Integration & Rehab of Combatants-1: Parties enmeshed in age-old game of chicken-and-egg

PHANINDRA DAHAL, MAY 11 - Nearly four years after the commencement of the peace process, the political parties have started serious discussions on the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants, though the issue is now intricately linked with government formation. 

The initiatives come as political and constitutional crises loom large with deepening distrust among parties and uncertainty over the future of the CA and drafting of the new constitution by the May 28 deadline.

The ruling parties, mainly Nepali Congress  (NC) and the CPN-UML, maintain that consensus over the modality and number of combatants to be integrated in the security agencies is a must for the “package deal” that will avert the current crisis. However, the main opposition and the ruling parties don’t see eye to eye on the latter’s position.

“We want the numbers of combatants to be integrated in the Army and other security agencies fixed as early as possible,” said NC leader and member of the Special Committee Ram Sharan Mahat. “Transformation of the Maoists into a civilian party will pave a way for the formation of national consensus government.”

Maoist leaders, however, say progress on integration and rehabilitation can only be part of the larger deal, the so called package, and it is very much tied to the change in government.

“We are ready to bring the combatants in the chain of command of the government (Special Committee for Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of Maoist combatants) if it can guarantee the formation of a national consensus government,” Chandra Prakash Khanal, the PLA Deputy Commander said. “We can also prepare options for those preferring to start civilian life and rehabilitation in society, on the condition that it ends the current stalemate.”

Khanal maintains that the row over modality and number for integration can be resolved only by offering alternatives to each of the combatants living in the UNMIN-monitored cantonments. “If we fix a number without a field study it will be tough managing the situation and making a call on what should be done about the rest,” added Khanal

NC’s Mahat meanwhile argues that the combatants should be “regrouped” in three camps – those opting for a/ integration; b/ rehabilitation; c/ and those wanting to return to civilian life. “If that is not done now, there is a strong possibility that all combatants would choose the option of integration,” he said.

In April, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal had proposed a one-month action plan aiming to start the integration and rehab process, with three alternatives – integration of 3,000 combatants; integration based on the one weapon-one soldier formula; and other “proper alternative” – which was not spelled out.

But the action plan failed to make much headway as it was unveiled without the assent of the main opposition. The ruling parties now maintain that they are ready to revise the plan and sources in the main opposition indicate that they are ready to be “flexible” on numbers to allay NC-UML fears of en masse integration.

A Maoist leader said if politics take “a positive turn”, there will be an agreement on integration of up to 7,000-8,000 combatants in the security agencies. “We are also ready to complete the process at least two months before the promulgation of the new constitution, provided that the other parties agree to take measures towards democratising the Nepal Army.” 

“It seems the Maoists want to move forward on integration, if their move can be instrumental to meet their goal of formation of new government,” said an analyst following the integration process. “They will demonstrate more flexibility if the issue comes as a component of the package deal – including those linked with the new constitution.”

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