‘Peace process’ concludes but integration poses challenges
Six years after the formal end of the civil war, Nepal’s “peace process” has concluded with the integration of a little over 1,450 former Maoist fighters into the Nepal Army (NA). The cantonments where the former combatants of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) resided have closed down, Maoist weapons are under state control, and the PLA has ceased to exist ending the state of “one country, two Armies”.
In the past few weeks, the final phase of the integration process saw 1,388 combatants who had opted for integration pass through the NA-conducted selection examinations. They would join at the solider level. Seventy five other former Maoist fighters have cleared the written exam to join the NA at the officer level, though final results for them have not yet been announced since medical tests and interviews are to be completed. Officers are to go through a nine-month training course, and soldiers would undergo a seven-month course — both sets will also have an additional three-month “bridge course”.
Over the past five years, there has been a gradual reduction in the number of combatants in the cantonments. About 32,000 individuals had initially registered in the camps in early 2007. But the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) verified only 19,602 of those as combatants and disqualified over 4,000 persons for being under-age or joining the Maoist Army after the ceasefire began. The “disqualified” were discharged from the cantonments in early 2010.
In November 2011, a seven-point agreement was signed between the parties, which stipulated that a maximum of 6,500 former combatants could be integrated in a specially created general directorate under the NA. In the first phase of regrouping, over 7000 combatants opted to retire with cash packages while over 9,000 opted for integration.
But in subsequent rounds, this number steadily dipped and finally, around 1,600 combatants and 116 officer-level former fighters chose to go through selection tests.
In April 2012, the Nepal Army had also taken charge of the cantonments as well as containers that included over 3,000 Maoist weapons. The NA is now making arrangements to transport the containers to army centres from the cantonments, which have closed down.
Minendra Rijal, a member of the Special Committee for the Supervision, Integration, and Rehabilitation of former combatants, said that the process was now complete, and highlighted the key challenge ahead. Speaking to The Hindu, he said, “It is now important that there be no relationship between the Maoist party and those former fighters who have joined the Army; they must see themselves like any other solider. At the same time, the Nepal Army too must not discriminate against those who have been integrated. That will be the yardstick for successful integration.”
There is some uncertainty about where the combatants would be accommodated in the Army structure, since a lot fewer combatants than expected will be getting integrated. The original strength of the proposed general directorate was 18,500 — with 6,500 former Maoists constituting 35 per cent of the force and the remaining 65 per cent personnel from the security forces. It was to have multiple responsibilities, and be headed by a Major-General.
“I don’t think there will be a general directorate now. There could be a directorate, which has limited responsibility, since its size will only be around 3,500 now,” says Deepak Prakash Bhatt, a member of the Special Committee Secretariat. The Maoist leadership has however insisted that a general directorate be formed in keeping with the agreement.
While there was an informal agreement that the senior-most rank to be given to the Maoists would be that of a colonel, sources say that going by years of service, several former Maoist commanders would be eligible only to rise up to a major. “Profession says major, let us see what politics determines,” said a key official involved closely with the process.
With over 15,000 trained and ideologically-influenced combatants opting to retire, there have been concerns about their future course of action. Among them, some have joined the radical Maoist splinter led by Mohan Vaidya ‘Kiran’, and are being organized into a semi-military structure. But most are, according to those who have closely worked in cantonments, returning to their families, setting up businesses and working with their old Maoist party.