(April 24, 2012)
By Ajit Kumar Singh
The peace accord signed on November 21, 2006, appears to be approaching a logical culmination, with the Nepal Army (NA) taking final control over the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), the armed wing of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), on April 10, 2012. The dismantling of the PLA has brought the process of Army integration, the major stumbling block to the implementation of the 2006 Agreement, to its final phase.
Prime Minister (PM) Baburam Bhattarai, who also heads the constitutionally mandated Army Integration Special Committee (AISC), told the Committee on April 10, 2012, that the NA was going to move into all 15 PLA cantonments, take full control, and seize more than 3,000 weapons locked in containers lying there. He added that the process would be completed by the evening of April 12. However, following reports of clashes in the cantonments, the PM met the NA chief, Chhattra Man Singh Gurung, in the evening of April 10, and directed him to implement the decisions of the AISC. NA troops took charge of the cantonments and the weapons’ containers the same day.
Significantly, the second phase of the regrouping process, which had begun on April 8, 2012, had vitiated the environment in the cantonments. Consequently, the process was halted on April 10 at the request of the Maoist leadership. It was, however, restarted on April 13, and, as of April 19, 2012, when it was finally concluded, there were only 3,129 former PLA combatants left for integration into the NA. A total of 6,576 combatants chose the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS), and will be provided with cheques in the range of NPR 500,000 to NPR 800,000, depending on their ranks. On April 10, 2012, moreover, the AISC reiterated that the VRS option would be kept open for combatants as long as the integration process was not concluded.
In the first phase (November 18 to December 1, 2011) of regrouping, 9,705 former combatants had chosen integration into the NA. In a landmark achievement, the AISC had initiated the process of integration following a November 1, 2011, seven-point deal signed by three major political parties – UCPN-M, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and Nepali Congress (NC) – and the umbrella formation of several Madheshi groups, the United Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF). The deal provided three options to former PLA combatants – integration, voluntary retirement and rehabilitation. A total of 16,997 PLA combatants were subsequently ‘regrouped’. While 9,705 combatants opted for integration, 7,286 chose voluntary discharge, and six combatants registered their names for rehabilitation packages. The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) had registered 19,602 combatants in the second verification conducted on May 26, 2007.
The PLA was founded in 2002 in the midst of the Civil War initiated by the Maoists in 1996, and was led by UCPN-M chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda. In September 2008, Nanda Kishor Pun was appointed new ‘chief commander’ of the PLA, after Prachanda became Nepal’s Prime Minister.
The two phases of regrouping exposed Maoist attempts to inflate the number of PLA combatants, and also deflated the Maoist demand for the integration of more than the stipulated 6,500 combatants in the Army. Worried by their weakening political control and by intra-party feuds, the Maoists had sought to increase their barraging power in negotiations by inflating the size of their combat forces.
Apprehensions of violence by restive combatants held in the cantonments for well over five years, forced the Maoist leadership to a resolution that was marked by some recent haste. Prachanda, for instance, on April 11, termed the move to hand over Maoist combatants, their arms, and the cantonments to the NA, a “bold decision” and observed, “Yesterday’s decision [to hand over combatants and weapons] was made after activities aimed at disrupting integration were intensified.” Reacting on Vice Chairman Mohan Baidya’s opposition to the decision and simultaneous protests, he added, “The protests by the faction of Kiran ji [Baidya] was part of their responsibility. This [protest] is like their regular job. But, now petty issues should not be bickered over… Peace process has almost concluded, only certain technical issues remain. Now, we need to move forward on the Constitution writing process.” Earlier, opposing the integration process, Baidya, who according to Maoist assessments, controlled 30 per cent of the Maoist combatants, had termed the integration deal a “sell-out” and had reportedly encouraged dissent within the camps. Clashes had erupted at several Maoist camps after combatants accused party leaders and commanders of ‘corruption’ and bias in the integration process.
An April 14, 2012, AISC decision laid down that the ranks of the integrated combatants would be determined according to the NA’s, and not the PLA’s, standards. A Selection Committee would be headed by the Chairman of Nepal’s Public Service Commission (PSC) or by a member appointed by him, and a General Directorate would be created under the NA, headed by a Lieutenant General, to absorb the integrated combatants. The combatants will have to undergo between three and nine months of training, depending on their ranks. The Directorate would only be deployed for disaster relief, industrial security, development, and forest and environment conservation. On April 17, moreover, the NA stated that it could not start the recruitment process of former Maoist combatants until the structure—leadership and size—of the General Directorate had been finalised at the political level.
