Rehabilitation and Integration of Maoist Combatants as Part of Nepal’s Security Sector Transformation

Keynote Statement by Kul Chandra Gautam

at Seminar on “Prospects and Challenges of Integration and Rehabilitation of Maoist Combatants”

Organized by Nepal Institute of Policy Studies (NIPS), Kathmandu, 27 August 2009

I feel very privileged to be asked to make some keynote remarks at this important seminar.

But I must confess, I accepted to make these keynote remarks with much reluctance and hesitation. My reluctance is not because I am shy to speak, but because I am really not an expert on this subject of integration and rehabilitation of combatants or on the related subjects of DDR, SSR, etc.

There are far more knowledgeable people than I on this subject right here in the audience. So I feel it is a bit presumptuous for me to give a keynote address.

You might ask: why do I keep writing and making suggestions on this subject from time to time if I feel I have no expertise on the subject? That is a good question. And let me respond.

It has now been almost 3 years since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (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, formation of 3 different governments.

But on the critical question of integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants there has been no progress at all.

Even on the seemingly simple issue of release and rehabilitation of the disqualifiedcombatants, we have not made any progress.

I am, of course, not involved, nor in the loop of any discussion or decision-making on this highly sensitive issue. But as I watch from the sidelines, as a concerned citizen of this country, I am dismayed that the government and the ruling parties have never presented a specific

Even when the Special Committee for Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of Maoist combatants and its Technical Committee were functional for several months during the time of the previous government, we did not see any specific proposals being debated or negotiated. We only heard general statements, often inconsistent and contradictory, being pronounced by members of the Special Committee and their political party leaders.

I cannot see how we can make any progress if the negotiating parties do not put any specific proposals on the table – with possible numbers, time-tables, cost, suggested sequence of action, etc.

On the basis of generalities alone, each side can go on blaming the other side – but the process as a whole will not make any headway.

So, although this subject is beyond my expertise and depth or grasp, I have felt it my duty to put up some specific proposals with the hope that people like our Honourable Minister for Peace and Reconstruction, members of the Special Committee and the Technical Committee – like our friends here Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat and Barsha Man Pun or their advisors could use these to help prepare their own negotiating papers.

I really hope that the ideas I am going to share with you today, could be used as a starting point for serious negotiations, as we really need to have something specific in writing even to disagree with, to haggle, to refine, to build upon, and to improve.

I have and I will dare to propose some figures – on numbers of combatants to be integrated, rehabilitated, etc. and even the proposed future size and functions of the Nepal Army – and what might be the possible cost and investment requirements.

proposal or set of proposals for what they would see as the desired outcome in the area of integration and rehabilitation.

Let me clarify that I propose these numbers to generate a debate, and to provide a framework for the debate. The figures proposed maybe way off the mark. So please do not focus on the figures I use. Instead, please focus on the overall direction, the nature and the magnitude of what is being proposed.

I put these ideas and specific numbers on paper, with some hesitation, but also with conviction that we do need some tentative basis to start the negotiations.

Now, in discussing these issues we need to be mindful of the interest of various groups and constituencies. The concerned combatants, and the Nepal Army personnel have their own wishes, aspirations and fears. We have mutually agreed texts like the CPA, the AMMAA, and the Interim Constitution, which have clearly agreed language, although different parties tend to interpret them slightly differently, and sometimes quote bits and pieces of these agreements selectively to suit their agenda and bargaining positions.

What I will try to do is to make proposals that are consistent with the agreed texts so far, but that are also, in my view, in the best long-term interest of Nepal.

We are in a sensitive transition period, and to consolidate the peace process we need to be pragmatic and make some short-term compromises. We leave it to the political parties to make such compromises.

My own proposals, however, are based on what I believe – as an independent citizen, not aligned with any party – to be in the best long-term interest of Nepal.

We have four key agreed documents that lay the basis for our task:

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

Please 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 NA; 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”. Please note those terms carefully – integration is only one component, rehabilitation, management and monitoring are other key concepts.

The CPA also speaks of the “democratization” of the Nepal Army and “determination of the right number of the Nepali 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, Madheshis, Dalits and other under-represented groups.

Ideally, all of this would be best done as part of a broader security sector reform (SSR) or transformation, keeping in mind Nepal’s legitimate security interests, but avoiding unnecessary and unaffordable militarization of the Nepalese society. An equally important objective would be to ensure genuine civilian supremacy by avoiding politicization and factionalization of Nepal’s security forces.

