By Kul Chandra Gautam
at a Workshop organized by Nepal Institute of Policy Studies (NIPS)
Kathmandu, 9 November 2011
Compared to many occasions in the past 5 years when we held intense discussions in various forums on the issues of integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants, we meet today in much happier circumstances.
Whereas earlier we spent much time debating our differing understanding of what the CPA and AMMAA really meant by “integration and rehabilitation”, the agreement reached by the major political parties on 1 November 2011 has now settled many of those arguments and given us specific numbers, amounts and agreed modalities to work with.
We can, of course, always argue and speculate how the agreed package could have been better. But this is no time to be nit-picking and second guessing. As they say, perfection is the enemy of the good, and I trust that most of us in this room whole-heartedly welcome the November 1 agreement. I certainly do.
Challenge of Implementation:
The major challenge now lies with implementing the agreement. Implementation has always been the Achilles’ heel of Nepal’s peace process. Many of the provisions in the ‘new’ November 1 agreement – such as return of seized property, ending of the para-military structure of the YCL, and bringing the Maoist combatants fully under the command of the Special Committee, are not really new. These have been repeatedly agreed several times previously, but never fully implemented.
Even on the numbers of combatants and the financial package for rehabilitation and the “golden hand-shake”, an agreement very similar to what was agreed last week, was almost finalized at the Gokarna resort summit a year ago. But it was then dropped because of some internal disagreements within the Maoist party which led it to backtrack on the virtual agreement at the last moment.
The fact that this time, a similar agreement has been signed, indicates that senior leaders of all major political parties are responding to widespread frustration and have begun to appreciate that people’s patience is running thin.
Above all, it reflects the realization by many – but not all – top Maoist leaders that they are unable to deliver on the unrealistic promises made, and expectations aroused, among their combatants and cadres, and that further delay would be damaging and counter-productive for the Maoist leaders’ own credibility and their party’s future effectiveness.
I would say, better late than never. And better an imperfect agreement than prolonged deadlock.
Although there are still a few details to be worked out, the Secretariat of the Special Committee, has now prepared a very sensible implementation plan for the integration and rehabilitation components.
But as they say, the devil often lies in the details. And the details that remain unresolved are not really technical, but relate directly to the ambiguous nature of some agreements hammered out by politicians.
If the political leaders give clearer guidance, I know the Secretariat under the able and mature leadership of its Coordinator, General Balananda Sharma, is fully capable of working out all technical and logistical details, especially as it relates to integration and voluntary retirement of ex-combatants.
Neglect of Rehabilitation:
The rehabilitation package is more complicated, as the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction has not really done the required home-work yet.
Frankly, it is questionable if this Ministry is really capable of implementing a sound vocational skill-training, job creation and rehabilitation programme.
It has been my observation that the political leadership of the MoPR, particularly under the Maoist Ministers, has not been seriously interested in the rehabilitation component, as their Party’s main focus has always been to maximize the financial package and the number of combatants to be integrated in the Nepal Army.
This was apparent when the release and rehabilitation of the “disqualified” combatants was being negotiated, and it is even more so in the case of the verified combatants.
I have often felt that neglect of focus on the rehabilitation programme has been one of the most unfortunate parts of Nepal’s peace process.
After all, for anyone genuinely interested in building a peaceful and prosperous “New Nepal” – be it political parties or the combatants themselves – contributing to skill training, job creation and placement ought to be the preferred choice, rather than further enlarging Nepal’s already bloated security services.
Possible Complications in Regrouping Process:
Let me now turn to some observations on the practical measures needed for effective implementation of the proposed integration and rehabilitation schemes.
We understand that regrouping of the combatants will start next week. Now that the various packages for integration, rehabilitation and voluntary retirement are fairly clear, in principle, regrouping should not be too difficult.
Besides, it is understood that the Maoist Party has already internally identified combatants who will be encouraged to opt for integration. So the process ought to be smooth and fast.
I see four possible complications that we need to be mindful of:
1. Dissent within the Maoist Party: Although the Maoist Chairman, the “PLA” commander and the Prime Minister assure us that all combatants will comply with the Party decision to fully honour the 7-point agreement, one cannot underestimate the dissenting views within the Party’s top leadership denouncing the peace deal.
Let us recall that a similar decision and assurance by the Party Chairman and the PLA commander to send back the PLA bodyguards of Maoist leaders to their cantonments after the 5-point agreement was signed in May 2011 was defied by many combatants.
