Thursday, August 18, 2011

INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP - Nepal: From Two Armies to One


Nepal: From Two Armies to One
Kathmandu/Brussels, 18 August 2011: Nepal’s Maoist combatants urgently need to be integrated into the national security forces and rehabilitated or retired to consolidate the peace process.

Nepal: From Two Armies to One, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the contentious issue of the integration and retirement of some 19,000 former fighters in the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA). They have been housed in cantonments across the country since the 2006 comprehensive peace agreement ended the decade-long conflict. Despite the commitment of all parties to the peace deal to address the combatants’ future, including through integration into the security forces, little progress has been made since. But agreement is possible.

Although the risk of a return to conflict is low, having two standing armies is a major obstacle to the peace process, in particular to the drafting of a new constitution. All parties will have to compromise to resolve the combatants’ futures and should resist the temptation to reduce the issue to a political bargaining chip. Further delay will cause frustration with mainstream political parties and further de-legitimise democratic processes, opening up space for those who resent the slow pace of change as well as fringe actors who wish to roll back the positive political changes since 2006.

“It is tempting to see integration and rehabilitation as a largely technical issue, but it is deeply political”, says Anagha Neelakantan, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Nepal. “A settlement is urgently needed to give combatants a dignified exit, five years after the initial ceasefire”.

The Nepali Congress and other traditional political actors view the negotiations on integration and rehabilitation as an opportunity to push the Maoists to demonstrate their long-term commitment to peaceful, mainstream politics. Some also see generous terms for former Maoist combatants as rewarding violence.

The Maoists for their part say that the PLA drove vital political change in Nepal, creating conditions for the monarchy to be replaced with a secular republic. Yet, the party accepts that it will have to make compromises and that integration will not be a merger of the two armies, as it used to demand. The combatants have been assured that integration and rehabilitation will be adequate and recognise their contribution and aspirations. The Maoist leadership needs some concessions, however unwilling other parties might be to provide them.

Combatants integrated into the Nepal Army should have a chance of a reasonably successful career and be given opportunities to catch up with their new colleagues. Financial compensation to combatants who choose to retire should be paid in parts and over time, to minimise tensions that may arise if other parties suspect funds are being diverted to the Maoist party. Cash payments and vocational training packages should be accompanied by career counselling and psycho-social support. These steps need to be monitored and former combatants should have access to a grievance and dispute resolution mechanism.

Over the coming years, Nepal’s military and security frameworks should be reviewed and reformed, to make all security forces, including the Nepal Army, more accountable and affordable, and to scale down their numbers, which increased during the conflict.

“Integration and rehabilitation is a matter of urgency if the parties are to reach agreement on constitutional issues and make progress in the five year-long transition”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “Formal closure on the war can, and should, begin now”.

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