The dramatic announcement of handing over the Maoist cantonments to the Nepal Army on April 10 and its quick follow-through is a belated but welcome breakthrough in Nepal’s peace process. It will undoubtedly facilitate and expedite the integration into Nepal Army of those former Maoist combatants who have not opted for paid voluntary retirement. The end of one major political party retaining its private army to strengthen its bargaining power augurs well for creating an atmosphere of greater trust and a more even playing field among political parties, which is essential in any functioning democracy. We all hope and pray that this will help expedite the drafting of a new fully democratic and progressive Constitution of Nepal.
As we celebrate this breakthrough, we must not forget the very high price that the Nepali nation has been made to pay and the many missed opportunities for a much earlier and better deal that could have been worked out in the best long-term interest of the ex-Maoist combatants as well as that of Nepal.
NEGOTIATING IN GOOD FAITH
According to the agreement signed by the UCPN (Maoist) with other major political parties on June 25, 2008, integration and rehabilitation of verified Maoist combatants was to be completed within six months, and that the government would not take any responsibility for combatants who were not integrated and rehabilitated after six months, whereas the time agreed for drafting the new constitution was two years. This agreement was signed as part of the process for constituting the new government under Maoist leadership following its emergence as the largest political party in the CA election.
But even before the ink could dry on that agreement, Maoist leaders began to dilly-dally on the peace process by saying that the drafting of the constitution and the integration and rehabilitation of their ex-combatants had to be simultaneous. Some Maoist leaders even argued that they would agree to disband their separate army only after they were satisfied that the new constitution would be “pro-people.”
Instead of negotiating in good faith for rapid completion of the integration and rehabilitation of their combatants, the Maoists reshuffled the command structure in cantonments, and grossly inflated the number of commanding ‘officers’ in a supposedly idle ‘army’ awaiting imminent dissolution. It did so with a view to claiming larger number of officer level posts in the process of integration.
Contrary to the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the Maoist leaders and negotiators sought to establish a certain equivalence between the NA and their “PLA” and argued that ‘integration’ meant the dissolution of both the NA and PLA and the establishment of a new “National Army” through the fusion of the two. Some Maoist leaders even argued that all of their 19,000-plus combatants were automatically eligible for integration into Nepal Army because their qualifications were ‘verified’ by UNMIN.
There were many constructive and creative proposals, including some presented by this writer way back in summer 2008, that would have yielded much better outcome for the Maoist combatants and for Nepal as a whole than the final deal that has now been reached after four years of acrimonious haggling, and expenditure of billions of rupees.
Nepal’s already disproportionately large army did not justify further enlargement through integration of large numbers of Maoist combatants. But as the spirit of the CPA had to be honored by integrating some combatants and rehabilitating the others, several constructive win-win proposals were made. I proposed one such formula whereby we would integrate several thousand ex-combatants, giving priority to such historically under-represented groups as women, Madhesis, Dalits, and certain Janajati communities. This would have helped make Nepal Army more inclusive—a position championed by the Maoists and Madhesis, and supported by many of us who stand for a more just and inclusive Nepal.
Besides making the NA more inclusive and gender-balanced, an additional justification for proactively integrating a larger number of women combatants would be to groom them for serving in Nepal’s UN peace-keeping forces and thus responding to UN Security Council resolution 1,325 which encourages member states to provide more women soldiers and officers in peace-keeping missions. Unfortunately, neither the Maoists nor representatives of other political parties advocated for any such progressive, affirmative action.
MISSING ‘PEACE DIVIDEND’
Another missed opportunity in Nepal’s peace process has been the gross neglect of any real focus on a meaningful rehabilitation program. Normally, post-conflict countries develop massive relief and reconstruction programs to revive their economy, to create jobs and to rebuild the country. Demobilized ex-combatants are then offered attractive rehabilitation package involving vocational training and skill development. Although many donors offered to help, the Maoists never showed real interest in any serious rehabilitation program. They always preferred either to get the maximum number of their combatants to join the NA or to squeeze the maximum amount of cash as “golden handshake”.
