Feels Tuesday’s historic pact addresses its concerns
By Phanindra Dahal
The Nepal Army (NA) has expressed its readiness to fully support the landmark deal signed by parties on Tuesday night on concluding the peace process, stating that its concerns have been addressed in the agreement that will see former Maoist combatants integrated into its ranks.
Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala, CPN-UML Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal and Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha leader Bijay Kumar Gachchhadar signed the deal expressing commitment to setting up a general directorate under the NA to integrate up to 6,500 Maoist fighters. The general directorate, according to the deal, will be deployed for infrastructure development, rescue and relief operations as well as forest and industrial security.
“We feel fortunate that the parties forged an agreement on integration modality that we had suggested,” said a two-star general, commenting on Tuesday’s seven-point agreement. “We are ready to extend our full support to the implementation of this decision.”
Chief of Army Staff Chhatra Man Singh Gurung had prescribed the formation of the “National Development and Security Directorate” with non-combat duties during the tenure of the Madhav Kumar Nepal-led government. The proposal handed over to the government in the form of a non-paper last January was a complete volte-face from the hard-line stand taken by the Army during the tenure of Gurung’s predecessor Gen Rookmangud Katawal.
Unlike Katawal, who opposed integration of politically indoctrinated combatants, the Army under Gurung’s leadership had suggested the need for integration on individual basis and expressed willingness to make concessions on age, marital status and educational qualification.
In the deal, parties have agreed to adopt three-year flexibility in age and one level concession in educational qualification. It means combatants to have passed Grade Seven can be enrolled in lower ranks and combatants with Grade 10 qualification can be recruited as officers.
The NA says the soldiers who meet its standard norms in accordance with the seven-point deal should undertake a bridging course and complete the required training before starting service in the national army. Combatants selected for officers should complete an 18-month training course and those for lower ranks should spend nine months in training apart from doing a short bridging course, according to Army sources in decision making positions.
Though it is a ‘comfortable’ deal, Army officials say the decision to integrate up to 6,500 combatants could result in one of the largest NA entities created in terms of personnel. Normally, a general directorate has 10 to 12 thousand personnel, equal to the strength of a division, said the source, arguing the decision to include 65 percent personnel from other security agencies could inflate the number to around 19,000.
Officials say four new directorates will be set up within the new general directorate if the figures go higher. As per the Army’s proposal, three directorates—one each for infrastructure development, rescue and relief operations and forest and industrial security—were planned.
The General Directorate for Development and Infrastructure Construction that comprises two battalions is likely to be shifted to the mechanism proposed for integrating the combatants. According to Army sources, the formation of a new department requires a Cabinet approval and will take one and a half to two years to train its personnel and make it functional.
“The government should draft a policy on bringing personnel from the Nepal Police, the Armed Police Force and the Nepal Army to the new set-up,” said the General. “We need to do detailed homework to ensure a smooth sailing of the proposal.”
Retired Major General Shiva Ram Pradhan said the deal is in NA’s favour. “I think more combatants will be attracted by the rehabilitation and retirement packages because they will easily get at least half a million rupees by opting for them,” he said.
He opined that combatants were well aware of the little earning and hard work they have to adjust with once they join the national army. “They will get a chance to serve in a peace-keeping mission only after six years of service. Even if they get such an opportunity, they cannot earn beyond Rs 350,000 at a time,” he said.
Serving officials have estimated the number of combatants wishing to serve in the Army will be less than the 6,500 pledged in the deal. This argument is supported by a significant number of married couples, lactating mothers and injured combatants who comprise the 19,600 UN-verified camped Maoist fighters.
A survey conducted by the UCPN (Maoist) last month among the combatants suggests that fewer combatants will opt for integration if an attractive rehabilitation package is offered, according to a party source.
NA Spokesman Ramindra Chhetri declined to comment. “It is a political decision. We do not comment on a decision taken by the government; we implement it,” he said.