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Relevance of the Nepal Army Proposal on Integration

Indra Adhikari is SAARC Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • May 16, 2011

    The most complicated, sensitive and crucial issue of the Nepalese peace process is the integration and management of the Maoist ex-combatants. The documents of the Peace Agreement mention that their management will be carried through a possible integration of qualified combatants in the national security agencies and the rehabilitation of the rest. But, the Army Integration Special Committee has been given absolute authority and responsibility without clearly modelling the process of integration and rehabilitation. Several reasons, such as the Special Committee being constituted by the leaders of the major parties, the Prime Minister heading this Committee, the Prime Minister's priority being formation or protection his government rather than integration, and the compulsory provision for decisions to be unanimously resolved in the Committee, have further complicated the issue of integration.

    For a successful management of the combatants, the Nepalese government will have to integrate the qualified combatants in the security agencies as mentioned in the Peace Agreement. Three alternative models for the process of integration that are being debated on are: formation of a separate force of the Maoist ex-combatants; integration of the ex-combatants in the existing security sectors (ESS) - Army, Police, Armed Police Force, and National Investigation Department; and creation of a separate force by bringing in a certain percentage of personnel from all ESS, including the ex-combatants. These alternatives have been discussed at length by both the Maoist and non-Maoist political parties because of the suspicion that the entire security apparatus might become politicised. Besides, the existing security agencies might also discriminate against the newly integrated ex-combatants. However, these alternatives do not seem to have taken into consideration the future of the security establishment’s structure after integration, a shortcoming that has been addressed in a proposal of the Nepalese Army (NA).

    The NA has come up with a new concept by capitalising on its professional expertise and has presented it for discussion as a policy proposal to the Government. It proposes to create a separate but mixed force consisting of qualified ex-combatants and personnel from the ESS. It also proposes a separate Directorate for the new force that will remain under the Nepalese Army. This proposal accommodates and complements the three alternatives mentioned above. Even in terms of management, the proposal seems easier, simpler and reliable for maintaining peace.

    The experiences of many countries, where the integration of ex-combatants has happened, show that the assimilation and maintenance of military discipline of the newly integrated security personnel in the new environment is more difficult than the integration of the ex-combatants in the ESS. In Nepal, the ex-rebels were inspired by the tradition of extra-systemic opposition, and were indoctrinated in Mao's political philosophy, and thus may continue to see themselves as rebels even after integration. Moreover, if the condition of the command and control mechanism in the new structure is weaker, the newly formed security force would face insecurities from within.

    In South Africa, after the army integration, more than a dozen high-level military officials were killed on charge of bias while trying to maintain professional military discipline, and several ex-rebel leaders were killed on charge of breaching the past agreements. Even after the formation of the rebel army, Nelson Mandela would say during training programmes that he never believed democracy could be achieved through violence, but that it had become necessary to attract the attention of the establishment whose rule was backed by military power. In the Nepalese case, the relationship between the rebel combatants and their mother organisation is quite different. In South Africa, six parties including that of Mandela dissociated themselves from their ex-combatants after the peace agreement. In contrast Nepal’s Maoist military unit still exists as a member of the mother organisation even five years after the Peace Agreement. And it receives and distributes salaries as levy, participates in political activities under the direction of the Party. The Army Integration Special Committee does not have access to the ex-combatant cantonments even after United Nation Mission in Nepal left.

    In addition, it is necessary for the security sector to be fully developed in terms of organisational institutionalisation and professional experience in order to integrate the ex-combatants. Generally, the position and rank of the combatant personnel is based on their loyalty to the party rather than their military skills, a system that is unthinkable in security agencies.

    Moreover, an ex-combatant, driven by high ambitions of transformation during the rebellion, may not see much change in his situation after the integration. That creates a feeling of animosity and rebellion against the leadership. The rebels often have social and cultural motives, apart from political motives. In its strategy to expand its hold and weaken the state mechanism, the rebel organisation even gives space to criminal elements in its ranks. Therefore, the nature of the integration should not be group integration, where the ex-combatants may misuse their rights and arms. The Nepalese Army is the only institution which has the capability to prevent these possibilities.

    The Nepalese Army’s proposal on integration addresses both the Maoists’ insistence on integration of the ex-combatants in the army, and the non-Maoists’ anxiety that the army could face a professional crisis and politicisation. The Maoists, who constantly refer to the South African model, are unlikely to discard the Army’s proposal as it is very generous to the ex-combatants compared to the South African model. In South Africa, the qualified ex-combatants were integrated for short, medium and long terms according to individual capabilities. They were given promotion, extension of service and retirement according to individual performance after the integration. Integration was moreover done in the army, and according to the model and criteria devised by the army. This model was accepted for several reasons. First, because, the army alone has the required technical specialisation on military affairs, and the political leadership is dependent on the army on this matter. Second, for the institutionalisation of democracy, a neutral and professional military is necessary, instead of a military that is loyal to a particular political party. The understanding of the ex-rebel political leadership is that professionalism is loyalty to the system, something which cannot be expected from the ex-rebels in a democracy. Third, an ex-armed rebel group cannot be considered a military force. The military is associated with a nation-state having necessary elements like a particular territory, population, government, sovereignty and international recognition. The rebels do not have these elements and hence their armed wing cannot be considered as a military force. And fourth, the political leadership accepted that the existing military has better professional military characteristics than the rebel force and that it can be controlled after acquiring political power. Moreover, political power can be acquired only through the democratic process, for which it is necessary to maintain generosity and honesty during the integration process.

    The Nepalese Army should integrate the ex-combatants in all those positions which are open for fresh recruitment. There is no harm in integration of the qualified in officer level positions, which would help the ex-combatants to relate themselves more to the institution and reduce animosity. But this kind of integration at the higher level, where an individual is required to have a long service, training and experience, seems impossible. Doing so would be an injustice to the existing military officials and the military institution.

    All the stakeholders seem to be positive on this proposal. Being the nation’s biggest political party and mother organisation of the ex-combatant force, it is necessary for the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN) to present itself as liberal and responsible in this respect. The non-Maoist political parties, for their part, should shed their anxiety of Maoisation of the military and trust the Army’s professional capability and commitment to the system. After entering the peace process, the ex-combatants have already become part of the national mainstream. Managing them properly is crucial for the permanency of peace and democracy. While initiating the integration process, the extremist attitudes of the rival political forces should be discouraged by both the military and civil leaders.