TOPICS: Nation’s and Maoist cadres’ futures are linked

Integration of the Maoist leaders into the national political mainstream has been far from smooth, but it is sure to happen. However, the fate of their cadres is of at least equal importance but neglected. The former combatants will be detained under primitive, punitive conditions in cantonments and eventually dismissed to return to their villages.

The young people who joined the Maoists are diverse, but the vast majority are neither mad nor bad; they have reacted in an entirely predictable way to oppression, exploitation, racism, poverty and lack of opportunity. They have risked their lives for a better future, as they imagined it. Most of them know violence and intimidation as their only strategies and the gun as their only tool to bring about change. Sending them back to their villages starving, embittered and angrier than ever, is a prescription for crime in the short term and another revolution in the slightly longer term.

These youths need to be educated, rehabilitated and integrated into society. The time in cantonment can be profitably and inexpensively utilised for these purposes. Cadres could be given English training, basic skills, and vocational instruction suited to their backgrounds. For the less well educated, construction trades such as carpentry, plumbing and masonry could be taught. Those with better education could be trained in health professions, as teachers and in other fields. INGOs, NGOs and domestic and foreign trades unions could assist in this worthy task. Different cantonments could offer different programmes and cadres could be transferred to suit their needs.

Economic development of the country is essential, but it will not take place overnight. Therefore a short term strategy to allow these youths to support themselves and their families, once their People’s Liberation Army salaries stop, is called for. The only option at this point is a period of foreign employment in places such as Korea, Malaysia and the Gulf states. After two to three years’ experience in their new occupations they could return home, assuming that the economy is growing, and contribute to Nepal’s future.

Of course this plan will not appeal to many. Conservatives will naturally be drawn to punitiveness and triumphalism; these represent the ugly, emotionally appealing but socially destructive side of human nature which must be opposed by reason. Critics on the left will oppose foreign employment, but the former combatants and their families can’t eat ideology and local job creation will take years, if not decades, to absorb all of them. Politics is necessarily a pragmatic art.

Future peace and stability requires righting, by the most expedient means possible, the socioeconomic causes of the civil war and rehabilitation of former combatants.

George Santayana taught us, “Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it.” Immediate, definitive action must be taken to create a stable society.