A few days, ago the Maoist Party Secretary-General and the head of the Party’s military commission, Mr. Ram Bahadur Thapa (Badal) actually encouraged combatants to defy the instructions of the Special Committee, the Maoist Party Chair and the current Commander-in-Chief of the PLA itself.
Unlike a truly professional army, the PLA is a mixture of political activists and revolutionary foot soldiers, and the military chain of command does not always work smoothly.
And given huge sums of money involved in various packages, many combatants are likely to make their own choices rather than dutifully following the chain of command and the Party guidelines.
2. Haggling over rank determination: There is likely to be some acrimonious haggling over the rank determination of many officer level commanders of the PLA. Even though the Maoist Party has grossly inflated the number of officers in PLA’s ranks compared to the overall size of its combatants, or norms of any national army, some PLA officers are still likely to contest their rank determination with a view to getting higher financial amounts.
3. Uncertainty about rehabilitation: The lack of full clarity about the rehabilitation package, and the rather poor experience of the “disqualified” combatants, indicates that not many combatants might choose this option, with overwhelming majority possibly opting for the voluntary retirement package.
4. Need to Contribute to Party Coffers: Whether and how big a cut the Maoist Party itself will try to get out of the funds given to individual combatants – as it has always done in the past – might become another contentious issue.
Enhancing larger National Interest during Integration:
To the extent that combatants are given truly free choice, and the Party does not try to manipulate or extort funds from the combatants, the regrouping exercise is likely to produce generally honourable outcome for the combatants.
But whether the outcome will also be in the best interest of the nation, is a different matter. Given the billions of rupees that this poor country is going to spend on integration and rehabilitation, I wish we would have tried harder to make the deal more beneficial from the point of view of maximizing long-term national interest.
In the past, I have consistently argued, and would do so again today, that I wish we would take fuller advantage of this huge expenditure not just to satisfy or reward the combatants and their Party bosses, but to create a true “peace dividend” for the country.
Today, 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 the Nepal Army. But from the point of view of the peace process, we have agreed to “integrate” several thousand Maoist combatants, thereby increasing its size.
One way to tackle this dilemma would be to find a win-win formula whereby we would integrate up to 6,500 ex-combatants, but by giving explicit priority to combatants from such historically under-represented groups as women, Madheshis, Dalits, and certain under-represented Janajati communities.
Such a measure would help our genuine need for a more inclusive composition of the Nepal Army.
I wish the Maoist Party itself would insist on such affirmative action as it claims to be a champion of social justice and inclusion of the historically excluded and marginalized communities in our state institutions.
Unfortunately, neither the Maoists nor representatives of other political parties seem to have advocated for any such progressive, affirmative action in the agreement they negotiated.
But I hope it is still not too late, to give special consideration and priority to combatants from such historically under-represented groups in Nepal’s security services during the regrouping exercise.
Besides making the Nepal Army more inclusive and gender-balanced, a major justification for giving priority, especially for women combatants who are willing and able to join the new Directorate of the Nepal Army, would be to groom them for regular military duties, and eventually enable Nepal to respond to UN Security Council resolution 1325, under which the UN is encouraging all Member States to provide more women soldiers and officers in its peace-keeping missions.
Merits of the Voluntary Retirement Package:
On voluntary retirement, I find the proposed package quite generous compared to similar allowances given to Nepal’s civil servants or security personnel with equivalent service experience.
It is also quite generous compared to similar settlements in other post-conflict countries.
I understand that the maximum amount will be paid to combatants who are disabled and to pregnant and lactating women, which is only fair and just.
In the case of some combatants, including senior commanders who have several members of their family serving in the PLA, the total amount they will receive is likely to be quite a windfall.
It would, therefore, be completely wrong to say that the amount of the voluntary retirement package is unfair or not sammaan-janak enough.
It is certainly a wise idea that the financial allowance will be paid in several installments. This is important not just to spread the government’s budgetary liability over two or three fiscal years, but more importantly, to ensure that the combatants do not squander huge sums unwisely, in unproductive consumption rather than investing in building a brighter future for themselves and their society.
Elsewhere in the world, the experience of giving large lump-sum payments for ex-combatants in post-conflict countries, has not been very encouraging. Learning from such international experience, I trust that in Nepal we will disburse the financial allowance, not in cash but through banking channels, and preferably using joint bank accounts requiring the spouse’s signature for withdrawing funds.
Need for a Broader Rehabilitation Programme:
Turning now to the rehabilitation package, the proposal made by the Secretariat of the Special Committee, sounds quite comprehensive and generous, offering many alternatives. But as I said, much more home-work needs to be done.
