On March 3, the Maoist guerilla army destabilized the fragile peace process with its announced intention of recruiting 11, 713 new soldiers.
Nanda Kishore Pun Pasang, the new chief of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) issued the statement. He intends to fill the vacancies created, three years ago, when the UNMIN disqualified and pruned down the guerilla troops (now sequestered in cantonments) from 31,000 to 19,000.
“We have called applications from Nepalese youth to fill vacant posts in our army,” Pun told reporters. “Thousands of willing PLA combatants responded positively to Tuesday’s call and lined up for jobs at the seven PLA divisions. …I urge the media not to construe it as extra recruitment. We are just filling up vacant positions.”
Pun’s move is seen as a checkmate by many analyists – a tit-for-tat play in answer to the Nepal Army’s recruitment program initiated last year, an act Maoist leadership insists was illegal. Army spokesman Brigadier General Ramindra Chhetri responded that the army was simply refilling posts left vacant due to resignations, casualties and retirements. Since then, the Supreme Court intervened by requesting that the Nepal Army cease additional recruitments until the Court resolves the dispute.
Curiously, Maoist leaders have remained tight-lipped about Pun’s announcement. Defense Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa “Badal” told a mass ralley in Tehrathum on March 4 that he knew nothing about the recruitment drive until he read Pun’s press release. Then, adressing a gathering in Gorkha, he refused to comment on the PLA recruitment drive, but blasted the Nepali Congress Party for advising “the Nepal Army to continue with the recruitment process though it was against the peace agreements made” in 2006.
Prime Minister Dahal was equally mum, preferring to focus on the Supreme Court’s role in the matter. Speaking at the 11th National Conference of the Nepal Bar Association, he predicted that the question of army recruitment would be resolved within a few days: “The case is under the Supreme Court’s consideration, so I should not say which side did wrong and which side did right.”
Even Nanda Kishore Pun Pasang seemed intent on distancing the Maoist party from the PLA recruitment. When asked by reporters if his move had been endorsed by the party, Pun said his decision had “nothing to do with the Maoist Party.”
Be that as it may, there was swift fallout from other parties.
CPN-UML Vice-Chairman and member of the Army Integration Special Committee (AISC) Bhim Rawal tendered his resignation from the Committee. Talking to the Post, Rawal said, “Citing the changed political context in and outside the party and to pave the way to move forward I have resigned from the AISC.”
Ram Sharan Mahat, who represents Nepali Congress at AISC, lashed out at Pun’s recruitment drive: “How can this combatant commander talk about additional recruitment when the AISC is talking of the rehabilitation and integration of ex-combatants?”
In the meantime, the PLA recruitment drive is apparently well underway. According to Republica.com:
The fourth Divisional Headquarters in Hattikhor has received 50 applications in two days for 600 positions that fell vacant during verification of the combatants by the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).
The Third Division in Jutpani of Chitwan, however, has decided to formally distribute application forms from Thursday, according to Abiral (one name), office secretary of the Third Divisional Headquarters. The Third Division headquarters has called application for 700 positions. It has 6,001 combatants as of now.
According to Yam Bahadur Adhikari, commander of the Fourth Divisional Headquarters, 12 applications were received Tuesday and 37 including three from women candidates were received on Wednesday.
Abiral said more than 500 people have enquired about the recruitment so far. “We are setting date to issue application forms to those willing to apply,” said Abiral. “We have kept the applications open for former army and police personnel.”
He said the people disqualified by UNMIN will be given special consideration and versatile youths will be highly encouraged to re-apply.
Both the divisions have formally called for applications by pasting notices at their main entrances and in the office premises. They have also pasted sample of application forms with spaces for name, caste, age, position, gender and citizenship number.
One question that no one seems to be asking: Where is the money coming from to hire and equip these new recruits?
All of this bodes ill for the peace process. Until the PLA is dissolved, either by being fully incorporated into the national army, which seems highly unlikely, or until it is presented with a satisfactory demobilization package, there will be no true stability in Nepal. To add fresh troops to the rebel army is fanning the flames with a vengeance.