Silver lining

The government is moving to set up a special Cabinet committee, as provided for in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, to address the question of integrating the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This forms an integral part of the whole peace process. The sooner the process is completed, the better it is for the peace process, because integration of Maoist combatants has been one of the thorniest issues, particularly because of special interest taken in it by various interest groups. Since the Maoists took over power, and particularly because a decision will have to be taken soon on the Maoist combatants’ integration, the Nepali Congress and some others have started speaking strongly against the idea of integrating the PLA into the Nepal Army. Some of the Congress leaders are even threatening a Congress ‘revolt’ if the ‘political’ (Maoist) army is integrated into the ‘neutral’ Nepal Army.

But the partisan interests of any political party should not be allowed to dominate the issue. The letter and spirit of the understandings and agreements reached so far and the provisions of the Interim Constitution should inform all decisions to be taken about the PLA. The State has recognised the existence of two armies, and the UN was invited by the then Koirala government, with the backing of other political parties, to monitor the arms and armies belonging to the CPN-Maoist as well as to the State. About one-third of some 30,000 Maoist combatants registered at the temporary cantonments have been disqualified by the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) for failing to meet the agreed criteria. According to the agreement on monitoring of the management of arms and armies - signed by the CPN (Maoist) and the Government of Nepal and witnessed by the special representative of the UN secretary-general, Ian Martin - the remaining combatants will be eligible for possible integration into the security forces. A special Cabinet committee is to ‘supervise, integrate and rehabilitate’ the Maoist army.

What modality the committee may set and how and where the combatants may be integrated,

and what standards they may have to meet for their integration remain to be worked out. It is the job of the government. The Congress, the Maoists and other major parties had developed an understanding for settling the issue of PLA integration after the CA election. One may like it or not, the voters have made the CPN-Maoist the largest party, and by virtue of this, it is now leading a coalition government. With so much that has changed in the country, the Nepal Army needs to be restructured and reoriented to the needs of the new situation. Wherever the Maoist combatants may be integrated, they will also need reorientation to ensure that they will fully act in accordance with the requirements of their new roles, including losing their political identity. At this juncture in history, reasoning along the lines of ‘political’ and ‘neutral’ will not take us far. It is another matter that, in light of experience, many Nepalis will find it hard to agree with the view that the Nepal Army has played a neutral role in domestic politics in the past. But this is not the time to make much of such matters, but to stress unity, harmony and cooperation.