January 23, 2011
There have been two very important lowering-of-the-flags ceremonies in the last week in Nepal.
On January 15, The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which was established in January 2007, folded its flags and went home. The UNMIN had been tasked to monitor the 19,000 former Maoist rebels, who fought a decade-long war to establish a communist regime.
In late 2010, the Maoists lobbied hard for a UNMIN extension – to no avail. Many of the opposing parties had come to regard the UNMIN as unrealistically sympathetic – if not hoodwinked – by Maoist doublespeak and, in one case, a video-recorded lie about the number of ex-combatants confined to the 28 cantonments. For the Maoists part, they blamed the Indian government for hastening the end of UNMIN presence in Nepal.
Some analysts predicted that the impact of the UNMIN’s departure would go well beyond the technical aspects of its work, that the crucial questions of how many Maoists would be integrated into the Nepal Army and how many would be rehabilitated for a non-military future had not even begun. Other analysts suggested that the UNMIN’s presence was merely a symbolic deterrent and had little meaningful impact on the peace process. Still others suggested that the UNMIN had diluted Maoist motivation to make hard and timely decisions on what to do with the sequestered ex-rebels. In the event, no one seemed to wither in despair when the UNMIN flag was packed away.
One week later, on January 22, an even more important changing-of-the-guard took place – at least in theory.
In the presence of ministers, the chiefs of the Nepal Army and state security agencies as well as diplomats and UN representatives, Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda signed a joint agreement with Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal at the camp of the People's Liberation Army in Shaktikhor in southern Chitwan district, concurring that from that date on, the PLA would be under the control of a special committee formed for the integration and rehabilitation of the guerrilla army.
The prime minister hoisted the national flag in place of the rebel banner (two AK-47s crossed over Mt. Everest with a red star above) and proclaimed,
“Now the government shoulders all the responsibility, including the supervision, integration and rehabilitation” of the former rebels.
A group of 64 monitors — selected from the army, police and political parties including the Maoists — will now watch the seven major camps and 21 small camps where the former fighters have lived since 2006, when they gave up an armed revolt that had left more than 13,000 people dead.
The problem is that the government has yet to give details on how the ex-fighters will be brought back into society or how they will be integrated into the government security forces. And the reason there is no information about the implementation is because is there is no agreed upon plan.
To complicate matters, internal rivalry within Maoist leadership makes it impossible to grasp what the party’s stance concerning rebel integration really is. On the one hand there is Dr. Bhattarai, who recently attended meetings in India to smooth down the hard feelings induced by Maoist rhetoric, which blames Delhi for just about all of the party’s political woes.
On the other hand, there is Prachanda, who has recently partnered with the most extreme hardliner within the party, Mohan Baidya (who has always stood against the abandonment of armed revolt): Together, they have succeeded in not only silencing Dr. Bhattari, but in banning him from a major party meeting held last week.
And what a jaw-dropping meeting it was:
Prachanda issued fresh threats of non-cooperation and armed struggle, making one wonder if the new party shift includes any sincere ambition about integration into the Nepal Army or civilian rehabilitation.
The January 17 meeting
The meeting took place in Kathmandu. Maoist leadership began training their cadre in a nationwide program. At the meeting, Prachanda urged nearly 5,000 participants to ready themselves for a people’s revolt beginning on February 13, the 15th anniversary of the beginning of the “People’s War” in 1996. Prachanda also made the astounding promise that his party would revive its parallel governments and courts, recruit and train 500,000 young men for the revolt, and combat Indian intervention.
Prachanda’s accompanying report said, “A war for national defense has become unavoidable now that India is collaborating with the domestic reactionaries to abort the peace process and the writing of a People’s constitution.”
So who is the Prachanda photographed at the Handing-Over ceremony, yesterday, at the Maoist cantonment? It is certainly not the Prachanda who rattled his saber on January 17 in front of his party comrades.
Today, there have been numerous headlines in international newspapers (including The New York Times) suggesting that there is fresh hope for a peaceful solution in Nepal. One certainly wants to believe that is true.
But media speculation notwithstanding, this writer is in no hurry to join the euphoria.
Nepali politicos are talented ceremony givers. They are less gifted in backing their shows with substance.
The people of Nepal are growing weary of flag extravaganzas, cross-aisle handshakes and garlands of marigolds. What they would really like to see is their electricity turned on, or an environment free of intimidation, or decent jobs awaiting their children when they grow up.
Postures of progress such as the ex-rebels being handed over to the government are about as novel as the threat of returning to a Maoist armed struggle. And neither is welcome.