INTEGRATION of Maoist ex-combatants into Nepal Army seems to have entered a decisive phase with the resumption of the process on September 6. If the process can be completed on time—Special Committee Coordinator Balananda Sharma believes it will be wrapped up before Dashain, which is a month away—that would mark a major success in the six-year-old peace and constitution process. But some recent events suggest it won’t be all hunky dory. The growing dissatisfaction among 3,100 combatants who chose the integration option at what they see as essentially their ‘recruitment’ into Nepal Army, does not bode well for the country. According to a PLA brigade commander, as much as 50 percent of former combatants vying for integration would be ineligible if the age criteria is not further relaxed (the Special Committee settled on three years’ leeway). These fighters who are forced to choose between voluntary retirement and rehabilitation package could be a fodder for radical left outfits like Baidya-led CPN-Maoist which has threatened another armed revolt if its demands are not addressed. Add to this bunch of disillusioned young men and women over 4,000 combatants who were disqualified in UNMIN verification, and the scenario appears alarming. To get some perspective, consider that when the then CPN (Maoist) launched its ‘people’s war’ in 1996, their foot-soldiers numbered in hundreds, not thousands.
No mechanism has thus far been worked out to address the grievances of these two groups. It could be potentially dangerous to leave thousands of young men and women out on a limb, especially when many of them are facing various forms of discrimination back in their villages. The disqualified combatants have warned of another agitation if their demands are not met. At first blush, their demands like the removal of ‘disqualified’ tag and freedom for their imprisoned colleagues appear easy. But what they are essentially demanding is that they be treated as equals to the UNMIN verified combatants and thus be liable to similar compensations. This is rather unrealistic. Nonetheless, we believe the government should handle their case with the delicacy it deserves and arrive at a compromise formula for their respectable rehabilitation into the society. It is equally important to ensure that the combatants who have opted for (or end up choosing) voluntary retirement do not face similar social hurdles.
As we have been reiterating time and again, timely end of integration could signal an opportune moment for the political parties to reach agreements on other important issues, including the formation of new consensus government and broad framework on federalism, while leaving its nitty-gritty to be settled either through the revived CA (although we do not subscribe to this option, consensus seems to be building around it) or the more preferable route of newly elected CA. But irrespective of which route is eventually taken, political leaders should not forget subsidiary aspects of the peace process like respectable rehabilitation of discharged and disqualified combatants. As the country discovered in the aftermath of the civil war which cost 16,000 lives, it will ignore any threat of organized violence at its own peril.