Question of how

The recent 23-point SPA agreement has made the way clear for the Constituent Assembly (CA) election for mid-April. Apart from moving forward with some new decisions, it has looked back at the status of some of the major points agreed in the earlier accords and understandings, and contains a renewed SPA commitment to address them in days to come — on many issues in a time-bound manner. The question of integration of the Maoist combatants is such an issue, which had received emphasis in the earlier 22-point Maoist demand. And indeed, the latest 23-point accord deals with it, providing for the setting up of a special Cabinet committee to take forward the process. So, it is not surprising that Maoist chairman Prachanda on Tuesday said that the SPA partners were discussing how the two armies could be integrated. Prachanda was reported as saying at a programme organised by the PLA third division that the integration process would take place on a ‘group basis, not individual basis’.

As the integration process is a little time-consuming because it involves sorting out a number of tricky matters, it is difficult to accomplish it, given the best of intentions, before the April election. But, the process should be started in earnest now that even the verification of all the Maoist combatants kept in seven temporary cantonments has recently been completed by the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) headed by Ian Martin. Out of the 32,350 combatants registered, only 19,602 — 15,756 males and 3,846 females — qualified as real combatants. Reports surfaced that neither CPN-Maoist nor Nepal Army officials were perfectly pleased at the outcome — the former wanted more of their fighters to qualify and the latter, as fewer as possible. That in itself may be taken as a reason that UNMIN has done its job well. It has based its decisions on set criteria — of the 12,648 fighters declared misfits, some 11,500 had been disqualified on the grounds of either their failure to appear for interview in the second phase or their being underage.

The issue now is not one of whether the qualified Maoist fighters should be integrated into the national security apparatus, but of how. One may like it or not, integration is a vital part of the entire peace process. This means that what the SPA partners agree will have to be carried out. No agency or official should make statements that might create confusion or misunderstanding or affect the peace process; particularly no army official has the authority to say whether the qualified Maoist combatants can and cannot be integrated into the Nepal Army. Such statements, as recently issued, are likely to create public doubt as to whether the security forces are under full control of the government and the parliament. No one should miss the point that it is the SPA that has received the people’s mandate through Jana Andolan II and, consequently, it is its road map for Nepal that is being put into practice. And integration should necessarily imply the reorientation of both the state security forces and the Maoist combatants to answer the needs of a new democratic Nepal.