Peace in Part

Integration and Rehabilitation of the Maoist Army Combatants

April 28, 2013, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 06 No. -21 Apr.26- 2013 (Baishakh 13, 2070)

Of the 19,602 Maoist Army Combatants (MACs) verified by the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), 1400 (70 officers and the rest in other ranks) who opted and qualified for integration into the Nepal Army (NA) are undergoing training. A separate Directorate in the NA will accommodate them. Others have returned to civilian lives choosing voluntary exit and cash payment. The seven cantonments and 21 satellite camps with weapons stored in containers and used for security of the camps and senior Maoist leaders are safely in possession of the State. So, the Special Committee responsible for the SIR of the MACs has been dissolved after completing its work. Why did this part of the peace process succeed amidst the failing politics in Nepal?

Political Leadership: Management, Integration and Rehabilitation (MIR) of rebel army combatants is one of the most vital parts of any post conflict peace building. Which way peace processes go often depend on it. Successful MIR depends on many things but political will is the key. SIR of the MACs too could not have succeeded without it.

·        Prime Ministers' Coordinating role, caliber of the Special Committee members and their access to top leadership were vital. Intellectual and professional strength of the Technical Committee members and willingness of the leaders to listen to them and go beyond narrow political dogmas and party positions were also important.  

·        The Nepali Congress (NC), the driving force of the peace process initially but increasingly marginalized after the CA election, retook the intellectual, political and operational leadership in the SIR of the MACs. President Sushil Koirala's stand "the NC has given everything, it is now the turn of the Maoists to concede" and General Secretary Krishna Sitaula's emphasis "nothing will move forward until the SIR of the MACs is concluded" brought I & R back to the centre stage. This view of the main opposition was effectively articulated by Ram Sharan Mahat and Minendra Rijal supported by Ishwor Pokharel and Bhim Rawal of the UML in the Special Committee. Pragmatism of members Jaya Prakash Gupta and Jitendra Dev of Tarai-Madhesh parties and Barsha Man Pun from their own party helped the Maoist Chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Prime Minister Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai to finally move decisively. Dahal was convinced that resolving this problem was crucial for progress in other areas, prolonging it further would backfire on himself and his Party. Bhattarai made it the topmost priority of his Prime Ministerial agenda. Cooperation of the new NA leadership, goodwill of the international community and supportive role of India contributed significantly. But, why did these things come together here not elsewhere?

Intellectual Ownership: War begins in the minds of men and it is there that peace building must start first. With growing interest and role of the international community in internal conflicts and their resolution, a large body of knowledge is available on MIR of rebel army combatants. Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) and Security Sector Reform (SSR) are the most frequently used tools. These concepts have been developed in one set of circumstances but the nature of internal conflicts and terms of their resolution are different. Successful SIR of the MACs needed skillful application of the tool-kits available internationally or taking national ownership with power of new ideas.

·        In the beginning, Maoists did not want to hear of DDR while other parties rejected any SSR. So, the DDR-SSR debate or their sequencing delayed the process. Had the SIR of the MACs been completed quickly as envisaged in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) or at least prior to the Constituent Assembly (CA) election Nepal's peace process would have moved forward faster and not encountered the problems it is facing today.

·        This author had argued all along that getting stuck in the DDR-SSR debate would lead us nowhere and identified Numbers, norms, modalities and ranks as the four core issues on which agreement was needed. These views were submitted to the Special Committee and also published later. (Integration and rehabilitation, the Kathmandu Post 19 May, 2010).

·        Amidst the delay UNMIN's mandate was terminated. Gradually the discussion inside the Special Committee and outside started to move beyond the DDR-SSR mantras and focus on the core issues. Significant work was done when Madhav Kumar Nepal was the Special Committee Coordinator. The Maoist party handed over the cantonments to the Special Committee. A separate directorate in the NA with four core functions to accommodate the MACs was proposed. The Technical Committee of the Special Committee was transformed into its Secretariat. One of its members, a retired Lt. General of the NA with experience in peace keeping was appointed Coordinator. Rehabilitation packages and Cash-for-Peace (payments for MACs wishing to leave the camps voluntarily) were worked out. A 24-7 Situation Centre was established at the Secretariat and teams composed of the NA, Nepal Police, Armed Police Force and the MACs replaced UNMIN monitors in the field. A new code of conduct for the MACs was also agreed. So, the fear that the whole peace process and the SIR of the MACs would unravel after UNMIN left was disproved, creating national confidence.

·        These were significant achievements. But there was no real progress on the ground as reflected in the following. "Five years on, the state continues to spend a lot while the MACs continue to suffer the indignities of life in temporary camps and uncertain future. Handover of cantonments made headlines but there is no clarity on the chain of command and reporting. Thank God nothing untoward has happened after UNMIN left and SC-Secretariat was supposed to have started the monitoring work. But the Secretariat has been unable to fulfill its core TOR, ascertain the actual number of MACs in the camps and prepare profiles for I & R. Discussion on weapons has not even started. Politicians expect input from experts to move the process forward while the secretariat leadership is happy to rest with its new realm, waiting for instructions. Any wonder, deadlock on the core issues identified so long ago continues".

