Integration and rehabilitation of Maoists combatants: Challenges and Prospects

paper presented by Kul C Gautam
At a seminar organised by the Nepal Institute for Policy Studies, NIPS
Kathmandu, 27 August 2008.

Rehabilitation and integration of Maoist combatants as part of Nepal’s Security Sector Reform The highly sensitive issue of “monitoring, integration and rehabilitation” of Maoist combatants as called for in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the Interim Constitution of Nepal, has now become central to concluding the peace process and finalizing the new constitution of Nepal. The CPA also speaks of “democratization” of the Nepal Army and “determination of the right number of the Nepal Army”, generally understood to mean the need to down-size or right-size Nepal’s security apparatus. A related issue is to make Nepal’s security forces more inclusive and representative of the diverse mosaic of Nepal’s population by ensuring better representation of women, Madhesis, Dalits and other under-represented groups.

Ideally, all of this needs to be done as part of a broader security sector reform (SSR), keeping in mind Nepal’s legitimate security interests, but avoiding unnecessary and unaffordable militarization of Nepali society. An equally important objective is to ensure genuine civilian supremacy by avoiding politicization and factionalization of Nepal’s security forces. An early resolution of these complex issues is vital for bringing to closure Nepal’s peace process, and for lasting peace and tranquillity in the country. While some of these complex issues can only be tackled over a number of years, a phased process of reform must begin right away with the management, rehabilitation and integration of Maoist combatants as the most urgent priority.

This article proposes some specific immediate actions on the issue of rehabilitation as well as selective “professionalization and integration” of Maoist combatants as part of a broader, longer-term and comprehensive SSR to make Nepal’s security forces more inclusive and democratic. The author of the present article is not an expert on the subject of SSR, and the proposals contained in the article are just an outline for further discussion and elaboration by concerned parties and experts.

It has now been almost three years since the signing of the CPA and the Agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies (AMMAA) in 2006. During this period, there have been some major achievements in Nepal — holding of the CA election, declaration of a republic, writing of the interim constitution and formation of three different governments. But on the critical question of integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants, there has been no progress at all. Even on the seemingly simple issue of release and rehabilitation of disqualified combatants, we have not made any progress.

During the decade of conflict, the size of the Nepal Army grew from 46,000 to 96,000. And Nepal’s defence budget increased from less than Rs. 2 billion to Rs. 15 billion this year. Today, during peacetime, most political parties, including the UCPN (Maoist), agree that there is a need to reduce rather than increase the overall size of the Nepal Army. We would also like to see some of this huge military security budget reallocated to human security priorities of our people.

In that context, it seems logical that priority should be given to “rehabilitation and management” of Maoist combatants rather than to their large-scale “integration” which will further inflate the size of the Nepal Army. On the other hand, given our commitment as part of the peace process, creative ways must be found for some degree of “integration” of the combatants in Nepal’s security forces including the Nepal Army.

Thus we are faced with two seemingly contradictory requirements — from the point of view of Nepal’s genuine security needs, we probably need to reduce the size of our security forces, especially the Nepal Army. But from the point of view of the peace process, we need to “integrate” some Maoist combatants thereby increasing the size of our security forces. So a question arises, can we find a win-win formula whereby we can integrate some Maoist combatants in a manner that would actually help strengthen the Nepal Army and other security forces, qualitatively, because we do not need to strengthen them quantitatively.

My answer is yes, we can and should undertake a limited degree of integration in a manner that would actually enhance the inclusiveness, democratization, professionalization and modernization of our security forces, which would be in Nepal’s national interest. In identifying that win-win formula, we must first develop a national consensus on what the major role and mission of the Nepal Army should be.

Redefining Major Tasks of Nepal Army

In the new peaceful Nepal, it would be desirable to restructure the Nepal Army to undertake four major tasks:

1) The traditional military functions of defending and safeguarding the nation’s sovereignty and integrity, and maintaining peace and security.

2) Serving in international peace-keeping and peace-building operations.

3) Supporting disaster relief and rehabilitation, and undertaking some short-term post-emergency reconstruction and development activities.

4) Providing certain specialized security services, e.g., VIP security, protection of vital installations and so forth.

The Nepal Army is already involved in such activities to some extent. What is being proposed here is to make this more formal and systematic, including reallocation of the defence budget to reflect these priorities. While building specialized competencies in each of the four key tasks of the Nepal Army as outlined above, all Nepali soldiers and officers should have an opportunity, and indeed obligation, to rotate and serve in all the four key functions, including in peace-keeping operations, which are among the most valued assignments, to ensure a sense of equity, common experience and shared pride in the course of their career.

The soon to be reactivated high-level Special Committee and its Technical Committee should be empowered to come up with a set of pragmatic proposals for the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants that would reinforce our genuine need for a numerically slightly smaller, but qualitatively and professionally much stronger, security apparatus that is more inclusive of women, Madhesis, Dalits and other under-represented groups.

Here are some key proposed actions in this perspective:

1. For immediate action:

Discharge of “Disqualified” Combatants

Immediately discharge all combatants “disqualified” by UNMIN from all cantonments to temporary holding centres far away from the existing cantonments where they will receive some counselling and vocational training before they return to their communities. Such holding centres should be managed by non-political civilian administrators assisted by UNICEF and other recognized national and international organizations without any further involvement of the Maoist Party or of Maoist commanders or the Nepal Army.

Release and rehabilitation of the “disqualified” combatants should not be conditional on any further political negotiations. It should be part of Nepal’s repeated commitment to the United Nations to comply with UN Security Council resolutions, without any further ifs and buts.

Funding for this component is already largely available from donors through relevant UN agencies.