An early resolution of these issues is vital for bringing to closure Nepal’s peace process, and for lasting peace and tranquility in the country.

During the decade of conflict, the size of the Nepal Army grew from 46,000 to 96,000. And Nepal’s defense budget increased from less than NRs. 2 billion to NRs. 15 billion this year. Today, during peace time, 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 the 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 Nepali’s security forces, including the Nepal Army.

So here 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, I believe we must first develop a national consensus on what should be the major role and mission of the Nepal Army.

Redefining Major Tasks of Nepal Army

In the new peaceful Nepal, my humble view is that it would be desirable to restructure the Nepal Army to undertake 4 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, and protection of vital installations, etc.

The Nepal Army is already involved in such activities to some extent. What I propose here is to make this more formal and systematic, including reallocation of the defense budget to reflect these priorities.

I would hope that the soon to be reactivated high level Special Committee and its Technical Committee will 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, Madheshis, Dalits, and other under-represented groups.

Here are some suggested actions and sequence of actions in that perspective:

1. For immediate action:

Discharge all “Disqualified” Combatants from Maoist cantonments

As a Nepali with long association with the UN and UNICEF, I am ashamed and embarrassed that even after 3 years, we have not been able to discharge and rehabilitate the nearly 3000 disqualified combatants.

Last year in December, former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal promised to Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy SRSG for CAAG that all the disqualified combatants would be released and rehabilitated by 28 February 2009. When the Special Committee was constituted, its first decision was to release the disqualified personnel.

We know several UN agencies with donor support are fully prepared to help with rehabilitation of the disqualified combatants, especially the minors or former minors in accordance with well-known international standards.

Release and rehabilitation of the “disqualified” combatants should not be conditional on any political negotiations. They should not be a bargaining chip for any other purpose. Frankly, if we cannot agree on the release and rehabilitation of the “disqualified” personnel, that raises serious questions about how genuine is our commitment to the overall integration and rehabilitation of the rest of the Maoist combatants.

I would like to ask right from this forum to Honourable Minister of Peace and Reconstruction, to Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat and to Mr. Barsha Man Punji, please release all disqualified combatants immediately from their current cantonments to temporary holding centres where they will receive some counseling 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.

Please do so without raising any further ifs and buts. Please do so without any more surveys and questionnaires. Please do so without the need for any more supervision visits by political and military leaders to the cantonments.

I know there have been some questions raised about the competence of UNMIN. But in this case, please trust the UN system working with other Nepali and international civil society to do the right things based on international norms and standards.

We must not find ourselves in a situation where we cannot do it, because we are so suspicious of each other. And we will not allow others to help us, because we don’t trust them, or we cannot control them.

Releasing the disqualified personnel immediately should be a test of our sincerity towards the peace process. Let me ask Barshaman Punji to ask your Chairman Prachanda to be courageous enough to release the disqualified combatants without any further ifs and buts.

Let us have in this country the peace of the brave and courageous, not the peace of the timid and suspicious. Let us take this small first step which would help build confidence for the whole peace process.

“Integration” of ex-Combatants:

Now on the integration of the ex-combatants, I suggest the following action points:

First, in order not to create undue expectation that large numbers of combatants are going to be integrated into the NA, 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. This is something that I believe only the UCPN-M can do effectively.

Second, explain to the ex-combatants that in the process of integration, some groups that have been historically marginalized and under-represented in the NA 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, 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. By the way, the same human rights standards should apply 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, Madheshis 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 background who meet certain minimum standards, but not quite the normal standard norms of various security services.

e) Among the Maoist combatants who are eligible and opt for recruitment into the Nepal Army or Police or Armed Police Force, provide special opportunity for integration for up to 2000 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. And it would be good for Nepal’s security services to be more gender-balanced and gender sensitive.

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 for the recruitment and professional training, of up to 2000 ex-combatants primarily from among communities that are currently under-represented in the Nepal Army, APF or police force (e.g. Madheshis, Dalits, etc.).

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 for a specialized officers’ training partly in Nepal and partly at well recognized institutions abroad. Part of this training should be joint with other NA or police officers to ensure a sense of camaraderie and bonding as officers of a non-political professional security force.

