May 19, 2011
“The reason for my resignation was not because I wasn’t offered the Home Ministry, but, rather, it was because my party wanted me to concentrate on internal party business.”
Barsha Man Pun “Ananta” of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is a member of the Constituent Assembly as well as a member of the Maoist party’s Central Secretariat. During the ten-year insurgency, Pun served as deputy commander of the People’s Liberation Army. Although the armed struggle is over, Pun remains the PLA’s commander, responsible for overseeing Maoist combatants in the major cantonments spread throughout the country.
Until two weeks ago, Pun was Peace and Reconstruction Minister in the UML-led government. It was widely known that there was a behind-closed-doors agreement between the Maoists and Prime Minister Khanal that Pun would soon be given the far more important position of Home Minister.
But instead, the post was given to another Maoist leader, Krishna Bahadur Mahara. The last-minute switch, according to some sources, was because the other parties in the coalition government balked at having a Maoist military commander as Nepal’s home minister.
If P.M Khanal was forced by the coalition government to name Mahara instead of Pun (in order to avoid controversy), he failed.
Mahara returns to the limelight despite being involved in the vote-buying scandal last year in which he was taped during a phone conversation. He blatantly sought money from a Chinese businessman – votes that would have bought MPs’ support for Maoist Supremo Prachanda in the 2010 prime ministerial election. When the taped telephone conversation scandal was leaked to the media, Prachanda’s hopes of winning the election were, for all practical purposes, scuttled.
Be that as it may, it seems unlikely that Pun will remain backstage for long. He enjoys a large support base within the Maoist party – something that cannot be said of Dr. Bhattarai and something that cannot be overlooked, when talking about a future Maoist-led government and its cabinet.
I interviewed Commander Pun at his home. The following is a translation from the original Nepali.
DUNHAM: The Kathmandu Post, on March 8, 2011 quoted you as promising that, “integration and rehabilitation of PLA combatants will be completed before May 28.” As the deadline draws near, that seems like an impossible promise to keep. What was your solution for the successful integration of the PLA combatants, and what were the main obstacles that kept you from achieving that?
PUN: When I was quoted back then, there was a possibility. But now, it has become difficult to complete such a process by May 28. The only thing we can do before the deadline is to finalize the modality of integration. We might as well be able to complete the re-grouping by the deadline. [“Re-grouping”: Ananta means here dividing the ex-combatants into their areas of interest, i.e. those who want to be integrated into the security forces, and those who want to be re-integrated into civilian life.]
We might also be able to complete a revised timeline for the integration and rehabilitating process – a timeline that could be trusted by all the political parties.
DUNHAM: But what circumstances, in the political arena, have changed since your March statement?
PUN: In March, we had planned to complete it within three months: two months for the re-grouping and one month for the integration process. In March, we had enough time, but now we have run out of time.
DUNHAM: Can you be more specific about the major obstacles preventing the completion of the process?
PUN: Mainly, the obstacles have been politically based. The formation of the current government was not completed on time. We saw differences of opinion within the coalition partners, in terms of completing the government [distributing ministerial posts]. Sometimes it was an issue of which party would get the Home Ministry. Sometimes, there were other issues. Because of these differences, we could not reach an agreement on modality between the various party representatives of the Special Committee [The Special Committee for Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of PLA combatants].
Six weeks ago, we formed a separate task force to find solutions to solve the differences, but the task force has fallen short of its goals. Positive discussions have taken place. Nevertheless, we haven’t reach definitive conclusions.
DUNHAM: And you are a member of the Special Committee’s task force, is that correct?
DUNHAM: And you are also a member of the Technical committee. What is its function?
PUN: It advises the Special Committee with expert advise.
DUNHAM: So you are an advisor for a committee in which you are already a member?
PUN: Yes. There are four modalities the Special Committee has under discussion.
First, creating a separate force comprised of only those combatants who want to be integrated into the security force – for example, border security forces.
Second, creating a separate force comprised of members from the PLA army, Nepal army, police and the other security agencies.
Third, creating a force within the Nepal army comprised of members from the PLA army, Nepal army, police and the other security agencies.
Fourth, is a matter of integrating individuals into the security forces.
Out of the four modalities, the first and fourth groups seem impossible. Personally, I think we will end up going with either the second or third option.
DUNHAM: Which do you prefer? The second or the third option?
PUN: That is an ongoing discussion. Either two, with a little modification would be satisfactory.
