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Nowhere to go

Bipin Adhikari
The Kathmandu Post, April 22, 2010
Source: The Kathmandu Post

Mao's tactics of guerrilla war were very simple: "The enemy advances, we retreat. The enemy camps, we harass. The enemy tires, we attack. The enemy retreats, we pursue." Mao did not envisage a peace process in the theory of his war; neither had he ever considered a change in his tactics.

The ongoing unruly behavior of the Maoist leaders and cadres, including resurgence of training and warming up activities of youths throughout the country, only reminds us of the truth that the peace process is being taken as no more than a tactical move. They only show that there is no intention of creating a win-win situation for both the Maoists and the non-Maoists, through the Constituent Assembly, keeping the democratic system as the bottom line.

Apparently, there are problems of integrity and commitment on the part of the Maoists; but the role of the state, or the leaders of the seven-party alliance, and subsequent governments for that matter, has been pathetic throughout the last four years.

The Interim Constitution provided for a transitional provision for the combatants, which had its background in all the peace agreements signed in the past including the 12-point understanding, the eight-point agreement and the 25-point code of conduct, the five-point letter sent to the United Nations and the decision taken at the meeting of high level leaders held on Nov. 8, 2006. This enabled the council of ministers, which was supposed to work through a special committee representing the major political parties in the CA to supervise, integrate and rehabilitate the Maoist combatants.

This special committee was a significant provision which could have enabled the government to pursue the DDRR processes (disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation and re-integration) in consultation with technical experts. It was enough for the government to take over the command, control and supervision of the combatants. Unfortunately, the lack of initiative on the part of the government consequently helped the Maoists to continue politicking without much change in their combatants' status, and thus keep doing politics without losing the party security apparatus.

From the very beginning, the Maoists were effective in pushing the issues of their concerns at the peace negotiations far more effectively than the state. The harsh fact is that the state treated its army and the Maoist combatants at par, and even demoralised it by stating in the constitution that it is not "inclusive"; and that it needs to be democratised. While security sector reform, professionalisation of the national army and civilian supremacy over it are always important issues for the purpose of national defence, it is absurd to talk about "democratisation of the army" — for the commanders are never elected by ballot, and they are not to be expected to report to the district-level party bosses. The issue is professionalisation of the army, and enhancing its efficiency and dexterity.

Three major transitional activities were critical to the success of the post-insurgency peace-building project: DDRR, security sector reform and setting into motion the process of addressing the underlying cultural, economic, political and social causes behind the conflict. While the new constitution can handle the later components well at this stage, the issue of DDRR is suffering because of the policy of appeasement that has been followed by the government ever since the restoration of parliament in 2006. This included, among other things, the inability of the government to say an emphatic "no" to the talk of en masse integration of former combatants into the army.

There is so far no such trend anywhere in the world. There are physical and professional standards to be followed when somebody is recruited as a soldier. There are national security implications when those who are recruited into the army are politically indoctrinated people. They cannot remain disciplined, professional, competitive and apolitical even after being trained. Such bulk integration regardless of their strength in guerrilla techniques not only challenges the internal cohesion within the national army, but also helps it to disintegrate, whether the chain of command has been accepted or not. This issue must not be ignored.

It is not quite clear, but on April 16, the political parties except the UCPN (Maoist) have in principle agreed to integrate en masse about 3,000 former Maoist combatants into the security agencies very soon. They agreed to this effect at the meeting of the special committee referred to above either to take in up 3,000 Maoist combatants or to carry out integration on the basis of one weapon, one combatant basis. The government arrived at the figure taking into account the arms handed over by the combatants to the UN, which amounted to about 3,000 units. The prime minister proposed that the combatants could be integrated into the Army, the Armed Police Force, the Nepal Police or any other security outfit that comes into being.

The combatants are also offered the opportunity of voluntary retirement from the existing cantonments and rehabilitation opportunities as per their wish. The opportunities, however, must not be limited to only small-scale income generating enterprises, increased possibility of employment due to acquired building skills and peaceful cohabitation of ex-combatants and community members and so forth. They need jobs, at least for some years, to make sure that they do not take up arms again after the money they receive from the government is spent, and there is plenty of time to scatter around. There is no reason why the government should not mobilise the private sector to create vacancies for them. Since they are the worst sufferers, they have their stakes as well.

An unemployed combatant is always a threat to public security. He or she can also be easily misused by unscrupulous sources. There have not been sincere efforts to engage the Maoist leadership with workable options. They too have some responsibility towards the people who fought for them. At the same time, educating the general public that the government is taking care of them is part of the process to create public pressure on the Maoists. This has not happened. If the Maoists are still ambivalent today, whether they should cooperate with the adoption of the new constitution or fish in muddy waters, it is because their source of power is intact in the safe hands of UNMIN. The government has been devoid of tactical moves. After all, democracy does not mean lack of strategies and long-term planning.

The process of integration is a comprehensive process. DDRR must go hand in hand. How difficult the issue of integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants is, however, can be understood when one reads American novelist James Gould Cozzens' remarks: "Real rebels are rarely anything but second-rate outside their rebellion; the drain of time and temper is ruinous to any other accomplishment." The challenge is definitely enormous.

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