At last, the Cabinet on Tuesday formed a special committee, as required under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), to settle the question of where and how to rehabilitate some 20,000 PLA soldiers that have been certified as eligible for possible integration into the country’s security forces. One-third of the total number of Maoist combatants registered with UNMIN failed to meet the eligibility criteria. The Nepali Congress, the main opposition party, has protested against the composition of the committee. The five-member panel headed by Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bamdev Gautam includes two ministers from the CPN-Maoist and a representative from the MJF, as members. The seat set aside for the Congress remains vacant, as it has refused to nominate its representative, on the grounds that one of its conditions — that each party, irrespective of its size, should have only one representative — was not fulfilled.
Congress leaders have said that the PLA soldiers cannot be adjusted without Congress approval. It is the Congress’s choice to be or not to be on the committee. It also has the right to form and publicise its own opinion on the question of integration. But it has no constitutional role in deciding how and where the PLA should be integrated, nor does it have the popular mandate to do so. In the recent CA election, the people had drastically reduced their support for the Congress, making their desire clear that it should not lead a government for the rest of the transition period. The Congress chose to go into opposition instead of working in a Maoist-led coalition. So Congress participation is not needed in the committee to make the PLA integration process legitimate. It is another matter if the parties seek to forge a consensus, but the absence of it should not be allowed to stall the integration, a vital part of the entire peace process.
It may come across as odd if the opposition party should choose to sit on a committee appointed by the Cabinet to settle the issue of PLA integration, particularly against the background that it rejected the politics of consensus as practised since the success of Jana Andolan II after the voters made the CPN-Maoist the largest political party. Both Congress conditions sound indefensible from the point of view of fairness and logic. If the largest party leading the government should not head the panel and cannot have more than one representative, it is hard to find ways of justifying any other arrangement. These conditions imply that the party at the head of the government should not have a deciding role in the PLA integration. It would then most probably lead to a situation where, as the proverb goes, the tail wags the dog, not the other way round — something that would strike at a cardinal principle of democratic governance. Congress president Koirala was right in saying the other day that the existing agreements have not made it mandatory for all the PLA fighters to be taken into the Nepal Army. But the agreements do not say either that all of them should not be integrated into the Nepal Army. Now, only the government has the authority to decide exactly how the issue should be resolved, one may like it or not.