Nepal,Former PLA Commander “There is No Alternative to a Revolt”
Posted by artemi0 on April 20, 2010
The interview below originally appeared on Monday 4/12/10 in ekantipur with Janardan Sharma- a former commander in the Peoples Liberation Army.
No UNMIN, no peace process
The Maoists have announced a ‘decisive movement’ to topple the Madhav Kumar Nepal-led government. In the meantime, the tenure of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) expires on May 15 even while the modalities for integration and rehabilitation of ex-Maoist combatants are yet to be worked out. Biswas Baral and Pranab Kharel talked to former Deputy-Supreme-Commander of the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army and current Maoist representative in the Special Committee for supervision, integration and rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants, Janardan Sharma, about the current political scenario, integration issues and UNMIN’s role in the peace process.
There is a lot of confusion regarding the process of integration and rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants. At which stage is the process?
The process of integration cannot be analysed by keeping it separate from the current political climate. If you try to analyse the issue in isolation, there will be no ready answers. The question of integration is the backbone of the peace process and one that is closely related to constitution drafting. A lot of progress has been made in discussions on the issue of integration in the Special Committee, but there has so far been no agreement on its implementation. For instance, even the modality of integration has not been fixed. But even if the modality was decided, there is no guarantee that the process will move ahead. For the issue of integration cannot gain momentum unless there is progress in constitution making and the peace process.
There have been reports that as much as 40 percent of ex-combatants have left cantonments and the numbers remaining in the cantonments need to be rechecked and reverified. Is that the case?
UNMIN has clear records of the number of cantoned combatants. There are also clear rules in place regarding their movements and activities. For example, 12 percent of them can go on a leave at any one time. Past agreements clearly mention that the combatants will be kept under the Maoist chain of command. Now, work is afoot to bring the chain of command under the control of the Special Committee. But to reach that point, certain steps have to be followed, which we have not been able to do so far. Regarding the numbers inside the cantonments, there is no dispute whatsoever. Some of the ex-combatants have died in accidents, a few others have left willingly, but the records of these developments are kept by UNMIN at respective cantonments. But that is not the issue at all. The issue is: people have come up with their own numbers regarding how many ex-combatants are out of cantonments. Some say as many as 40 percent have already left. I believe this is being done to provoke the combatants who have so far dutifully remained inside the cantonments as per previous agreements. These kinds of irresponsible statements, especially from those in the government, have only added to a climate of mistrust. Each person in the cantonment has to look after all his or her needs with what little is available from the government — one’s educational needs, health needs, the need of families. It is cynical to think that money being sent to them is being misappropriated.
You are a member of the Special Committee for integration and rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants. How is the issue of integration playing out in the committee?
The main issues before us are the peace process and the new constitution. If we move ahead with this in mind, the issue of army integration is a minor one. People’s Liberation Army fought voluntarily; no one saw it as a salaried job. They fought for their belief, for their ideology. Thus, if the country can come up with a constitution that secures the right of all the marginalised communities and which is in keeping with the wishes of the common people, we may not integrate even a single ex-PLA combatant.But various conspiracies are being hatched to undermine previous agreements. The vital role PLA played in getting to where we are today is being undermined . This is the major issue; not the numbers. We may integrate all 19,000 or not even a single ex-combatant. The issue is whether we want to move ahead on the basis of consensus or not. During the last couple of meetings of the Special Committee, we have reached decisions on how to bring the ex-combatants’ chain of command under the committee’s jurisdiction. We have arrived at various other agreements as well. Now, what we are saying is that let us first decide who wants to be integrated into security forces and who doesn’t — not the numbers to be integrated. We need to go to the cantonments and seek the views of the cantoned combatants. If someone doesn’t want to be integrated, he or she should be allowed to join mainstream politics or any other job of choice. At the same time, there is no meaning to pushing the issue of integration while no progress is made in the constitution making and the peace process. All these issues have to be dealt in package.
The Maoists have just announced another round of agitation to topple the government. Why do you believe a new government is necessary to complete the constitution on time?
As a change in government relates directly with the peace process as well as the new constitution, it is important to link up the two issues. But we also have to analyse why we got to this point. The political parties were not ready to accept the result of the Constituent Assembly polls and no government could be formed for four months. The delay in government formation created an environment of mistrust. Especially after the election of the new president, consensus politics as emphasised in the Interim Constitution, as such, were abandoned. There lies the origin of the current political deadlock.
Is it possible to promulgate a new constitution under this government?
This government has no legitimacy. It has been a complete failure and is incapable of achieving anything meaningful. If this government continues, there is no alternative to a revolt. It is impossible to draft a constitution under this government.
The other political parties point to the Maoists’ continued attachment to violence as the biggest obstacle to working with the party. Is that really the case?
The other political parties claim to have brought the Maoists into the peace process. In fact, it was the Maoists who took the initiative to bring the mainstream political parties into the republican agenda. The 12-point agreement which initiated the peace process was also drafted with the initiation of our leadership. Even when we were at war, we never thought everything could be achieved through violence. The ‘people’s war’ started as a result of the then government’s attempt to suppress peaceful voices. And during the war, we came forward for talks time and again. If we were so wedded to violence, why would we have come for dialogue? We have never seen arms as the end; it was only a means. We took up the arms to end the violence being perpetuated on the vast majority by the feudal forces of the society. As that system has come to an end, there is no need for us to resort to violence, especially when we have proven our capabilities in competitive politics.
What is your assessment of UNMIN’s role in the peace process?
UNMIN was invited into the country as a witness for the successful conclusion of the peace process with a clearly laid out mandate. Many people don’t understand UNMIN’s mandate and criticise it for different reasons. But UNMIN cannot overstep its mandate — and it has been effectively working within that. It has pointed out the mistakes of both the government as well as the Maoists. It has been especially effective in monitoring the arms and armies in the cantonments. Now there is talk about ending UNMIN’s mandate. But to end its mandate now is to declare an end to the peace process. There can be discussions about its new mandate. But one thing should be clear: the rationale for prolonging UNMIN’s mandate should be to give continuity to its current duties.
What is your view regarding extending the term of another UN body, the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)?
OHCHR is an organisation which carries out the routine duty of rights monitoring for UN, unlike UNMIN, which is a political organisation specially tailored for Nepal’s needs. OHCHR came in during a period of war. Now that the peace process has come so far, its continued relevance to Nepal remains a matter of debate. Let me put it this way: It’s nearly not as important as UNMIN. Without UNMIN, the peace process will be derailed; but the peace process can survive without OHCHR.