Conspicuously, despite reports of strong opposition from some sections of former PLA combatants and resultant clashes, as well as a degree of ambiguity on the mode of integration, the integration process now appears to have become irreversible. An unnamed NC leader thus noted, “The trigger may have been negative, but with this step, the peace process is now irreversible. For its own interest, the Maoist leadership will push through the integration process.”
Ram Chandra Poudel, leader of the NC Parliamentary Party, observed, further, “It (PLA’s integration into the NA) is a very important step towards the transformation of the Maoist party into a civilian party.” The peace process is now expected to be expedited, as the main demand of the two major non-Maoist political formations – CPN-UML and NC – has now been met. Parties also believe that the Maoists, minus the combatants, will have to be more flexible about contentious issues that have blocked the drafting of the constitution.
Indeed, on April 19, 2012, the three major political parties agreed to merge two separate proposed commissions on Truth and Reconciliation, and on Disappearances, into one. Bills for the formation of both of the Commissions are still under consideration in Parliament. The appointment of such Commissions was one of the components of the peace process, and was also part of the Comprehensive Peace Accord.
Earlier, on April 18, 2012, the Government inked a six-point agreement with Samyukta Krantikari Terai Madhesh Mukti Morcha (SKTMMM), an underground armed outfit active in Terai, bringing another armed group into the peace process. According to the agreement, the SKTMMM expressed commitment to embrace peaceful politics and to give up violence and armed activities; to work towards ensuring peace; and to hand over all arms to the Government. In return, the Government agreed to treat the outfit as a political group rather than as a terrorist organization; guarantee security to the Morcha Coordinator and Joint Coordinator during the talks; withdraw criminal cases lodged against the Morcha’s cadres; and release those in the Government’s custody, with due procedure.
On the draft Constitution, in an interview with The Hindu, published on April 16, 2012, Prachanda stated that an all-party taskforce had submitted a proposal that there should be a directly elected President, and a PM elected by the Parliament — with power sharing between the two. This, he clarified, was the meeting point between divergent perspectives articulated by the parties. He also stated that, in principle, there was agreement that identity and capability should be the basis for federalism. Meanwhile, the major political parties, on April 22, reached an understanding to adopt a mixed system of governance in which executive powers would be shared between a directly-elected President and a Parliament-elected Prime Minister. The leaders also agreed on a directly-elected Vice President. “The executive powers will be shared between the popularly-elected head of State and the Prime Minister elected by Parliament,” Minister for Physical Planning Hridayesh Tripathi stated.
There are, nevertheless, several issues, including federalism, the judiciary, the electoral system and investigation of human rights violations during the conflict years, on which consensus is yet to be reached. Further, the issue of returning of properties confiscated by the Maoists from individual citizens during the conflict remains unresolved. The political rift within the Maoist party has, moreover, translated into operational disunity within the group. Sources indicate that the Baidya faction commands the loyalty of some 80 of 240 Maoist Members of Parliament (MPs) in the Constituent Assembly, and has the support of some 50 of 147 members of the party’s Central Committee.
In another divisive development, the Bhattarai Government unilaterally withdrew cases of human rights violation, including those of murder and abductions, against party leaders and cadres. On April 1, 2012, the Supreme Court (SC) issued an interim order, ordering the Government not to implement this decision, in response to a petition filed by Rupaiya Devi Kairin of Rautahat District. A two-judge bench issued the order regarding the February 27, 2012, Government decision to withdraw murder cases against six persons. The case was filed at the District Court on September 30, 2009, on the charge of the murder of Dev Sharan Mahato.
Given the exigencies of the situation and rising popular pressure to wrap up the unending ‘transition’, the Government is now trying to intensify the peace process. On April 22, 2012, it registered a bill in the Parliament Secretariat to amend Article 70 of the Interim Constitution in order to shorten the procedure for the promulgation of the new Constitution, which, at present, is somewhat protracted, so that the stipulated deadline of May 27, 2012, can be met. The term of the Constituent Assembly (CA) has already been extended four times beyond its original two-year term, and will expire on this date according to a SC declaration that the current extension would be final. If the Constitution is not promulgated, another election or referendum would have to be held, an option none of the parties is eager to embrace.
Finally, the possibility of installing a Constitution and Constitutional Government in this fractious nation now appears to be within grasp.
Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management