Will the Maoists of Nepal ever disarm

Written by Subhash Agrawal | Updated: Sep 2 2006, 05:30am hrs
Events Events in Nepal are moving at breakneck speed, but four months after an outpouring of remarkable synergy between political parties, civil society and Maoists rebels, Nepals moment of sunshine may actually be fading. An authoritarian, venal and callous king has been reduced from an all-powerful figure to a near persona non grata, and the country has already turned into a republic for all practical purposes. But outside that milestone change, political equations among major actors remain greatly confusing and unstable.

There are contradiction, ambiguities, illusions and hyperbole in plenty. The now-triumphant political parties of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) appears to be in control, but their mass appeal is both fickle and by default rather than by active choice among the citizenry. The Maoists appear to be flexible but they continue with their barely-veiled threats in political negotiations and with actual extortions in the countryside. The army has been sidelined but it remains the only viable means that political parties have to pressure an armed Maoist rebel force to come to the negotiating table.

The decommissioning of arms by Maoist rebels now threatens to become a major stumbling block. The question being debated is whether Maoist rebels will disarm completely, or even substantively, by some time next year in order for elections to the proposed constituent assembly to take place.

This question gains salience increasing reports about Maoist rebels carrying on with extortion, abduction, intimidation and their severe brand of peoples justice in the countryside, just like before. This has raised serious questions about their commitment to democracy, dissent and debate.

There is the crucial question of how easily will the Maoist cadres adjust to a new peace or even semi-peace Maoist followers are not ideology driven as is the leadership, and most have been pushed into the movement by, among other causes, purely local grievances. All along they have been promised a new order that will belong to them, and so they expect not just vague notions of justice after a long and brutal campaign but in fact some very tangible benefits. There is no way to do that in the short term except by taking from the old and giving to the new.

There is only now a sense of realism emerging in political circles in Nepal about how difficult any disarming and reintegration of rebels is going to be. First, there is hardly any economic activity or jobs for Maoist fighters to be absorbed in. Second, the sheer number of these fighters and current army regulars is going to be very expensive affair for a poor country like Nepal to keep on the payroll. As it is, the combined Nepalese security forces are one of the largest (in per capita terms) in the world.

What also worries neutral observers is how will disarmament be achieved even if Maoist leaders are sincere about joining the democratic mainstream Will their cadres obediently follow the political leadership and disarm that easily Why would Maoist fighters give up arms now, given that most of them are unlikely to be absorbed into the army and given that they are by now used to a culture of extortion and plunder.

After 10 years of a bloody war and with 10,000 cadres killed, why would Maoists settle for a number three slot in Parliament, as opinion polls suggest Aside from the regular 30,000 odd fighting force of the Maoist army, there are about the 100,000-strong militia which the Maoists have built up in the countryside, an invisible force that consists mainly of 14-18 year olds who help enforce the writ of the Maoists.Most of them carry some sort of weapons, ranging from crude knives country pistols, ut they do not wear uniforms and do not necessarily take part in military activities. They assist the guerilla only when required and are mostly responsible for guarding villages under Maoist control. They are in effect the future recruits. The presence of this militia has created a pervasive fear in rural areas, and many experts see a parallel between current-day Nepal and Cambodia during the post-1979 period.

These existential realities now face Nepal. Indias northern neighbour is in the cusp but the trajectory of its recent political developments is disappointing and tardy.

The writer is editor of India Focus; Daniel Wagner is a political risk analyst based in Manila.