Which comes first: Integration or constitution?

Which comes first: Integration or constitution?

Completion of the peace process and drafting of the new constitution have now become entangled in a new controversy regarding their sequencing. The parties in the current government say that the “integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants” must be completed before the constitution is finalized. The UCPN (Maoist) is now asserting that the integration and rehabilitation of their combatants and drafting of the new constitution must go hand in hand, and that dismantlement of the cantonments cannot precede the completion of the constitution.

While the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the Interim Constitution do not explicitly address the issue of the sequencing of these actions, it is clear to any objective reader that the spirit of these agreements anticipated the peace process to be completed within six months or a year, whereas it was explicitly specified that the drafting and promulgation of the new constitution was to be completed in two years, by May 28, 2010.

It was on the assumption that the integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants and dismantlement of the cantonments would be completed expeditiously – within six months or a one year period – that United Nationals Mission to Nepal (UNMIN) was given a series of short-term mandates.

If the completion of the peace process was going to take as long as the drafting of the constitution, and that completion of a constitution that is acceptable to the Maoists were a precondition for completing the integration and rehabilitation of combatants, the UN Security Council should have been advised accordingly in the many meetings it has had on Nepal to date, and asked to give UNMIN the same life-span as that of the Constituent Assembly (CA).

Had such conditionality and linkage – as the Maoist claim to exist – been explained explicitly to the Security Council, it is doubtful that it would have constructed UNMIN’s mandate the way it did. Indeed, each time UNMIN’s mandate was extended, it was understood that the period of extension would suffice to complete the major part of the peace process, regardless of the pace of constitution drafting.

For the Maoists to now demand – less than three months prior to the deadline for completion of the new constitution – that they want to see completion of a comprehensive national security policy and guarantee of a constitution of their liking before agreeing to the integration and rehabilitation of their combatants, is disingenuous and disturbing. It is not just changing the agreed goal-posts, but trying to get a constitution of their liking at ‘gun-point’, rather than through the democratic process of the CA.

It is clear that the spirit of CPA and Interim Constitution anticipated the peace process to be completed within six months or a year, whereas it was explicitly specified that the drafting and promulgation of the new constitution was to be completed in two years. The Maoist view that they need to retain their combatants to guard the constitution-writing process deserves no respect or credibility. On the contrary, a constitution drafted under the threat of the use of force by one political party that retains its own private army and militia cannot be considered the outcome of the democratic will of the people. It is especially sad to see this turn of events because the UCPN (Maoist) is the largest political party in the CA and it already has a guaranteed decisive vote in the approval or rejection of the new constitution without the need to invoke its military prowess.

It should be acknowledged that other political parties too are often guilty of non-compliance of their commitments, and of confusing and contradictory statements by their leaders. But constantly changing goal-posts seems to be a specialty of the Maoists, perhaps inherent in the Maoist philosophy of “permanent revolution”. Nevertheless, non-Maoist Nepalis and the broader international community, including the UN Security Council, have every right to demand and expect that goals once agreed must be honored.

The Maoists are correct in reminding that the CPA also called for “democratization” and right-sizing of Nepal’s security services. However, they are being disingenuous in adding a new goal-post that completion of the “integration and rehabilitation” of Maoist combatants must await the development of a new national security policy in the context of the restructuring of the Nepali state. Precisely in light of the restructuring of the state, and the changing security dynamics of the country, it would be premature to finalize a new national security policy and structures in a hurry in a period of transition.

While some broad principles of “democratic control” of the Nepal Army (NA) and other security services must be enshrined in the new constitution, a detailed security sector transformation plan should be developed in a very thoughtful manner over a number of years as the new structure of the Nepali state evolves in the coming years. 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.

As per international practice in mature democracies, the real intended meaning of the term “democratization” is to ensure “democratic control of the NA”, i.e. ensuring that elected civilian representatives of the people in the executive and legislative branches of the government provide effective oversight of the army (and of other security services).

A key objective of this exercise should be to develop a broad-based national consensus on security policy and institutionalize effective multi-party legislative oversight of security services. This should be done 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 Nepali society. Deliberate effort should be made to prevent politicization and factionalization of Nepal’s security forces in the name of “civilian supremacy”.

Meanwhile, we simply cannot have two armies in one country for a prolonged period after the cessation of active hostilities. In the spirit of the CPA and the Interim Constitution, it is urgent to complete the process of integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants and to dismantle the temporary cantonments, to create a conducive environment for finalizing the new constitution which should spell out broad provisions for the democratic control of NA and other security services, but not attempt to get into operational or managerial details.

It would be in the best interest of Nepal, and especially of the UCPN (Maoist) for it to be extra cooperative in expediting the integration and rehabilitation of its combatants so it can earn unambiguous credentials as a truly civilian political party in a democracy rather than as an armed revolutionary outfit whose intentions continue to be viewed with suspicion by both Nepali citizens and the international community.

Once the distraction of having to satisfy its own disgruntled combatants is out of the way, the UCPN (Maoist) can focus on the task of progressive socio-economic transformation of the country. As the richest, the best-organized and most effective political party, UCPN (Maoist) stands a better chance to win in the coming elections if it does not have the burden and blemish of being a militarized party which can rely exclusively on ballots and forsake bullets for its victory. Let us hope the Maoist leaders will have the wisdom to take such a farsighted approach.

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

Source: www.myrepublica.com, Published On: 2010-03-04