Concerns about angry former fighters
Almost 10 months after a peace deal generated hopes of a successful integration and rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants, the process remains incomplete and riddled with complications.
Over 3,100 former fighters remain in cantonments, awaiting integration into the Nepal Army (NA). Only half-a-dozen combatants out of 19,602 verified fighters opted for rehabilitation packages. Around 14,000 individuals opted for voluntary retirement and walked away with cash packages, but a section among them are disillusioned with both the state and the Maoist party leadership.
A seven-point agreement between political parties on November 1, 2011 had stipulated that a maximum of 6500 combatants could be integrated in a specially created directorate under the Nepal Army. It provided for a degree of flexibility on age and educational qualifications needed for entry at different levels into the NA.
During the subsequent regrouping process, disputes emerged between the combatants and the Secretariat of the Special Committee (SC) for Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of Maoist Combatants. The secretariat planned to use the date of birth, rank, and educational qualifications of the former fighters at the time of their verification by UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) in 2007.
But the combatants insisted on using current educational record, and revised age as provided in the citizenship certificates acquired after their entry into the peace process.
As Vivek Gaire, a battalion commander in Rolpa, told The Hindu then, “Many of our friends, who could not study during the war, have used the past four years to earn degrees. Should that not be the criteria now?” A compromise was found and both sets of data were included.
But the issue re-emerged when the NA began the process of selecting combatants. Brigadier General Ramindra Chhetri, spokesperson of Nepal Army, told The Hindu , that dispute over age had stalled the process. “Going by the records, 26 per cent of the 3123 former combatants who opted for integration were not 18 at the time of U.N. verification. They should have been discharged earlier.”
Secretariat member Deepak Bhatt says the core of the problem is that combatants have used separate dates of birth in the U.N. records and their citizenship certificates.
The combatants have objected to the criteria used by the Army, with the result that the process is stalled. Mr. Chhetri said the Army was merely operating according to the political agreement, and if any side sought a revision on the age requirements, it had to happen through the all party Special Committee.
The SC, however, has not met as the political climate has remained polarised, with opposition parties boycotting the Prime Minister and demanding his resignation first. The Maoists, however, argue that the Army and the opposition parties are going against the spirit of the integration process by making it seem like a ‘normal recruitment drive’.
After a party plenum in July, the Maoist leadership warned the opposition that if it did not show flexibility on age and education, all the combatants would retire and there would be no integration. A diplomatic source closely involved with the process said, “Settling the integration issue now will only happen as a part of a new package deal which will include determining the political roadmap vis-à-vis the constitution and power-sharing. I can’t see the opposition relenting before that.”
A key trigger for the Maoist split was the handling of the integration issue, with senior ideologue and the current chairman of the splinter Maoist party, Mohan Vaidya ‘Kiran’ terming it as ‘surrender’ and ‘humiliation’.
During the November regrouping process, he urged his loyalists to boycott integration and opt for retirement. His other party colleagues — in particular the militant leader Netra Bikram Chand ‘Biplab’ — have since sought to organise a section of former combatants into an organized force.
Maoist watchers estimate that anywhere between 3000-4000 former combatants have shifted to Kiran’s party, but these figures are merely speculative and there is no empirical data on it yet.
Not all of those who retired however have shifted to the new outfit — some have left politics altogether, many have joined the parent party in different capacities. Based on conversations with combatants in six of the seven combatants earlier this year, a range of reasons appear to have motivated a majority of them to opt for retirement — the gap between the Maoist promise of ‘respectable’ integration and the actual process akin to ‘recruitment’; the alleged financial mishandling of PLA accounts; the fact that NA was not ‘democratised’ simultaneously; fatigue with the military life; a desire to be in active politics; a yearning to return home and lead independent lives.
However, an over-riding sentiment was disillusionment that their years of struggle had not resulted in the political change they had sought, nor had they been recognised commensurately.
As a leading English-daily, The Kathmandu Post , noted in a recent editorial, “The main objective of the integration and rehabilitation process was perhaps to ensure a respectful and dignified safe-landing into society for the thousands of Maoist combatants.
In this objective, the process has failed… it is only a matter of time before the political effects of their disgruntlement will become evident.”