At a time when one of the key components of the peace process—the integration of former Maoist combatants into the Nepal Army (NA)—is mired in controversy, UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has fired another salvo. He warned at a press conference on Sunday that the peace process may get derailed if the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML oppose integration of the former combatants in a dignified manner. He not only threatened to pull out of the integration process and ask all members of the “People’s Liberation Army” to opt for voluntary retirement, but also said that this could push the country into another cycle of violence.
This comes at a time when the process has remained stalled for two weeks after 3,123 former combatants, who have opted for integration, refused to participate further, demanding dignified integration. They protested after the NA refused to recognize their academic certificates obtained after joining the peace process and age as mentioned during the verification conducted in 2007 by the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN). The army has recognized the age mentioned in their citizenship and academic certificates.
The integration that resumed early this month as per a decision of the recruitment board has virtually turned into a regular recruitment process rather than the much-touted integration envisaged in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2006. Even after six years of the signing of that historic agreement, the political parties are still dabbling in minor issues. And the rigid stance of the opposition NC and CPN-UML is not helping conclude the process. There is no doubt that Chairman Dahal and the UCPN (Maoist) exercised maximum restraint to keep the peace process on track.
Their softer stance on the integration process as indicated by the handover of weapons and giving up control of the cantonments to the NA even became one of the major causes of the split in the party. But there is still hope of integrating the former combatants in a dignified manner. For this, the opposition NC and CPN-UML need to show some restraint while dealing with this sensitive issue. Delay in the process would only frustrate the former combatants and if they become dissociated from the process, these thousands of unemployed youths could become a problem in the long run.
It is not only about integrating the former combatants into the NA though. When the parties signed the CPA followed by the Agreement on Monitoring the Management of Arms and Armies (AMMAA), one of the most contentious challenges in the peace process was to democratize the army. The agreement was reached as per the concept of security sector reform (SSR), the key aspects of which were right-sizing the NA, its democratic restructuring to reflect national and inclusive character and imparting training on democracy and human rights, thereby changing the age-old military system.
But these things never happened. The NA not only remains the same in nature, it will instead have more personnel after bringing in the former combatants under a new department. Another major issue then was the formulation of a national defense strategy that would ultimately define the role and structure of the army and decide the overall security needs of the country. These issues need to be addressed in the long run, but for now, the NC and CPN-UML should show restraint and let the integration process move forward. A proper integration would only enhance the wider process of reconciliation, but if it is not done wisely, it could have a negative impact