future has to be guaranteed by the state with focus on the unemployed in the country.

It must be remembered that the inflated number of the security forces, more than the optimum number to meet the national need, cannot be accepted by the people as peace and development are the prime needs of the hour. Some experts cite the example of El Salvador, where, while making the new national army, they had accepted twenty per cent of each of the national army and the communist militia plus sixty per cent from the new recruitments.

As we know that there is hardly any threat from outside, we must be pragmatic in our approach and concentrate on the task of nation building which is the main challenge before us. The nation cannot be built as long as we do not get rid of our old mindsets. It requires transcending narrow party and personal considerations and adopting a national consensual policy.

Prof. Mishra is former election commissioner