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Nepal Monitor: The National Online Journal

Against Early Disarmament

It will be in our best national interests that the Maoist militia not disarm before the CA election but remain confined to barracks, and the same applies to the state army, says AVANTIKA REGMI.


Antar-mantar chhu-mantar…
If wishes were horses we could literally create magic with such a potent mantra – chanting it to strip the Maoist militia of their arms and ammunitions. But alas, we neither have such a mantra for the Maoists nor for the well-being of the country. What we have instead is the naked reality of duplicity and deceit being played by the powers that be.

It was the nation’s best-kept secret, well, for a couple of days. It was slowly, torturously unraveled. The chronological sequence: A letter is sent off to the UN Secretary General from the PM’s place (PM’s Office or PM’s Official Residence we know not). The content of the letter is kept under tight wraps. Even the Maoists have no idea what’s written in it. The “all-sovereign” parliament is also oblivious. After a couple of days Deputy PM Oli drops a bombshell –he doesn’t know either what the letter states. Subsequently, after fifteen days the cat is let out of the bag first to the parliament and then to the media. What it has unleashed is now threatening to derail the entire peace-process.

On the one hand, the government wants the Maoists to disarm, yes disarm i.e., surrender all their arms and ammunitions before the election to the Constituent Assembly. On the other hand, the Nepal Army (formerly the Royal Nepal Army) will be confined in the barracks.

What about the public- we are being fed nothing but garbled talks. First we are told that the Maoists were being included in a new political set-up – the present parliament would get expanded with the Maoists, paving way for the much-vaunted interim government “very-soon.” At the same time, we are also told that the Maoists are not set to join the interim government unless they disarm.

Conflict-resolution issue is the home turf of conflict-resolution experts but even to a conflict-resolution-novice like most of us we can get the visceral feeling that this notion of early Maoist disarmament, regardless of their joining or not joining the “very-soon” interim –government, is but an ill-conceived scheme.

Let me explain this by asking two questions: 1) Are the Maoists a rag-tag army of a couple of hundreds who have engaged the state in a minor-scale conflict which did not cost much to the nation? 2) Did the State have an upper-hand prior to the present peace initiative with the Maoists?

If the answers are in the affirmative then the government’s unilateral idea to disarm the Maoists need not be scrutinized.

However, the ground reality is quite different. First, the Maoists consist of battle-hardened militias who number in the twenty or thirty thousands, and their sympathizers run in hundreds of thousands. Second, for all practical purposes the conflict prior to this recent movement had reached a military-stalemate, a status quo. Considering these facts it does not hold ground for this government to make any unilateral decisions without taking the other belligerent party’s nod.

Coming back to the highly contentious UN letter several other questions also come in mind– Is this government living in a fool’s paradise of believing that the Maoists are going to disarm so easily? Are the Maoists some gullible kids that without any power-sharing arrangements they will agree to commit to this preposterous proposition? It’s implausible to believe that the Maoists, who waged their indoctrinated, violent, people’s war with the singular goal of dismantling the “Old Nepal” to construct their version of “New Nepal” would agree to such a vested unilateral decision.

Hardly surprising then that Prachanda has sent his own missive to the UN strongly objecting to this breach of faith.

We do not expect the Maoists to disarm soon. In fact the Maoists should not disarm completely for the long term interest of the nation, so soon. For if they disarm tomorrow then they would lose their bargaining power. Would Karna, without his kawach and kundala, wield any power? Don’t forget that the Maoists were basically fighting for the implementation of the directive principles of state policy – something which both the monarchy and the democratic setup had miserably failed in.

Moreover, what is the guarantee that the SPA will not renege back on its words once the Maoists have laid down their arms? The Maoists-SPA alignment is a byproduct of the presently extinguished bonhomie between Monarchy and democratic forces, true to the adage –“the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In an ever-changing political kaleidoscope tomorrow it may be highly probable that yesterday’s grievances between the SPA and the monarchy will be forgotten and the bonhomie will be reignited. What if the SPA decides to go for the Maoists jugular using the Nepal army than to concede to the uncertainties of power-sharing? After all in Nepal, as in South Asia, it is ones own survival that matters the most.

To quote Barbara Walter, who specializes in internal wars, and bargaining and cooperation, “Once groups have sent their soldiers home, laid down their weapons, and surrendered occupied territory, they become extremely vulnerable to a surprise attack. Furthermore, once they have surrendered these assets they make it easy for their opponents to set up a one-party-state.”

In her oft-cited book Committing to Peace: The Successful Settlement of Civil Wars (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001), Walter continues: “Resolving a civil war requires much more than reaching a bargain and then instituting a cease-fire. To be successful, a civil war peace settlement must consolidate the previously warring factions into a single state, creating a new government capable of accommodating their interests, and build a new national non-partisan military force.”

In Mozambique, after a 16–year long violent civil war (waged between communist FRILEMO government and RENAMO insurgents) ceasefire was declared in October 1992. A 6,000-strong UN peacekeeping contingent stayed put through the election time (October 1994), which was declared free and fair. This electoral success has been attributed to the UN which did not persist on full disarmament of RENAMO guerillas.

To re-emphasize, it will be in our best national interests that the Maoist militia not disarm before the CA election but remain confined to barracks, and the same applies to the state army. An international UN peacekeeping force needs to be present as soon as possible to ensure that the war lust in both parties extinguishes; a modicum of peace and sanity returns; development work starts again with the Maoists sharing power; and neither side militarizes any further.

In the meantime, extensive debates and discussions on constitution forming followed by election campaigns under UN observation should take place. Development processes also must go hand in hand. If we are careful enough, in a few years time Nepal will be back on her feet on her path towards development and cross that threshold of not falling back into a conflict trap again.

Avantika Regmi can be reached at avantikaregmi@aim.com


Posted by Editor on July 27, 2006 09:08 AM