Since the start of the peace process in 2006, the issue of integration of ex-PLA members into national army and democratization of Nepal Army has been central to the national political debate. As per the spirit of the political process that started with the signing of the 12-point agreement in New Delhi in 2005, integration of ex-PLA members was to be carried out in a ‘respectable’ manner. In this regard, stepping on earlier agreements, the major parties on Nov. 1, 2011 had signed a seven-point accord aimed at completing the peace process and expediting constitution writing. As per its clause 1 (c), combatants would get waiver on age by three years and education by one level on the date of their enrollment in the PLA. The integration, it was agreed, would take place “as per the existing practices” of Nepal Army.
Like all political agreements post 2005, some wiggle room for the accord’s interpretation was left in the bargaining process. Now the same flexibility is proving to be the biggest hurdle in completing integration. The Maoists understood, as UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has made clear in his political paper to be presented before the Maoist plenum starting Tuesday, the state was expected to exercise some flexibility in integration, which has proven not to be the case. As it became clear that the Army would not exercise much flexibility in terms of age and educational level of ex-PLA fighters, just 3,123 of the agreed 6,500 ex-combatants liable for integration chose the integration path. Now, an internal estimate of Nepal Army indicates another 1,000 of the 3,123 could be deemed ineligible on the basis of their age alone.
The ongoing process is integration in all but its name. By insisting on strict measures, the ex-PLA soldiers who chose integration are effectively being made a part of a normal recruitment drive. There is a fear among the cantoned fighters that in the final count no more than 800 might be deemed eligible for integration. We believe a little more leeway is called for considering the dire possible consequences of adherence to strict norms. One, such a process will breed resentment among former fighters who believe their contribution to bring about a radical change in national polity is being severely undermined. This could make them abandon the process and instead throw their lot with the future militia force of the radical CPN (Maoist) under Mohan Baidya. Two, it will dent the credibility of political agreements after 2006, which have all been based on meaningful give and take between the signatories.
We also believe that adding new members to NA without restructuring the old structure that packs in nearly 100,000 personnel is unjustified. As various military experts have been pointing out, the country could do with half the current number. Then there is the question of making the national army more inclusive. Although there have been various agreements on this front, inclusivity in NA to reflect the diversity of the national population remains a far cry. The inclusive character of the army will only be reflected through greater involvement of members from all marginalized communities, including Madhesis, janajatis, dalits and women. Failure to address these concerns could sow the seed of discord of now unimaginable proportions