Currently, the institutional capacity of the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction to deliver the programme is so weak and disorganized that it will probably take quite a long time to get the various educational and training programmes off the ground. This might discourage many combatants from choosing the rehabilitation option.
One useful approach to strengthen our institutional capacity would be to 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.
This could be done initially to provide special technical, vocational and professional training to the ex-combatants, and other victims of conflict. But I would hope that in the long-run, similar opportunity can be provided to all other security personnel when they retire or are encouraged to take voluntary early retirements; and eventually to the general public.
I hope that in designing the rehabilitation package, we will also take advantage of both the positive and negative lessons learned from the efforts to provide various vocational training and job creation programmes for the “disqualified” combatants.
One such lesson is for the Maoist leadership not to denigrate the value and importance of the rehabilitation package, as they did in the case of the “disqualified” combatants.
Normally, after the end of our long and violent conflict, we should have been able to develop a massive relief operation for all victims of conflict – not just some cash hand-outs for a few –, and a national post-conflict reconstruction and development plan to revive the economy, to create jobs and to rebuild the whole country.
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 even 5 years after the end of the conflict.
Assuming that peace and stability will come within a year or two, I hope that we can now begin to craft a major national reconstruction and development programme, not just for ex-combatants and other direct victims of conflict, but for the whole populace, as Nepal’s economy as a whole has been very negatively impacted by the conflict
For example, 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. Unfortunately, I do not hear the Madhesi leaders clamouring for this. It seems they attach greater importance to hiring 10,000 soldiers rather than 20,000 additional teachers in Madhesh.
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 nurse-midwives, medical assistants, and other para-professionals.
In addition there is a need and real possibility of creating tens of thousands of jobs in the private sector, once we create a more investor-friendly environment.
If we have the national resolve to ensure good governance, to control irresponsible trade union extremism, and overcome our tendency to politicize every development effort, it should be possible for Nepal to secure considerable external assistance and investment for creating jobs and building infrastructure in many sectors of our economy.
“Democratization” of the Nepal Army:
One criticism of the 7-point agreement is that it does not say anything about “democratization and right-sizing” of the Nepal Army, which is also a key component of the peace process.
As the integration and rehabilitation of ex-combatants gets underway, and the drafting of the new Constitution proceeds smoothly, we must definitely attend to the task of some essential security sector reform.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the Interim Constitution of Nepal refer to “democratization” and “determination of the appropriate size of the Nepali Army”, including making the structure and composition of the Army more inclusive and representative of the diversity of Nepal’s population; and ensuring the training of military personnel on democratic and human rights values.
When we speak about “democratization” of the Nepal Army, some of our senior military officers get offended and become very defensive. They argue that as a professional Army, it is already quite democratically regulated.
I would urge our military leaders to be less defensive, and more receptive to some proposals for what we might call further democratization, and deeper transformation, in the spirit that every organization has room for improvement, just like all of us as individuals have room to grow and improve.
The main reason and rationale for “democratization” should not be the exaggerated and sometimes slanderous accusations of some Maoists against the Nepal Army.
After all, a political party maintaining its own ideologically indoctrinated private army – in which civilian and military functions are not clearly differentiated – calling for “democratization” is like a pot calling the kettle black, or as we say in Nepali, “dudhko saachhi biralo”.
But the spirit in which the CPA calls for “democratization” and “right-sizing” of Nepal’s security services is very welcome and positive, and needs to be pursued seriously.
Perhaps the term “democratization” of the army is a misnomer, since a professional army is a highly hierarchical institution. Similarly, the term “civilian supremacy” has become controversial in Nepal as it has been widely misused for political propaganda purposes by the Maoists.
As per international practice in mature democracies, the real intended meaning of the term “democratization” is to ensure “democratic control” of the national army, i.e. elected civilian representatives of the people in the executive and legislative branches of the government providing effective oversight of the army (and other security services).
Such broad principles of “democratic control” of the Nepal Army and other security services must be enshrined in our new Constitution. For that, we must develop a clear consensus on this subject without further delay.
I know that a policy paper on “democratization of security services” was drafted under the government of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal. But because that was a period of great political polarisation, with the Maoists boycotting most government functions, that plan did not get a proper hearing.
As the national security plan must enjoy broad-based political consensus, it probably needs to be restarted with the participation of all key stakeholders.
Because our new Constitution is still in the making, and it is unclear how the restructuring of the state will emerge, it is difficult and perhaps premature to try to finalize any long-term security sector reform proposal which will have to take account of the changing security dynamics of the country.