2. “Integration” of Ex-Combatants

The Interim Constitution of Nepal provides for “verified Maoist combatants who choose integration to be deemed eligible for possible integration with the security bodies, after fulfilling the standard requirements”.

It is important to note the careful wording: the integration option is not for all combatants but only for the verified ones; and only for those who choose integration. Combatants do not have a right or entitlement to be integrated, but only to be considered for possible integration; and integration is not necessarily with the Nepal Army but with any or all security bodies including the Nepal Army; and those wishing integration must meet the standard norms of the various security forces.

The CPA provides for a Special Committee that is to carry out “monitoring, integration and rehabilitation”. Here again, it is important to note that integration is only one component, rehabilitation, management and monitoring are other key concepts. To implement the “integration” component with these caveats in mind, the following sequence of actions is suggested:

First, in order not to create undue expectation that large numbers of combatants are going to be integrated into the Nepal Army, there is a need to explain to the combatants that the actual number of combatants who are likely to be integrated will be rather small.

Second, explain to the ex-combatants that in the process of integration, some groups that have been historically marginalized and under-represented in the Nepal Army are likely to be given preference over others in the larger national interest of Nepal.

Third, explain to the ex-combatants what other options are available under the rehabilitation component — from jobs as teachers, health workers, pre-school monitors and foresters, to various vocational training for self-employment and foreign employment.

Then only proceed with the vetting process for the integration component, so the expectations are manageable.

a) To determine eligibility for possible integration, assign the Technical Committee, or possibly a sub-committee, to undertake this task. Let them first determine who might be eligible for possible integration, who meet the required standard norms for recruitment into the various branches of Nepal’s security services.

b) Second, ascertain from among them who would choose to join which security service, if given a choice. This must be an independent individual choice, not a choice made for the combatants by their commanders or some party officials.

c) Third, in determining eligibility, care should be taken to exclude Maoist combatants and officers known to have committed serious human rights violations. (The same human rights standards should apply, of course, to Nepal Army soldiers and officers, when it comes to their recruitment, promotion and deputation on special assignments).

d) Through political negotiations among the parties, agree on some priority groups for integration into Nepal’s security services on the basis of the need to make Nepal’s security services more inclusive of the diversity of Nepal’s population. Women, Dalits, Madhesis and other groups historically under-represented in Nepal’s security would fall in this priority group. As part of affirmative action, special arrangements could be made to provide a “bridging training” for combatants from such backgrounds who meet certain minimum standards, but not quite the normal standard norms of the various security services.

e) Among the Maoist combatants who are eligible and opt for recruitment into the Nepal Army or the Police or the Armed Police Force, provide special opportunities for integration for up to 2,000 women combatants. According to UN Security Council resolution 1325, the UN is actively encouraging the deployment of more women officers in its peace-keeping missions. Nepal could make a very valuable and mutually beneficial contribution to world peace by having a dedicated contingent of women soldiers or police officers. This would simultaneously help make Nepal’s security services more inclusive, gender-balanced and gender-sensitive institutions. It would be in Nepal’s larger national interest and in keeping with Nepal’s new egalitarian, democratic dispensation.

f) For the remaining women Maoist combatants, organize special training as community health workers, pre-school monitors, primary school teachers, or women development officers — with guaranteed employment — based on their qualifications and interest.

g) Among the remaining male Maoist combatants who meet the minimum required qualifications, arrange recruitment and professional training for up to 2,000 ex-combatants primarily from among communities that are currently under-represented in the Nepal Army, APF or the police force (e.g., Madhesis, Dalits and others).

h) For a small number of Maoist officers, who have not joined the political process or taken up other civilian jobs, and who have basic officer-level qualifications, arrange a specialized officers’ training partly in Nepal and partly at well recognized institutions abroad. Part of this training should be done jointly with other Nepal Army or police officers to ensure a sense of camaraderie and bonding as officers of a non-political professional security force.

3. The “Rehabilitation” Component

Develop a detailed rehabilitation package for the discharged Maoist combatants that include the following:

l A lump-sum allowance of Rs. 100,000 for each of the 15,000 or so discharged ex-combatant who have not been integrated into the security forces.

l For all ex-combatants who so wish, offer special scholarships to pursue vocational/professional training in areas of national development priorities where there are good prospects for employment, e.g., training as primary school teachers, pre-school monitors, ANM and AHW.

l Additionally, offer support for special technical/vocational training and apprenticeship programmes involving different skills with the help of existing technical/vocational training institutes.

l For the above purpose, convene a consortium of existing technical/vocational schools, from both the private and public sectors and provide them financial and other incentives to expand their training capacity, initially to provide special training to the ex-Maoist combatants; later to Nepal Army soldiers who might take voluntary early retirement, and eventually to expand Nepal’s technical, vocational, professional training capacity for the general public.

l For all ex-combatants who have received training but no guaranteed employment, offer a lump sum amount of up to Rs. 200,000 partly in cash and partly in job-related commodities, tools and raw materials for self-employment.

Securing International Support for

Rehabilitation and Integration

Negotiate with friendly countries and donor institutions to provide financial, technical and training support for the above programme. I estimate the total cost of the rehabilitation component to be approximately Rs. 3 billion or US$ 42 million (see Annex on Wednesday).

A word of caution is warranted here. International donors are not likely to be keen to provide large amounts of cash grants to ex-combatants as proposed above if it appears that the UCPN (Maoist) will seek to extract or extort much of such cash for their party coffers. There may be a need to commoditize the cash grants to avoid such extortion, unless the Maoists make a credible commitment that is convincing to other parties and the donors.

(The concluding part of this essay will be published on Wednesday. The author is a former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF and Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. This paper was presented at the seminar Integration and rehabilitation of Maoists combatants: Challenges and Prospects organised by the Nepal Institute for Policy Studies, NIPS, on Aug. 27.)