Rehabilitation of Maoist Combatants and Victims of Conflict in Nepal

Statement by Kul Chandra Gautam

At Seminar on Nepali Model of Integration and Rehabilitation organized by Nepal Institute of Policy Studies (NIPS)

Kathmandu, 12 January 2010

Among the many provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the issue of “monitoring, integration and rehabilitation” of Maoist combatants has now become central to concluding the peace process and creating a conducive environment for finalizing the new constitution of Nepal.

While much of the recent debate and controversy has been on the issue of “integration”, it is clear that for the majority of the Maoist combatants the real solution will lie on “rehabilitation and management”. Indeed, a carefully crafted rehabilitation programme could be far more attractive to most ex-combatants than joining the security forces. It would certainly be in Nepal’s best national interest to create productive employment in the civilian sector than to further inflate Nepal’s already inflated security services.

Besides integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants, the CPA also speaks about relief and rehabilitation of the large number of civilian victims of conflict, those who were displaced and disappeared, injured and tortured, whose property was destroyed or unjustly seized, and whose dignity was cruelly harmed.

Most of them, were innocent victims of the Maoist combatants or of the government security personnel. They rightly feel outraged that while so much attention is being paid for the integration and rehabilitation of people who victimized them, not much has been done for the rehabilitation of the real innocent victims of the conflict.

These innocent victims include many defenseless policemen in far-flung village posts, school teachers, health workers, community leaders, women, children and the elderly. Almost all of them are from the poorest communities in whose name the revolution and counter-revolution were waged.

Fueled by the culture of violence that was unleashed during the decade of conflict, we have also had many communal, ethnic and religious riots, such as those in Kapilbastu and Nepalgunj, whose victims too have not been adequately compensated or rehabilitated.

What about them? Shouldn’t we be equally concerned about all these innocent victims of conflict?

Normally, after the end of a long and violent conflict, there should have been a massive relief operation for the victims of conflict and a post-conflict reconstruction and development plan to revive the economy, to create jobs and rebuild the nation.

Unfortunately, embroiled in endless political power-struggle, and blaming each other, Nepal’s political leaders have failed to come up with any massive relief or reconstruction programme. But it should still be possible for us to come up with a relatively modest programme for the rehabilitation of the most directly affected victims of conflict, including the Maoist combatants.

With this in mind, I would propose that we embark on a relatively modest, short-term but urgent programme to create 100,000 new jobs in the next two years.

Nepal currently needs at least 50,000 additional school teachers to arrive at the nationally agreed ratio of 40 students per teacher. Most schools in Terai-Madhesh need to double or triple the number of their teachers to arrive at this desirable ratio. We also need 20 to 30,000 preschool and early child development monitors if our investment in basic education is to be really productive and effective.

To expand basic health services, Nepal probably needs 5 to 6000 additional health workers – especially assistant nurse-midwives, auxiliary health workers, and other para-professionals.

To adequately protect our national parks and community forests, it is estimated that we need some 5000 forest guards. Most of Nepal’s 15,000 community forests could easily become fertile grounds for cultivating very profitable medicinal herbs. We could easily train and deploy some 10,000 medicinal herb extension workers.

Similarly, if we survey each department of the government that is involved in providing basic services to the people, I am sure they could identify thousands of jobs that need to be created, where new employees could be put to good use right away.

All of this is not counting the need and possibility of creating tens of thousands of jobs in the private sector.

Creating 100,000 new jobs to meet real basic needs of the people is, therefore, both a necessity and an opportunity to provide our people, especially the victims of conflict with a modest peace dividend.

Obviously, one needs to be very careful and fiscally responsible when creating new jobs that will have long-term recurrent cost implications for the national budget. But the expansion of basic services that we are speaking about – such as basic education and primary health care – are areas in which the government of Nepal is already committed to providing universal coverage. It is therefore fully justified to make long-term commitment to provide personnel needed for such basic services to the people.

Moreover, in recent years Nepal government’s budget has been increasing by 20 to 40 billion rupees every fiscal year. It would seem perfectly justifiable to allocate a significant chunk of such increase to universalize essential basic services and to create a peace dividend.

Furthermore, a huge chunk of budget already allocated to sectors like health and education remains unspent at the end of every fiscal year. Filling vacant posts and establishing new ones for badly needed basic services is a good use of such recurrently unused or under-used resources.

