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China’s gain is India’s loss

by Ashok K. Mehta

(November 12, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) Seven months after the historic election in Nepal, which threw up the shock result of a Maoist-led Government there is confusion over modalities for integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants into Nepal Army. The Maoists appear to be having their way in reshaping Nepal according to their vision by overhauling existing institutions and appointing their nominees to key posts. None of the promises made in past agreements for restoring confiscated land and property and dismantling parallel administrative structures have been kept. Maoist leaders are saying that the historic 12-Point Agreement has become irrelevant after the election and end of monarchy.

Facilitated by the Maoists, China is returning to Nepal to pursue its interests more aggressively ignoring India’s traditional sensitivity. Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee will be in Kathmandu later this month to take stock of India’s standing in a Maoist-driven Nepal. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ is in Delhi on his second visit to attend the BIMSTEC summit. He is expected to say all the right things as he did in September to please Indian leaders while letting events take a different course back home. Maoists have to be taken on their deeds not words.

The big fight in Kathmandu is over integration, the thorny issue dating back to 2003 when the Maoists were engaged in peace talks with King Gyanendra’s interlocutor, the late Col Narayan Singh Pun. Since then the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2006, the Monitoring Arms and Armies Agreement of 2006, the Interim Constitution of 2007, and the Seven-Party Agreement of 2008 have outlined guidelines for rehabilitation and integration of Maoist combatants with security forces in accordance with standard norms, which are yet to be defined.

Conspicuous in past agreements is the absence of any categorical reference to integration of Maoist combatants with Nepal Army. Political positions on integration vary from zero integration with Nepal Army to bulk or group entry to selective and token integration. The most widely held view is that a politically indoctrinated force cannot join an apolitical national Army though Army chief Gen Ruk Mangat Katowal once adamantly opposed to any integration has relented after the Maoists came to power. He has suddenly gone silent.

United Nations Mission in Nepal’s extended term is due to end in January 2009. Its chief, Mr Ian Martin, has said that the peace process will be incomplete as long as there are two armies and UNMIN could only leave after integration.

When in power, the Nepali Congress decision to postpone integration till after the election when it was expected to be on a stronger wicket turned out to be a fatal error. The Maoists displayed sixth sense in not forcing integration before the election. The ground situation has changed substantially and the Maoist-led Government has its own Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal, whose first visit abroad was to witness a PLA exercise in China.

The systematic re-entry of China into Nepal after its unambiguous support for monarchy and unqualified denunciation of the Maoists demonstrates Beijing’s diplomatic acumen in re-establishing relations not just at Government and party levels but also for the first time between the two PLA armies. A number of Maoist military commanders have been to China where offers were made for training of Maoist combatants, especially senior commanders, and rehabilitation of those unqualified for military service. This newfound rapport between soldiers motivated by identical ideologies should worry Nepal and the region.

Four senior Maoists, including three Ministers, made a secret overnight overland visit to the Chinese border escorted by the Military Attaché of the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu for discussions with Chinese PLA and wrote it off as going for a picnic during Tihar festival. Scholars from Chinese think-tanks have been telling their Nepali counterparts that they fear India would try to do a Sikkim in Nepal. A number of Chinese study Centres are coming up in the Terai and the mid hills just as the ISI in earlier times helped in the construction of mosques and madarsas. The Chinese are taking over trekking companies in the Pokhara valley which will give them unrestricted access to sensitive Indian Army Gorkha recruiting areas. The Chinese have sent feelers about recruiting Nepalis into the PLA just as they join the Indian and British Armies.

Emboldened by the Maoist rise to political power, the current commander of Maoist combatants, Mr Nand Kishore Pun Pasang, has staked his claim to the post of the Army Chief. All the right noises are being made by the Maoists on integration. An Army Integration Special Committee, backed by a technical committee, has been established to evolve in four months a suitable plan for integration and rehabilitation in accordance with a 20-point terms of reference which the Nepali Congress says is at variance with the earlier Seven-Point Agreement of the Seven-Party Alliance. It has threatened to block proceedings in the Constituent Assembly unless the anomalies of the AISC are rectified.

Of the 32,355 Maoist combatants in 28 camps, 19,602 are qualified, including 3,846 women. Another 2,973 are minors being born after 26 May 1988; 4,008 were disqualified and another 8,000 were to leave voluntarily but are still in camps. Even if 10,000 of the 20,000 qualified are integrated in the Army, around 20,000 militarily trained and indoctrinated Maoist combatants will be free to opt out of rehabilitation. Of the 5,000 weapons lost by Nepal Army to Maoist combatants, less than 3,000 have been deposited by the latter with UNMIN. Armed Maoists on the loose will pose a serious threat to Nepal and the region.

As much as 20 per cent of the 94,000 strong Nepal Army will become politically indoctrinated after integration with fair prospect of Maoist ideology spreading in the remaining rank and file unless induction is gradual, calibrated and not rushed into in six months. Especially with Maoists in power, integration is inevitable and has to be accepted, but in the words of Gen Katowal, without compromising the purity, sanctity and integrity of the Army.

Many Nepalis feel that the Army is the only institution that stands between the Maoists and their strategy of constitutional subversion from within. In a crisis, they say, there will be no legitimate authority left to send an SOS to Delhi. The debilitation of the Army will, therefore, be inimical to both Nepal and India’s national interest. India was sidelined during the integration process and during the integration and security sector reforms process, the Indian Army forfeiting its historical special relations with Nepal Army. India’s loss could be China’s gain.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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