On 1st November 2011, five years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Nepal, political parties finally made a breakthrough by signing a historic 7-point agreement in Kathmandu.
The agreement decides on the contentious issues of army integration, constitution drafting and power sharing.
Why is it important?
After sixteen years of struggling multi-party democracy and then ten years of violent conflict, the so-called People’s War between the Maoists and the Government of Nepal came to an end in November 2006.
Peace, however, has not come easily. Since then political parties have faced continual challenges in moving the peace process forward.
Insecurity, particularly in the plains, commonly known as the Terai region, has escalated with the emergence of numerous armed groups taking advantage of a security vacuum. The economy has been hard hit, with some larger businesses scaling down and development projects being affected.
Political party infighting is often cited as the foremost reason why important decisions have not been taken.
There have consistently been two major bones of contention for political parties. Firstly, how to integrate and rehabilitate the cantonment-bound 19,602 ex-combatants into the security sector or into the civilian population. The second is the thrice-delayed agreement on a permanent constitution.
What was agreed in the 7-point plan?
This November’s 7-point agreement reaffirms pre-CPA commitments made by the parties on 22 November 2005. It pushes forward the peace process at a critical time when the fourth deadline looms for the Constitution drafting process but deadlocks were driving national patience to a precarious low.
On the issue of integration of the 19,602 Maoist combatants, it was agreed that up to 6,500 can be integrated into the Nepal Army. Those who remain in the cantonments will be able to choose to be rehabilitated into civilian life, either through a voluntary retirement programme or through a rehabilitation package.
These packages are rumoured to be some of the largest cash payouts ever proposed in a post-conflict agreement for reintegration – voluntary retirement payouts vary between NPR 500,000 and NPR 800,000 (about 6,200 – 10,000 USD) depending on seniority within the People’s Liberation Army.
Another significant issue of dispute that has been agreed upon is the dismantling of the semi-military structure of the Maoist’s Young Communist League (YCL).
The November 1st deal also states that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and a Commission to Investigate Forced Disappearances are to be formed within a month. In addition, relief packages are to be made available for the victims of conflict, as well as the release of seized property during the conflict.
Lastly, all parties have agreed on forming a national consensus government – a multi-party government – to replace the current majority government comprised of the Maoists and the Madheshi Front.
Not all are happy, however. The agreement is a disappointment to the harder left within the Maoist Party who have taken a public stand against it. They are angry that the agreement dissolves the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and does not provide for the wholesale integration of Maoist Army combatants into the national army.
What does it mean for International Alert’s work?
As a peacebuilding organisation with a number of security and justice programmes across Nepal, we see this political consensus as broadly positive for the peace process and the morale of the country.
But, if we dig a little deeper, we begin to reveal some concerns that have implications for peacebuilding.
Firstly, there is a dissonance between the promises and the realpolitik. While there is a provision for establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Disappearances Commission, parliament has only just approved an amnesty request for a politician who was convicted for murder by the Supreme Court. This is clear evidence of political interference in the rule of law at the highest level. Such political meddling in security and justice is an issue across Nepal and we see it having grave implications for the country’s transition to stable peace and development.
Since 2009, we have also been working on issues relating to conflict-sensitive rehabilitation of ex-combatants in Nepal. Looking closely at the agreement, we see the lack of detail in the rehabilitation and voluntary retirement packages as a potential problem. If the rehabilitation packages on offer are not sufficiently thought-out or detailed, then the majority of combatants will opt for integration or cash payouts. With only 6,500 places in the Nepal Army available, it is likely the majority will chose the cash payout.
To date, there is no clear plan to provide support services alongside the cash payout option. Such services would include financial management, legal services, or support for those wishing to invest their payout in a business. Without such services, there is a danger that cash payouts will not facilitate the long-term reintegration of former combatants into society and the economic sphere.
International Alert is working with the Nepali private sector to strengthen its role in supporting the socio-economic rehabilitation of ex-combatants. We will be monitoring the implementation of this 7-point Agreement and its consequences for long-term peace in Nepal.
For more information about our work in South Asia, see http://www.international-alert.org/ourwork/regional/asia.