By Rajeev Sharma
Just when everyone thought that Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai would be able to do precious little in giving Nepal the peace it so badly needs, his residence was the scene of the signing of a new five-year peace accord by the major political parties on November 1, 2011. This is indeed a historic agreement and it is hoped that by arriving at this political consensus, the all parties have matured enough to realise that without peace there can be no democracy in Nepal.
According to the deal, the Nepalese army will recruit 6,500 of the 19,602 cadres of the Peoples Liberation Army [PLA] who fought the government in the 10-year civil war, which claimed 16,000 lives. What has sweetened the deal further is a slew of proposals aimed at ensuring integration of the PLA cadres into the Nepal Army (NA). These proposals include constitution of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a Disappearances Commission, a high-level political mechanism to oversee the peace and Constitution writing process, and an experts’ team to address state restructuring issues. The parties have also agreed to complete the process of regrouping of combatants by November 23, and prepare the first draft of the Constitution by November 30.
The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the Nepali Congress (NC), the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), and the Madhesi parties agreed that a maximum of 6,500 PLA fighters would be integrated into the NA while the rest would be rehabilitated and be given cash packages/incentives. The deal was hailed by all major leaders like the Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) chairman Jhalanath Khanal and Nepali Congress General Secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula. The NC leader, an architect of the present deal, praised Prachanda for showing courage and taking a bold step. Prachanda described the deal as milestone and assured that it would be implemented.
Sitaula is indeed one of the most knowledgeable persons regarding the intricacies of the current political situation. He has worked closely with late G. P. Koirala and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal on the peace process. In an interview given in August this year to the Himalayan Times, he assessed the present political situation as follows. “We had envisioned a four-phase political process. The first phase was establishment of full-fledged democracy and change through peaceful means. The second was establishment of republic. The third was end to the Maoist military structure through rehabilitation and integration, and the fourth was promulgation of a constitution. We are stuck in the third stage. It is clear that the Maoists want to retain their military structure in one way or the other. The Maoist attempt to interfere in the Nepali Army failed because of G.P. Koirala’s stand. He understood the Maoist intention. GPK was a clever leader.”
The task before Baburam Bhattarai was to convince his own party leadership that a peace deal was essential for Nepal and for the continuance of the UCPN-M in power. Little wonder then that Sitaula says (in the same interview) “Our bottom line is that the Maoists should implement the agreements; theirs is not to implement them.”
The former PLA combatants would be integrated in a newly-created special directorate in the Nepal Army, which will also include NA soldiers and personnel from other security forces. The directorate will be responsible for development works, industrial security, forest security, and disaster relief. Combatants will be integrated on an individual basis, and will have to meet the norms of the security force. But there will be flexibility on age, marital status, and educational qualification. To determine rank, the norms of the security agencies will have to be taken into account. It has been proposed and agreed upon that those combatants who opt for voluntary retirement will receive somewhere between $6,300 and $10,000 approximately, depending on their rank.
For those who prefer rehabilitation there will be packages between $7,600 and $11,400. Maoist weapons will come under the government. As per the deal, the regrouping of combatants along with the return of the properties seized during the conflict to rightful owners and dismantling of the paramilitary structure of the Young Communist League will be completed before November 23. Sixty-five per cent of the workforce in the new Directorate will come from different security agencies while the integrated combatants will make up for thirty five per cent of the force.
That this accord was not arrived at overnight is obvious. The process of negotiations began some two months ago. This required detailed discussions on areas of convergence and forging a consensus. The formation of a three member task force consisting of Krishna Prasad Sitaula from the Nepali Congress, Barsa Man Pun of the UCPN (Maoist) and Bhim Rawal of the CPN-UML, on October 19, 2011 signalled the seriousness with which the political parties were taking the issue. After much discussion, the task force prepared a draft agreement; the only sticking point remaining was the number of PLA combatants to be integrated and the amount of compensation to be given to those cadres who would be rehabilitated.
On the day the deal was finally signed, the political parties got together with the members of the task force and gave things a final makeover. Within the UCPN-M, Mohan Baidya continued to oppose the deal saying it was not in the interests of the party. “We were witness to the strong objection of the Baidya faction right here” said NC’s Situala. Therefore Prachanda’s leadership was all the more crucial in pushing the deal and getting it approved. In addition, it was UML Chairman Khanal who played a mediator’s role and made both the parties agree on the integration of 6,500 PLA cadres.
According to the 2006 peace deal, Maoist fighters were to be integrated into the security forces, but political parties disagreed as the number of combatants, their role in the army and the size of the rehabilitation packages. A faction of the Maoists, led by vice-chairman Mohan Vaidya ‘Kiran’, has opposed the deal, terming it “anti-people”. A radical faction within the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) led by Ram Bahadur Thapa said “This is humiliation for the People’s Liberation Army (of the Maoists),” and added that his group would launch a nation-wide protest against the deal.
So the deal is done. Now implementing it is going to be the main issue. Fortunately, everyone realizes that time is running out, therefore things must move forward. The UCPN-M must move fast and provide the full details of the combatants in camps to the government. This information is available from many sources, but it must be verified and double checked. At the same time, the phased forward movement will require political vision to ensure that constitution making does not get stuck in wrangling. Compromise is the key word in the process of negotiation.