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Imperative of PLA Integration into the Nepal Army

Nihar R Nayak is Research Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • June 13, 2008

    Integration of Maoists combatants into the Nepal Army (NA) has become a contentious issue. Despite the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections and the declaration of Nepal as a Republic, a new government has not been formed. The Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) have been demanding adjustments and rehabilitation of the combatants through a proper modality before the CPN-Maoist forms the new government. The Maoists, on other hand, demand ‘collective’ entry of UNMIN-verified armed cadres into the NA.

    According to the agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies between the Nepal government and the Maoists on December 8, 2006, UNMIN has identified 19,602 Maoist combatants. These combatants have been living in seven UNMIN supervised cantonments since November 2007. Around 90 per cent of these are farmers and from rural areas. They have not undergone any training programme either for military integration (MI) or civilian integration (CI). UNMIN was only mandated to provide technical support to the CA elections and monitoring of the peace process. The situation may get worse once UNMIN completes its tenure on July 22, 2008. The absence of a neutral observer will give a freehand to the combatants to indulge in intimidation and violence.

    Smooth integration of these combatants could also be affected by the Nepal Army’s minimum prescribed academic qualifications for eligibility for enrollment. The Nepal Army also holds the view that the lack of conventional training of Maoist combatants would have a serious effect on its professional standards. The Maoists argues that soldiers should possess military skills rather than academic qualifications, and are claiming equal positions in all ranks and file of the NA.

    The Maoists’ insistence on military skills and not education as the criterion is likely to create problems especially when it comes to promotions. This will especially be problematic while integrating middle level officers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Treating academically under-qualified ‘commanders’ of the PLA at par with well-trained officers of the NA could create resentment among existing NA officers. Since the NA and PLA have different doctrines, organisational structures, and widely divergent political backgrounds, integration is likely to be a tortuous process.

    As long as the disarmament of the PLA is not complete, its integration into the NA will become a travesty. There is a huge gap between the number of arms and cadres registered with the UNMIN. Poor disarmament programmes have affected the follow-up programmes even in successful cases like South Africa and Nicaragua.

    Who will exercise political control over the reformatted army? This is likely to emerge as a major issue. It could create structural incompatibilities when a section of recruits with a proven political affiliation gets into an army, which is supposed to function without any political bias.

    The current strength of the Nepal Army is 90,000. Nepal also maintains a police force of around 75,000. Integrating the eligible Maoist cadres into the NA would increase the defence budget further. Downsizing of the NA would cause considerable disaffection among those facing the prospect of unemployment.

    The issue has provoked a major controversy in Nepal since January 2008. General Rukmangud Katuwal, the Chief of NA, has opposed the integration proposal. Prime Minister Koirala feels that the integration of indoctrinated combatants will have a negative impact on the professional Army. However, the NC and UML have been using this issue as a negotiating tactic to share power with the CPN-Maoist. The political parties have been demanding the dismantlement of the PLA and the YCL as a precondition to join the coalition government.

    Maoists are strongly opposed to the demands of the political parties. In fact, they have threatened to launch a new struggle. The failure to integrate PLA cadres with the army will have a serious impact on the peace process in Nepal.

    For successful integration, democratisation of the NA needs to be given priority. It should remain apolitical and accountable to the civilian government. Overcoming mistrust between the NA and PLA is very difficult and constant reassurance is needed throughout the peace process. Second, the necessary funding would have to be secured for the integration process. A proper planning, monitoring, and institutional framework are needed for smooth transition to a new Army. Honesty and sincerity in the destruction and surrender of arms would have to be demonstrated. Third, education and business skills will have to be imparted alongside social skills. Last but not least, Nepal should adopt a civilian integration model, which can accommodate more ex-combatants, than military integration. Since the Maoists have a long-term plan to reduce the NA’s strength, civilian integration would be more appropriate than military integration.

    Integration of the PLA in the Nepal Army will have a positive impact on Nepalese society. The NA will be seen as a more inclusive force and thus perceived as legitimate by the people. Integration can spur innovation in doctrine, tactics, and strategy. Also, since PLA cadres have a broader understanding of politics, this can be of great advantage for the NA to understand its role and responsibility in a democratic set-up.