A detailed security sector reform (SSR) plan should be developed following a careful parliamentary debate and thoughtful expert advice, keeping in mind Nepal’s legitimate security interests, but avoiding unnecessary and unaffordable militarization of the Nepalese society.
Perhaps it would be best for a newly elected government under the new Constitution to formulate a new national security policy and present it for careful debate and approval by the newly elected parliament.
Meanwhile, let us get a debate going on the broad principles to be included in the new Constitution.
I would now like to conclude with two general observations:
In Defense of the Directorate for Development and Disaster Relief:
There has been some criticism of the model of a special Directorate in the Nepal Army dealing with development work, disaster relief, industrial security and forest conservation.
Some Maoists have criticized it as a second-class, non-armed military unit. Others have criticized it as a special set up prepared just to accommodate the Maoist combatants.
I personally think that setting up such a Directorate is a wonderful idea, not just in the short-term, but in the long-haul, as a central component of the Nepal Army.
For a peace-loving country like Nepal, that has no intention of going to war against anybody, nor real fear of being militarily invaded by its giant neighbours, the role of a conventional national army needs to be carefully redefined.
Like most nations in the world, we will need a small, well-equipped and effective security force to defend our national borders in times of unexpected crisis, and to back up our diplomatic efforts.
For that alone we do not need an army of 100,000 soldiers plus 32,000 APF – which is numerically bigger than the national armies and para-military forces of such countries in conflict or post conflict situations as Afghanistan, DR Congo, Ethiopia, and South Africa – many of them much bigger than Nepal, or such richer countries with population comparable to Nepal as Argentina, Australia and Canada.
I would rather have a national army that is half that size, but is much better equipped, better-trained, provided with better living conditions and working facilities.
While it remains ready for rapid redeployment for urgent national security tasks, during normal slack periods, it should be deployed precisely for development work, disaster relief, environmental protection, etc – which help our people’s human security.
In fact, I think that the kind of Directorate we are establishing should probably be doubled in size, and all our soldiers and officers should serve in such a Directorate by rotation at some point in their military career.
I hope that instead of feeling like second-class soldiers, ex-Maoist combatants joining this new Directorate will feel proud as trail-blazers for a new, futuristic avant-garde function in the Nepal Army.
The other key function where I see the Nepal Army being even more prominent and numerous than at present, is in international peace-keeping operations.
I have advocated elsewhere that we should strive to be the world’s number one peace-keepers, not just quantitatively but with enhanced quality and integrity.
Here again, eventually, the ex-Maoist combatants could be the trend-setters, if as I said earlier, a large number of the combatants being integrated were women and from other deprived communities, who can be groomed for future peace-keeping roles.
I would therefore urge the Maoist leaders to be true to their proclamation of progressive/agragaami pronouncements, not just in words but in deeds, by encouraging maximum number of women combatants to join the new Directorate.
Renounce Violence as Method of Political Change
My second, and last message is an appeal to the Maoists to officially renounce violence as a method of political change.
While it is urgent and important to conclude the integration and rehabilitation of ex-combatants, this is not enough for the real completion of the peace process in Nepal.
In accordance with accepted international norms, there can be no room for violent politics in a functioning democracy. The UCPN-Maoist party’s strategic policy of maintaining the options of both peaceful and violent politics to attain state power has created an environment of deep distrust among other political parties and the general public.
In order to remove such distrust, the Maoist party must abandon its militarist mindset. It must declare, in a manner that will be understood clearly by all its party members and the public at-large that it has abandoned the politics of violence and that it disbands all remnants of any military units within the party.
Such a public commitment, backed up by supportive follow-up action by UCPN-Maoist, will help create an atmosphere of mutual trust and cooperation among all political forces, and help develop public confidence in peace-building and the new constitution.
Some might say that the Maoists cannot do that because that would be contrary to their fundamental ideological belief, and that if they did so, they would be no different from the UML.
I would like to be more optimistic. If you look at what the 40-point demand which Baburam Bhattari drafted at the beginning of the Maoist insurgency, and the BIPPA treaty his government signed with India recently, it shows the Maoists are capable of transforming themselves.
If we compare the decisions of the Kharipati and Palungtar party conclaves of UCPN-Maoist designating India as its number one external enemy, and Nepali Congress as its number one domestic enemy, and the people’s revolt as the key means of capturing state power, with the provisions of the 7-point agreement, it shows another example of the Maoists’ transformational flexibility.
For the sake of durable peace, prosperity and democracy in Nepal, let us hope that the Maoists will muster the courage and wisdom to further transform themselves, so they can help usher a truly progressive transformation of New Nepal.