In the case of some sectors, e.g. community forestry and medicinal herbs, additional and needed jobs can actually be funded out of their own income, with the government investing only modest amounts in training and capacity development.

Finally, during the transitional period, it should be possible for Nepal to secure some external assistance for creating such jobs as part of post-conflict, peace-support programmes.

Many donors have been willing to provide billions of dollars for reconstruction and development programmes in other post-conflict countries. We hope that Nepal too will be able to launch such massive programmes in due course. Meanwhile, providing support for a programme of creating 100,000 new jobs for our immediate relief and rehabilitation needs, would be a modest down-payment by our friendly donors towards an eventual massive post-conflict reconstruction and development programme.

To develop such an employment creation programme on a fast-track basis, I would recommend that the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction or perhaps the National Planning Commission be tasked to coordinate with various ministries and compile a list of their manpower requirement, and what it would cost in terms of initial training and development and eventual annual recurrent costs.

Perhaps donors such as the World Bank, ADB, DFID or UNDP could provide support for this preparatory work. The Ministry of Finance would eventually need to provide adequate budget for such a scheme, although some donor support might be available for start-up costs during the next 2 to 3 years.

Once created, these jobs, and the training programmes to prepare for them, would be given on a priority basis to:

a) the discharged Maoist ex-combatants who have not been integrated in security services,

b) any security sector personnel who might take voluntary early retirement,

c) recognized victims of conflict, and

d) women, dalits, Madheshis and other marginalized groups who are not adequately represented in schools, health centres, forestry and other sectors where such jobs are created.

Specifically for the rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants, it has been proposed in the Special Committee, that the first choice to be exercised is for interested combatants to join or continue with their party’s political work, and opt out of any integration or rehabilitation programme.

This would be particularly applicable for mid- and senior level officers who continue to be active in party politics while still serving as commanders in the Maoist army. It is simply inadmissible to have such dual functions in a democracy.

A second choice for many other combatants would be to voluntarily leave the cantonments to join civilian life, and seek whatever self-employment opportunities they choose. A modest financial package as a “retirement” benefit should be offered to ex-combatants who choose this option.

Third, for all the female ex-combatants who have not been selected for integration into security services, special training and placement opportunity should be created as community health workers, assistant nurse-midwives, pre-school monitors, primary school teachers, or women development officers – with guaranteed employment – based on their qualifications and interest.

Fourth, for all other ex-combatants, every effort should be made to provide similar job-related vocational training and employment opportunities. For those who receive training but no guaranteed employment, a lump-sum amount of financial assistance should be made available, partly in cash and partly in job-related commodities, tools, raw materials, etc. for self-employment.

A variation of the above would be to organize a special scheme for foreign employment for ex-combatants, as well as retired police, army and APF personnel, as several countries are known to be very receptive to employing retired security personnel with good professional training, skills and military discipline in certain occupations.

Once all ex-combatants and security personnel are rehabilitated, we should offer similar opportunity to other registered and recognized victims of conflict based on their interest and, ability.

For those who wish to start their own enterprise or businesses, let us develop micro-credit and micro-finance schemes to start small enterprises, businesses and cooperatives. The private sector should be approached to help underwrite some of these business loans at affordable interest rates, and help with retooling and job opportunities for qualified ex-combatants, security personnel and victims of conflict. This could be done with some government incentive as public-private partnership.

For the above purpose, we should 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 they would provide special training to ex-Maoist combatants; then to government security personnel who might take voluntary early retirements.

But they should also be enlisted to offer training and placement service to other victims of conflict; and eventually to expand Nepal’s technical, vocational, professional training capacity for the general public.

To finance such a programme, after carefully calculating the cost and investment plans by the Nepal government itself, we should approach friendly donor countries and institutions to provide complementary financial, technical and training support as part of their support for the peace process.

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 if it appears that the UCPN-Maoist might seek to extract or extort such cash for their party coffers. There may be a need to commoditize any required cash grants to avoid such extortion, unless the Maoists make a credible commitment that is convincing to other parties and to the donors.

I would see this whole rehabilitation programme of creating 100,000 new jobs and training opportunity, as a test case for us to develop a massive reconstruction and development programme that will change the face of Nepal once the political dust settles, and we as a nation begin to move from hyper-politicization to super-economic development.

This would be the true Nepali model of rehabilitation that I believe the people of Nepal want and richly deserve.

Thank you.

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