By Indra Adhikari
Maoist combatants have been living in army cantonments for five years after they were registered and verified by the Joint Coordinating and Monitoring Committee chaired by the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN). The Comprehensive Peace Accord concluded between the UCPN-Maoist and the government of Nepal, which is an annexure of the Interim Constitution of Nepal-2007, dictated that the parties complete the integration of the combatants within six months of the formation of the Constitution Assembly (CA) in August 2008. The spirit behind such a provision was that the UCPN (Maoist) could transform itself into a civilian party after integration so that the non-Maoist parties can be free from the fear of the Maoists cadres and engage with the Maoists in the constitution drafting process.
Institutional mechanisms such as the Army Integration Special Committee (AISC) and the Technical Committee (AITC) were created in 2008 by the first elected coalition government headed by Maoist supremo, Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Both the committees were constituted by the representatives of major political parties— the United Communist Party-Maoist, the CPN-UML, the Nepali Congress, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum and the Tarai Madesh Loktantrik Party. The former was constitutionally required to determine the method and modality of integration; and the latter was meant to assist the AITC and implement its decisions.
Prime Minister Dahal was replaced by Madhav Kumar Nepal after Dahal resigned on the pretext of a disagreement with the then chief of army staff, General Rukmangad Katuwal in 2009. Prime Minister Nepal also could not move ahead on integration except to rehabilitate the “new recruits” and “minors” verified by the UNMIN. The major reasons for the failure of both prime ministers to do so were:
- The faulty provision that mandates the AISC to take decisions unanimously. Since all the members of the high level committee are party representatives, no decision could be taken in the committee unless it was first accepted at the party level. The inter-party and intra-party factionalism and fragmentation prevented AISC members to sit across the table and sort out the issue.
- The PM, the executive head of government under the parliamentary system, was the chairman of the committee, but his role was no more than of a member, nor was he given any special authority to take decisions in the committee.
- No party achieved absolute majority in the CA elections, hence a coalition government became imperative. The PMs of the day had to make compromises not only with their coalition partners but also within their own parties, and could not take the risk of initiating such integration, which was highly divisive issue politically, socially and militarily.
- One of the factions consisting of hard-core Maoists has not accepted the newly established system. It wants to either use the integration issue as a bargain chip in order to draft the “people’s constitution” that ensures a “people’s democracy” or mobilise the population in the name of a “people revolt” if the constitution cannot be drafted. The supremo of the party tries to play with both the factions alternately by making dramatic strategic moves to ensure his leadership of the party. The leadership is less concerned about how the combatants in cantonments have been dealing with an uncertain future for a half-decade. The available record shows that most AISC meetings are either postponed or cancelled because of the absence of the top Maoist leaders. Similarly, UCPN-Maoist representatives have made no contribution to the AITC on the pretext of having received no instructions from their party. On the contrary, its decisions are termed as a “conspiracy hatched” by the rest against them. In sum, the efforts for integration made by the rest also were neither appreciated nor accepted by the Maoists. On the contrary, the Maoists continue to view the cantonments as their military barracks, which was unacceptable to the other parties.
- The UNMIN which was monitoring and supervising the peace process, remained defensive or silent, while the Maoists violated the terms of the peace process. The UCPN (Maoist), which did not implement 5 out of the 9 restricted provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Accord and 12 out of 19 clauses of the AMAA, was never questioned by the UNMIN. Generally, the external monitor perceived that former rebels are more likely to return to waging a civil war unlike states which tend not to defy international concerns and pressure. Thus, such monitoring seems to be liberal in the case of the rebels so that credit for the success of the peace process should go to it. Non-Asian countries, especially the EU and the USA, have indiscriminately supported every move of the UNMIN. This is partly because of their active participation in the UN system and their investment in the peace process through the Peace Trust Fund in Nepal that is being used for the whole process of integration.
The joint chairman of the CPN-UML, Jhalanath Khanal, replaced Madhav Nepal as PM under the secret three-point agreement reached between Khanal and Dahal. Unfortunately, the agreement to create a consensus, divided the political circles irrespective of ideology and party line. Political leaders have been involved in a war of words paving the way for a further crisis of trust within and among the political parties. But the need to extend the tenure of the Constituent Assembly, and conditions imposed on the Maoist party to implement past agreements created pressure that led to a five -point agreement that extended the life of the CA for three months. Its spirit is that the integration process should be concluded within the extended time frame so that they could further extend the tenure of the CA in order to finalise the Constitution. Accordingly, the AISC formulated an action plan, the government ordered the Army Integration Secretariat (AIS) to immediately work on the plan and start its implementation at the technical level.
The AIS has already come out with its detailed plan for the whole process of integration such as human resources required for survey, training, logistics and settlement in the field during the integration process and work division between its members in accordance with their expertise and speciality. The AIS will be free after grouping the former fighters, seeing off the members who want to get voluntary retirement, and handing over the rehabilitating and integrating groups to the security forces and the ministry of peace respectively. But the AIEC has been unable to decide on very divisive issues such as the “required quality” of integration and rank harmonisation. Also the issues – whether the persons regularly involved in the political activities of the party, having criminal records, betraying security forces during the conflict etc. should be integrated or not – are yet to be finalised. More importantly, militarily and socially very divisive issues such as rank harmonisation, packages for rehabilitation and voluntary retirement, and requirements necessary for integration also are yet to be decided politically. A 53-day long process as proposed by the AIS seems very ambitious and challenging, since it estimates that its four teams would work strictly for 8 hours a day
Unfortunately, one strong faction of the UCPN-Maoist has taken the integration process to be “surrender”, at a time when the party leaders are not able to move ahead as per the 5-point agreement on the CA extension. The past record also shows that the Maoist party is conflict-ridden when agreements are at the implementation stage. Many deem this as a Maoist excuse for buying more time. It seems that political dishonesty may again prove to be the major challenge to integration. So, not only a formal-informal consensus but cooperation with the AIS is also required for taking the integration process to a successful conclusion.
Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/IntegrationofMaoistCombatants_iadhikari_290611