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End of an era
Publication Date : 09-10-2012
For almost four years after the 2008 Constituent Assembly (CA) election, the process of integration of the Maoist combatants eclipsed almost all other issues, including the constitution-writing process. Now the process of selecting former combatants opting for integration into the Nepal Army has formally concluded, a milestone in the country’s peace process. The Army has announced that 71 ex-combatants have cleared the examinations for the officer rank with a further 1,391 lower rank recruits preparing to attend training for their military careers in the Army, meaning that parties can now focus on other issues of national importance. The significance of the end of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is integral to a phase in history which began with the Maoists beginning an armed struggle in 1996.
The question of bringing together the “two armies” has been at the centre of the peace process since the signing of the historical Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in November 2006. At the beginning of the process, in March 2007, 31,252 Maoist combatants registered in seven cantonments and 21 satellite camps. That number was reduced after the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) verification process ended in December 2007. A long stalemate ensued due to differences among the political parties, until finally in 2011, UNMIN’s term ended, and the cantonments came under the supervision of the Special Committee. In November last year, the crucial all-party seven-point political agreement was signed. When the Army took over the cantonments in April and the second round of regrouping concluded, only around 3,000 combatants opted for integration with a total of 1,462 combatants eventually being integrated. But by the time the cantonments came under the Army’s supervision tensions between the hardline faction of the Maoist party—led by Mohan Baidya—and the mainstream faction—led by Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal—had escalated. The former claimed the Army takeover was “surrender”, after already having publicly denounced earlier moves by the Bahttarai-led government. The discontent over the process, among other ideological cracks, led to a party split and a new party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, was formed. Problems were further exasperated when former combatants accused the Maoist leadership of corruption and former commanders resigned. Clearly, the integration process was not without strife and complications. The disqualified and disgruntled combatants have been sent home, but apprehensions abound as to their futures.
Undoubtedly all parties made mistakes throughout the integration process. The Maoists failed to deal with the process with integrity at first, often being dishonest to their combatants and other parties. For the longest time, the Nepali Congress and Unified Marxist Leninist were dead against the idea of integration altogether. But as the Maoists began to realise that the PLA was slowly becoming a liability, and the non-Maoists saw no option but integration, the combined flexibility of all forces saw the process come to an end—albeit later than one would have preferred. In a final analysis, with only one national army, no longer do the Maoists have a military structure to call their own. In turn, non-Maoist forces will not be able to project the former as a civilian party with a force for coercion at its disposal. With what was, until recently, the most contentious issue in the peace process concluded, it is time for the parties to build consensus on the remaining.