DUNHAM: Which political party is giving the Maoists the most trouble? Nepali Congress?
PUN: No, it’s not like that. Four groups have different positions. Nepali Congress is in favor of individual integration. The Maoists are in favor of an entirely separate force comprised of PLA only. The Nepal Army has suggested a separate force within its current structure, comprised of members from PLA the Nepal Army, police and other security forces. It appears that the UML is in favor of a separate force comprised of PLA, Nepal Army and security forces, but it would be a separate institution unto itself.
Nepali Congress is not really the obstacle of the integration process. But is true that we have not been able to reach an agreement.
DUNHAM: Given all the on-going obstacles, how long – realistically – do you project the integration process will take?
PUN: The integration and rehabilitation process, in reality, is a political process, similar to the constitution-making process, where we are struggling to move forward. A group of parties distrusts us, the Maoists, because they think we want to continue to keep the PLA and the weapons and they doubt our commitment to the peace process. However, from the Maoist point of view, we distrust the other parties, because we don’t believe in their commitment to complete the constitution.
Finalizing the first draft of the constitution, while simultaneously coming up with an acceptable timeframe for integration and rehabilitation – followed by a re-grouping of the combatants – before the May 28 deadline, would create an environment of trust among all the parties.
DUNHAM: But I don’t see how the constitution can be completed, unless the integration issue is resolved first. Would you agree?
PUN: Yes, it’s not possible before the 28th to complete one process without completing the other. They go hand-in-hand. The integration has to come first but only if and when we feel certain that all the other obstacles to completing the constitution have been resolved. In order for that to happen, mutual trust is essential.
DUNHAM: Last week, you resigned from position of Minister of Peace and Reconstruction. According to news sources, you resigned to express dissatisfaction for not being appointed Home Minister. Can you shed some light on why you were not given the position?
PUN: First, the Home Ministry, as well as the Peace Ministry, are within my area of expertise. On the one hand, my experience and interests lies within the security sector. On the other hand, I have been involved with the peace process for the last four years as a member of the Special Committee. Neither ministry was a problem for me, in terms of the challenges inherent in the jobs.
Second, the reason for my resignation was not because I wasn’t offered the Home Ministry, but, rather, it was because my party wanted me to concentrate on internal party business. I thought it would be a better opportunity as well.
Third, when I took over the Peace Ministry, there were some problems, which needed to be addressed, like drafting and forwarding various bills to parliament concerning pocket expenses for the PLA and transitional justice. There was also organizational work that needed to be put into place before the integration process could be realized.
But now, since these issues moved forward in a positive direction, I felt that it was no longer necessary for me to continue as Peace Minister.
It is true that there was an agreement within the party that when the Home Ministry portfolio was offered to the Maoist party, I would be given the position. But as it turned out, that’s not what happened. So, given the reality, I resigned to help my party complete the ongoing government-formation process.
So now, it has been agreed upon within the party that I will head a special bureau, which is responsible for party activities within the Kathmandu Valley and the surrounding area. Up until now, this bureau was headed by the General Secretary of the party [Ram Bahadur Thapa aka “Badal”].
DUNHAM: So the media was wrong? You were not disappointed to be overlooked when the Home Ministry went to Mahara?
PUN: No, it is not true. I left the position based upon my party’s decision. I did not leave dissatisfied. I will continue to support the current coalition and the government. My future actions will prove that.
DUNHAM: I’d like to switch gears from the PLA combatants in question to the young people who were discharged already from the cantonments last year.
Recently, I interviewed Robert Piper, the UN Representative in Nepal, and he talked extensively about the rehabilitation programs that the UN has implemented on behalf of the dischargees from the cantonments. Do you approve of these UN programs?
PUN: Actually, the Maoist party took part in the designing of the initial program. But the government did not cooperate with the program. So, at that time, our party could not agree [with the final program]. The government was only interested in getting the dischargees out of the cantonments.
The UN was positive about creating special rehabilitation programs for the dischargees. But, again, our party could not agree with the UN’s proposed programs.
We now see that the programs that the UN implemented have not been successful. And I think that the UN realizes that too. The UN programs were training-centric and they provided training to many of the dischargees. But the trainees, after returning to civilian life, failed to find suitable employment.
DUNHAM: One last question: Why, in your opinion, did the UN programs fail?
PUN: The UN should have conducted a survey to determine what the job opportunities available in the current Nepal market really were. Only after that survey would it have been appropriate to determine what sort of training programs the UN should offer. The UN failed to do that.