In the end, the Maoists did squeeze plenty of cash from the national treasury, but Nepal failed to attract any significant international support for a massive rehabilitation and reconstruction program as many other post-conflict countries have managed to do.
It was sad to witness how the Maoists did not cooperate with UN agencies and donors who were prepared to develop very attractive rehabilitation packages for the “disqualified” combatants, preferring instead to either get large financial hand-outs or to organize programs that would keep the ‘disqualified’ combatants in groups under the Party’s supervision. When neither of their preferred options worked out, the Maoists essentially dumped the ‘disqualified’ combatants with a very poor package.
Not only the radical Baidya faction, but also the establishment faction proclaims ‘state capture’ by any means as its ultimate goal.
Had the Maoists negotiated in good faith and helped conclude the integration and rehabilitation process expeditiously with focus on creating a real ‘peace dividend’ for themselves and the nation, thousands of ex-combatants would have been employed or returned to their communities as well-trained development workers with skills in badly needed jobs as health workers, teachers, mechanics and nation-builders. By now we would also have already promulgated a new constitution, and could have made considerable progress on the ‘democratization’ and right-sizing of Nepal’s security services as envisaged in the CPA. Some of us made specific proposals on all these important issues, but nothing could move forward as the changing of goalposts and mixed messages given by the Maoists on the peace process paralyzed progress on all other fronts.
It should be noted that the recent decision by the Maoist leadership to expedite the peace process, while most welcome, was not the result of a carefully thought-out, bold and enlightened decision as advertised. It was necessitated by the virtual breakdown of the chain of command in the cantonments, as the ex-combatants lost faith in their leadership because of many mixed messages and false promises; their anger at being used as bargaining chips by different factions of their Party; the lack of transparency in funds that were extracted from their meager allowances; and attempts by their commanders to extort funds from their voluntary retirement packages. Faced with what amounted to a dangerous call for mutiny within the cantonments by supporters of the rival hardline faction of the Party, Chairman Prachanda decided to salvage the situation by calling on the Nepal Army to restore order in the cantonments, and claim credit for his ‘bold leadership’.
Whatever the circumstances and real reasons for this ‘bold decision’, let us hope that it will help expedite the drafting of the new constitution, and encourage the Maoist leadership to stop giving mixed messages to its own cadres, to the Nepali people and the international community.
REAL BOLD DECISION NEEDED
Beyond integration and/or retirement of Maoist combatants and closure of their cantonments, it is now urgent to settle issues related to transitional justice, including the establishment of a credible Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Disappearance Commission. But the real test of whether the UCPN (Maoist) has become a truly civilian political party will depend on it formally renouncing the use of violence in politics. In a functioning democracy, no political party can have the option of “capturing the state” by using either ballots or bullets. And it must be noted that it is not only the radical Mohan Vaidya faction, but the Prachanda and Bhattarai factions too still proclaim “state capture” by any means—ballots and/or bullets—as their ultimate goal.
Some Maoists and their apologists label people who insist that the Maoists renounce violence as “feudal”, “extremist”, “anti-national” and “people’s enemy” for failing to understand the ‘compulsion’ of moderate Maoists. However, calling on Maoists to renounce violence is not a hostile act but a friendly suggestion that would definitely benefit the Maoists in the eyes of most Nepalis and the world at large. Instead of pleading with other parties and the international community to show ‘understanding’ for their ‘compulsion’, now is the time for the Maoists to be really bold and apply their philosophy of ‘kramabhngata’ to liberate themselves from their ideological dogma that glorifies violence.
Yes, we must fight to end the deep-rooted structural violence of poverty, inequality, exclusion and marginalization that has long persisted in Nepal, but that does not justify non-democratic and violent means, as two wrongs do not make a right, nor do noble ends justify ignoble means.