Alternatives for managing Maoist combatants

Alternatives for managing Maoist combatants

Over the past weekend, United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) and UCPN (Maoist) came up with some creative proposals for the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants. Although criticized and dismissed by senior leaders of Nepali Congress and CPN-UML, some elements of the proposals are actually quite logical and thoughtful. If these proposals had been made two years ago, they should and probably would have been taken seriously. But, meanwhile, so much muddy water of distrust has flown down the Bagmati River that the timing and some components of these proposals arouse more suspicion than confidence for a breakthrough.

Although the sequence of actions proposed in UNMIN’s “non-paper” is quite sensible, its 60-week timeframe, with the actual discharge of the combatants from cantonments beginning in week 41 coincides almost perfectly with the new deadline for the promulgation of the constitution. UNMIN should have had the political acumen to realize that this coincidence is too close for comfort for the non-Maoist parties, as it matches – perhaps unwittingly – with the Maoist position that the drafting of the constitution and conclusion of the peace process should go in parallel.

Two years ago, all parties explicitly agreed that the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants would be completed within six months whereas the drafting of the new constitution would take about two years. Contrary to the Maoist claim, it was thus clear that the two processes were not inter-dependent or intended to be simultaneous. UNMIN’s initial mandate was timed to coincide with substantial progress in the “integration” of Maoist combatants and closure of the cantonments expected to have been completed by the end of 2008 or early 2009.

As the peace process faltered in terms of integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants, UNMIN’s tenure was extended by a few months several times. Each time there was an extension, it was expected that the peace process would be largely completed during that time, while the drafting of the constitution took its own course. Thus, when after dilly-dallying for almost two years, the Maoists said in early 2010 that the peace process would be completed only when they were assured that there would be guarantee of a constitution of their liking, most non-Maoist parties and independent citizens felt betrayed. But, curiously, neither UNMIN nor any members of the UN Security Council protested or even contested this new unilateral Maoist conditionality.

Certainly the Maoists are not the only party to be blamed for lack of progress in the peace process. Other parties have also been inconsistent and have given mixed messages. But the Maoists have clearly been in the forefront of changing goal posts and interpreting the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) to suit whatever is their latest negotiating strategy.

Under normal circumstances, the Maoists’ latest proposal that the views of the combatants should be individually ascertained before deciding on who and how many volunteer for integration or rehabilitation seems quite reasonable and logical. But during the past two years, the Maoist leadership has incited the combatants to dismiss all rehabilitation options and insist on integration as the only desirable option. Other political parties are therefore justified in suspecting that the “free will” of the combatants will be largely as dictated by the Maoist party leaders. The Maoists’ admirable new-found fondness for consulting each combatant individually should be taken with a pinch of salt as it is well-known that they actually refused to allow the UN to independently consult and counsel the “disqualified” combatants about their wishes and preferences.

The Maoists’ admirable new-found fondness for consulting each combatant individually should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Had the Maoists facilitated a smooth and rapid discharge of the “disqualified” combatants; had they allowed the cantonments to come under the command of the “Special Committee”; had they renounced violence as a method of political change after signing the CPA and, especially after becoming the largest political party following elections to the Constituent Assembly; had they not resorted to intimidation of their opponents through their Young Communist League para-military structure; had they ceased threatening “state capture” as their ultimate and legitimate goal; and had the UNMIN proposal come a year ago instead of now; and had it been developed in consultation with the Technical Committee or the Special Committee, both the UNMIN and some elements of the UCPN (Maoist) proposals would have merited serious consideration. But in the current atmosphere of deep distrust, and given the newly agreed timeline for forming a new government and completing the new constitution, a different approach is warranted.

Since we are pressed for time, a fast-track, pragmatic approach needs to be found to complete the integration and rehabilitation process in a manner that respects the dignity of the combatants and that is also in the long-term national interest of Nepal. The Maoist have inflated the expectations of their combatants. Now they should help in moderating those expectations. They can do so invoking their own progressive agenda for national and social transformation.

As the Maoists have argued, and many of us agree, Nepal does not need a quantitatively larger security force, but it does need some qualitative improvements. One way to do this would be to find a win-win formula involving integration on a priority basis of a limited number of Maoist combatants from such historically under-represented groups as women, Madhesis, Dalits, and other marginalized communities to help Nepal’s security services become more inclusive and representative of the diversity of Nepal’s population.

The Maoist leadership must explain clearly to its combatants that in the process of integration, such historically marginalized and under-represented groups will be given preference over others, in the larger national interest of Nepal. All other combatants who are not integrated will be given attractive rehabilitation package. The Maoist leadership can and should explain the need to do so not as a regrettable compromise, but as a victory for their progressive agenda. After all, the Maoists claim to be a party that gives priority to excluded and marginalized communities and to improving people’s living standards. It would therefore be consistent with their philosophy to convince their combatants to choose rehabilitation packages that will enable them to enhance their own and national development rather than going into military service which might be downsized soon anyway.

The Maoists have been disparaging the “standard norms” of the Nepal Army and other security services, without offering any specific alternatives. In their latest proposal, they speak about “international norms”. This provides a helpful face-saving formula, as most norms of Nepal’s security services are known to be consistent with the norms used in other countries that are comparable to Nepal. So let us agree to a set of reasonable “international” norms, including some “bridging” training for selected Maoist combatants who fall on the borderline of such norms.

Integration of a limited number of Maoist combatants following the above norms and inclusive criteria would be helpful to make Nepal’s security services more attractive for UN peacekeeping missions. For example, the UN is looking for more women soldiers and officers in its peacekeeping missions. Thus, by giving priority to integration of women combatants, the Maoist will truly help serve Nepal’s national interest, not just their partisan interest.

Nepal needs tens of thousands of teachers, health workers, forest guards, and technicians. We should therefore develop an attractive education, training and employment or self-employment packages for the vast majority of Maoist combatants who will not be integrated into security services. As a progressive civilian political party, UCPN (Maoist) should actively promote rehabilitation of their combatants into respectable, development-oriented civilian jobs instead of pushing for a dubious proposal for a new military or paramilitary force.

Instead of trying to retain some kind of armed elements under their remote control under various guises, the Maoists would be much better off transforming themselves into a truly progressive civilian party. As such, they will also be more credible when they advocate for “democratization” of Nepal Army and other security services. The sooner the Maoist realize that remaining a party with arms is a huge liability for them, the better off they will be to contribute to their own vision of a New Nepal, where we can all live in peace and harmony devoting all our energies to build a prosperous future for our children and future generations.

(Writer is a former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF and Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations.)

Source:, Published on: 2010-07-13