Despite serious differences between major political parties over government and modalities of federalism, a key component of the peace process—the integration of former Maoist combatants into Nepal Army (NA)—is apparently on a roll. According to news reports, Nepal Army is all set to begin recruitment from July 1 as per the decision of its recruitment board. The army has even trained its personnel to be involved in the selection process. This indicates that former combatants who opted for integration into Nepal Army will have to go through the selection process as per army regulations. Out of the UNMIN-verified 19,602 combatants, 3,123 who have opted for integration are currently living in cantonments under NA. If these reports are to be believed, delays in the process have frustrated former combatants so much that the number opting for integration might come down further. This has raised serious doubts over the overall process which has now become a recruitment process rather than the much-touted integration of two armies. The large number of combatants who have dissociated themselves from the process could become a problem in the long run.
When the parties signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) followed by the Agreement on Monitoring the Management of Arms and Armies (AMMAA), one of the most contentious issues in the peace process was democratization of Nepal Army, besides integrating former combatants into security organs. The agreement between the parties to the conflict was as per the concept of security sector reform (SSR); one of its key objectives was right-sizing and democratic restructuring of NA to reflect the country’s diversity and imparting training to Nepal Army on the values of democracy and human rights, thereby changing the age-old military system. But these never happened. The nature of NA not only remains unchanged, after inclusion of former combatants under a new department, the national force will be further bloated.
A major issue at the start of the peace process was formulation of a national defense strategy that would ultimately define the role and structure of the army and decide the country’s overall security needs. Integrating a non-state security force into national security mechanism was never going to be easy. UNMIN’s efforts in overall monitoring of management of arms and armies were commendable, although a section of society to this day claims that the world body was biased towards the Maoists. Though the national actors did manage to reach an agreement on the new recruitment process, it has not been able to satisfy disgruntled combatants who have waited for long to decide their future.
Proper integration undoubtedly enhances the wider reconciliation process, but if not done wisely, it could have unforeseen consequences. Now that the process has been agreed, the Special Committee which has the responsibility for integration should look to complete its task at the earliest. Further discussions, however, are necessary to review the overall security needs by formulating a national defense strategy to democratize Nepal Army and make it more inclusive