·        To facilitate agreement specific suggestions were made on the four core issues. Packages on rehabilitation and options on institutional arrangement for effective implementation were also presented. Most crucially, attempt was made to force the attention of the key actors to the urgency of resolving the deadlock. "MIR of the MACs is the indicator of conflict transformation from violent to peaceful competition for power, foundation of all agreements and the goal of the peace process. That makes the resolution of this problem so crucial. There is no definite pattern of sequencing; which comes first, numbers or norms, which is more important I or R? These concepts can be used to move the process forward with flexibility or block progress with rigid positions. Should integration take place into the security forces or in the much talked about NA directorate? There is no agreement on the core issues. Rehabilitation is in the back burner. Meanwhile the UCPNM leadership wants to go ahead with regrouping amidst objections in their own party and doubts from others on how it can start without agreement in the Special Committee on some fundamentals of I & R. Why is there so much confusion? Wars may be fought by and among armies but war and peace are essentially political decisions. For sustainable peace in war-torn societies, mindsets need to change first from war to peace, bullets to books and bread, rebellion to reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation. Without the mental transformation, debate on I & R can be murky, discussions on numbers, norms, modality and rank confusing. In this confusion, some feel helpless while the skillful in tasting the fruits of chaos develop interest in its perpetuation. It takes leadership of wisdom and courage to lead society out of the quagmire of chaos, confusion and conflict". (…..Transformation from Violent Conflict to Peaceful Competition for Power, the New Spotlight, 30 September, 2011).

·        On 01 November, the Seven Point Agreement of the political parties decided on the core issues (numbers: a maximum of 6,500 to be integrated into the NA: norms: all interested MACs to fulfill the standard norms of the NA with concessions on age-3years, education-one level and marital status; modality: individual entry and rank: maximum major, the Special Committee to decide on the demand of some higher rank). There was agreement on the NA Directorate with three core functions, paying 5-8 lakhs in two installments by account payee cheques for those opting for voluntary exit as well as packages for rehabilitation.

Operational Partnership: Following political agreement, the Secretariat completed re-verification and regrouping simultaneously in all seven cantonments and 21 camps. 17,052 MACs were given new Special Committee ID cards with 2,550 found missing. Just over 9,000 chose integration with less than 8,000 opting voluntary exit. Only a handful chose the rehabilitation packages. Next phase of work reduced the number of camps to fifteen. The closed camps were handed over to the NA and the APF. The third phase work led to the handover of the weapons containers and perimeter security to the NA. Finally, a selection process ascertained the number of MACs opting and qualifying for integration. The rest were given cheques for voluntary exit. So, within a short time the Secretariat fulfilled its vital responsibility without major problem and this part of Nepal's peace process was completed.

·        I & R of large number of MACs at 28 locations in the physical terrain, political environment, work culture and mindset of current Nepal was a management nightmare. Logistic and manpower needs were huge. Careful and detailed operational planning and preparations were crucial. One small problem in one area could spread and delay or even derail the process. So, tact in handling each individual case was vital.

·        In this huge, complex and sensitive task, integrity, hard work and dedication of the members of the Secretariat played the most crucial role. Their sense of mission and commitment to the larger good overrode many personal grievances, several administrative shortcomings and political differences.

·        Operational experience of the Coordinator, partnership of other members and the staff to go beyond the call of duty made this project successful. Cabinet Secretary Madhav Ghimire, Member Secretary of the Special Committee, helped "de-bureaucratize" many things that could have otherwise been stuck. Readiness of the security forces, especially the NA fulfilling the instructions given to them often at short notice is praiseworthy. On the whole, this experience proved that with leadership and motivation Nepalese can handle difficult tasks as effectively, if not better than trained, experienced and highly paid international experts.

Issues for reflection: This stage of work has been done. But some issues for reflection remain:

·        The UCPNM has formally renounced violence and the CPN-M is today defending multi party democracy and separation of powers and so unlikely to return to violent politics in the current situation. Reports on the MACs undergoing training and opting voluntary exit are also positive. Prolonged political transition must not be allowed to adversely affect the transformation of the Maoist parties and influence the former MACs inside the NA and active in politics and society.

·        Would it have been better for the country in the long run to integrate more MACs into the closed environment of the NA with rigorous retraining or sending them into society with cash? The Special Committee took a risk in offering generous monetary incentive for voluntary exit. How to minimize the risks of the former combatants being misused by some violent political groups or criminals in the future?

·        Why did so few MACS choose the rehabilitation option? Would a monitoring mechanism be useful in case the MACs opting voluntary exit needed and sought help? Reflections on these and other questions would have been useful before or may still be necessary now.

Conclusions: Post Cold-war conflicts are mostly internal in the developing world but the intellectual tools for conflict resolution and peace building are developed elsewhere. Financial support and operational leadership also come from mainly multinational arrangements. External roles interfaced with local interests can create problems of intellectual ownership, political leadership and managerial expertise. Nepal initially faced these problems. But, driven by the power of ideas political will took back the intellectual ownership making this part of Nepal's peace process a truly nationally driven exercise. Finally political leadership supported by operational partnership led to the success of the SIR of the MACs.

Nepal's political conflict is far from over. Despite some dilemmas, the significant contribution of the successful SIR of the MACs is in transforming violent conflict into peaceful competition for power, at least for now. But then the transition should be managed well and completed soon. Otherwise things we consider success today may unravel tomorrow. Hopefully, sooner than later, with some measures of healing the wounds, wiping the tears and finally promulgation of the new democratic constitution, Nepal's peace process can be theorized as a new model of restoring peace in conflict torn societies.

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