The “Rehabilitation” Component

Now, let us move to the “rehabilitation” component. I suggest we develop a detailed rehabilitation package for discharged Maoist combatants that include the following:


  • A lump-sum allowance of NRs. 1 lakh for each of the 15,000 or so discharged ex-combatant who have not been integrated into the security forces.
  • 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, etc.
  • Additionally, offer support for special technical/vocational training and apprenticeship programmes involving different skill with the help of existing technical/vocational training institutes.
  • 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 ex-Maoist combatants; later to Nepal Army soldiers who might take voluntary early retirements, and eventually to expand Nepal’s technical, vocational, professional training capacity for the general public.
  • For all ex-combatants who have received training but no guaranteed employment offer a lump-sum amount of up to NRs. 2 lakhs partly in cash and partly in job-related commodities, tools, raw materials, etc. 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 NRs. 3 billion or US$42 million.

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 to the donors.

2. Longer-term action plan:

To provide guidance for security sector reform and to oversee other critical short-term transitional arrangements, there is an urgent need to establish and activate a high level National Security Council that enjoys the respect and trust of all Nepalis to develop long-term national security policy,.

To ensure proper civilian oversight over the Nepal Army, we need to urgently begin the process of transforming and upgrading a proper Ministry of Defense staffed with competent, non-controversial senior officials, with some knowledge and expertise of military and strategic affairs.

“Right-sizing” Nepal Army through Voluntary/Early Retirements

There is a need for a serious review of the right size of Nepal’s security services in the light of our evolving security challenges. Currently the Nepal Army alone has some 96,000 personnel. With the APF and Police Force, Nepal’s total security personnel far exceeds 150,000+. This number is higher than all of Nepal’s civil servants combined, excluding school teachers.

It seems excessive and imbalanced for a poor country like Nepal to have such a large security force. In light of the need to gradually right-size the Nepal security services, particularly the Nepal Army, a policy decision should be taken not to automatically fill posts, including at the senior officer levels, which become vacant through normal attrition, retirement or voluntary early retirement.

Instead, for the next 3 to 5 years, a special policy should be adopted to fill only up to 25 percent of such “vacant” posts in the Nepal Army, and that too through an affirmative action plan of special recruitment that specifically seeks out and nurtures qualified recruits from among historically under-represented segments of Nepal’s population, including women, Madheshis and Dalits.

In addition, over the coming decade, we should develop a programme of voluntary early retirement from the Nepal army, and offer the retirees a generous severance package of financial incentives for 5000 to 10,000 soldiers and combatants every year for the next 5 to 10 years.

As Nepal is going to need some 100,000 additional primary school teachers, pre-school monitors and health workers in the coming years, demobilized soldiers and ex-combatants, should be given preferential training and placement opportunities in such civilian occupations.

Even the private sector should be approached to help underwrite some of this retooling and to offer job opportunities for qualified demobilized soldiers and ex-combatants.

“Democratization” of Nepali Army

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement calls for “democratization” of the Nepal Army. This should include at least the following 3 components:

1) Gradually change the composition of the Nepal Army, including at the senior officer level, to make it more inclusive of the diversity of Nepal’s population. This should be done in a proactive manner but without compromising on required professional qualifications and competence.

2) provide intensive training for all levels of Nepal’s security services, including at the officer level, on respect for human rights, humanitarian laws, gender and cultural sensitivity, and zero tolerance of impunity, and

3) Ensure a strong culture of compliance with these democratic norms, not only in theory but in practice, through a rigorous system of internal monitoring and external parliamentary civilian oversight.

Way Forward

Besides integration and rehabilitation, as we embark on building a New Nepal, all parties, but especially, the UCPN-Maoist, must explicitly renounce violence as a method of political change, and Nepali society as a whole must embrace a culture of peace and non-violence, and instill this ethos in the children and youth of Nepal.

To protect women, children and civilian population, as well as to prevent Nepal from further descending into lawlessness and criminality, as has happened in many post-conflict situations, let us make de-mining, mine awareness education and a vigorous programme to stop the proliferation of small arms and light weapons an important part of security sector reform and the “arms management” programme.

Without such measures, the future of democracy itself will be in peril, as democracy cannot thrive in an atmosphere of insecurity and impunity.

As Nepal moves towards a peaceful future, with a reformed and right-sized army, let us reallocate resources freed up from military expenses for poverty alleviation and human development. And thus let us offer a genuine “peace dividend” to the people of Nepal, and make human security the true measure of our national security in the 21st century.

Thank you.