Much ado about integration

In the end, it seems futile that so much time, energy and money got spent for something so ‘little’.By something I mean the integration of Nepal’s former Peoples’ Liberation Army rebels into Nepal Army—the biggest stumbling block in concluding the peace process.

On Monday, only 1,544 of the remaining 3,123 former PLA combatants in cantonments took written exams to get integrated to NA. While most of them would become soldiers, 86 from among them are vying for posts of officers in the army they once fought against.

These former combatants went though a screening process before sitting for the written exam. But there’s still no guarantee that they will end up getting integrated—–for that they will have to pass the written exam, subsequent medical examinations and training.

Though these combatants waited patiently for years for completion of the integration process, nearly 1,500 of them recently opted for ‘retirement’ with monetary benefits like thousands of their former PLA colleagues who took the same route months ago.

Even if all 1,544 who appeared for the written test finally manage to don NA’s olive green fatigues, the figure would be much less than the one for which the Maoist leadership had been bargaining with other parties—–delaying the peace process by many years.

Despite the 2006 peace deal (and other deals between political parties and Maoists) not mentioning any figure and focusing only on ‘integration’ and ‘rehabilitation’, the number of PLA personnel to be integrated into NA always remained the biggest bone of contention.

Over the years, Maoists chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ insisted on integrating as many of them as possible—–with the intention of having long-term influence in NA trough his former PLA men.

On the other hand, wary that something like that could actually happen, Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), the two major parties in the dissolved Constituent Assembly after Maoists, tried to keep the figure at a minimum.

As the tussle over integration continued, the peace process kept getting delayed and thousands of PLA personnel confined in seven cantonments across the country waited endlessly for their futures to be decided by leaders in Kathmandu.

There were doubts regarding the actual number of PLA combatants as well. Following the peace deal, verification carried out by the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) found nearly 19,000 in the cantonments. Nearly 3,000 of them who were minors were later discharged.

In November last year, the parties agreed that 6,500 of the PLA personnel would be integrated into NA and the rest given ‘voluntary retirement’ with monetary benefits.

A fresh verification carried out by the Special Committee formed after UNMIN’s departure in early 2011 found around 17,000 PLA personnel in the cantonments. Nearly 9,700 of them opted to join NA while the rest left the cantonments with cash incentives.

But by April this year when the cantonments came under NA control, only 3,123 PLA personnel wanted integration. Delays, mismanagement of their funds and doubts about their positions in NA made the other 6,576, who had opted for integration initially, decide on ‘retirement’.

When the process finally gets over, the integrated former PLA personnel would be part of a proposed directorate general (DG) within NA entrusted with industrial security, infrastructure development, forest security and disaster management.

Former PLA personnel were to comprise 35% of the DG’s total strength of over 18,000 men. But with their number now reduced to barely 1,500 from the previously agreed 6,500, there are doubts on whether the directorate would get constituted and if it does what would be its structure.

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