After 19000 Maoist combatants came under the special committee led by theprime minister amidst a grand function at Shaktikhor cantonment in Chitwan, debates and deliberations on the integration and the management of the former rebels have heated up. What are the challenges ahead and how soon they can be tackled is what Special Correspondent SAROJ DAHAL tried to find out in an interview with member of the army integration special committee secretariat and UML lawmaker, retired Brig General GOPAL SINGH BOHARA. Excerpts:
Has the army integration moved forward as is being believed by many?
This is certainly a positive step forward. But this alone is not enough. The modality and the criteria of the integration and the management of the Maoist combatants are more important. This is still being discussed at the highest political level. Without a consensus, it will be difficult to move forward.
As a member what is your take?
This cannot be resolved technically. Important thing is to resolve it politically.
You have visited the cantonments. Given the situation there how do you think can this be resolved?
The approach of the Maoists and the other parties are different. They will have to find a meeting point notwithstanding the ground situation in the cantonments.
As a retired general of the national army who is also associated with the special committee as well as a political party -- the UML – what modality do you suggest?
As a member of the committee who is supposed to be neutral I am not supposed to make my opinion public. It does not serve the purpose as well. Still I think it will neither be totally in line with what the Maoists think nor what the army believes it should be like.
The parties have claimed to have inched closer to an agreement on the issue. Do you think so?
Nothing is impossible provided there are serious and sincere talks between the parties concerned. I think the modality can be worked out in accordance with the national requirements rather than the international criteria.
The chief of the secretariat Balananda Sharma is reported to have suggested a certain number beyond which no integration can be possible nor the integration above Major rank is possible. What is your opinion?
The main thing is the tradition prevalent in the Nepal army and the Nepal police. For instance, the soldiers have to spend some20 years to reach the rank of a Major. Can a combatant who has fought for ten years and spent four years in the cantonment be given the same rank? Then there is the issue of whether the combatants have received the training to merit high positions. So there are many vexing issues which cannot be resolved in a few days.
How optimistic are you about an agreement following the on-going discussion at the political level?
I cannot read the minds of the political leaders. But think all of them mean business.
What is the problem in moving ahead on the basis of what was agreed before?
Well, we do not know what was agreed before. The leaders have their own versions. Conflicting versions, at times. Mahara ji is very much here, so is Sitaula ji. But they have different stories to tell about what was agreed.
Do you mean there had been secret or tacit agreements on the integration and the management of the Maoist combatants? About the modality and the number etc?
I don’t mean it. What I mean to say is that they must be aware of the issues raised during the agreements and the interpretations of the understandings between the leaders.