[With the orders by Bhattarai and Prachanda for the Nepalese Army to move in, and seize all 15 PLA cantonments and all the containers of PLA arms, the formal end of the PLA has arrived. Will this mark the end of Part One of the PLA–with Part Two yet to come in a reconstituted form–or will other forms of the people’s struggle and revolutionary war be found in coming months–is yet to be seen. This bourgeois Indian account of the PLA’s endgame tells only one side of the story. — Frontlines ed.]
by Yubaraj Ghimire, Indian Express, Saturday, April 14 2012
With Maoist troops gone, Prachanda and Bhattarai lose bargaining power
Maoists have either resisted the demand or backed out of the promise to have their private army dismantled and to hand over their arms to the state. But on April 10, things moved at an unexpected speed in Nepal. Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai told the high-powered Army Integration Special Committee that the Nepal army was going to move into all 15 Maoist cantonments, take control and seize the the weapon containers lying there.
Fifteen teams of the technical committee of the AISC had spread out to these camps in order to have over 9,000 combatants vacate them by the evening of April 12. A maximum of 6,500 were to be given the option to join the Nepal army, provided they fulfilled the “relaxed” eligibility criteria. The rest were to be given the option of going into “voluntary retirement”. The army was to take control of the empty camps after that.
Lieutenant General (retd) Balananda Sharma, who heads the AISC’s technical cell, informed Bhattarai from the main cantonment at Shaktikhor that the prevailing tensions, and the intermittent clashes between rival groups of combatants, might take an ugly turn and imperil the rehabilitation and integration process. Almost confirming Sharma’s fears, seven divisional commanders of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) issued an unusual warning to Prachanda, chief of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M), in Kathmandu on the same day: “neither you nor we are safe .” Prachanda did not take the warning lightly, and advised “Comrade Prime Minister” to rush in the Nepal Army. Reports from Shaktikhor suggested that combatants loyal to the party’s Senior Vice-Chairman Mohan Baidhya Kiran and opposed to the integration process had tried to snatch the weapon containers.
Overnight, Prachanda and Bhattarai have become the worst enemy of the party rebels and “renegades”. Even for pro-Prachanda combatants, accepting the Nepal army as “protectors” may not be that easy, given the fact that they were bitter enemies for 10 years, with violent clashes in the last four years of the insurgency.
Dispatching the Nepal army to the camps only proves that the threat to the pro-establishment leaders was real. “More than any thing else, I was clear that I need to take some courageous act (sic) to take the peace process to its logical conclusion,” said Prachanda, putting up a brave front a day after the event. He was naturally trying to dispel the impression that he had hurried up the act following widespread clashes in cantonments and accusations that most commanders had taken huge cuts in their monthly salary. He was also sending across the message that he, and not the prime minister, was the real leader. An instant response came from diplomatic circles. On Wednesday, the Indian ambassador, Jayant Prasad, went to Prachanda’s newly acquired mansion in Lazimpat and congratulated him.
The decision to dismantle the PLA is the most remarkable achievement in the peace process but there are still doubts over whether this was an act of compulsion or an act of courage as Prachanda claimed. Nevertheless, it has created euphoria once again. “It is a very important step towards the transformation of the Maoist party into a civilian party,” said Ram Chandra Poudel, leader of the Nepali Congress Parliamentary Party. Other parties hope that the Maoists, minus combatants, will have to be more flexible about contentious issues in the constitution. These include the model of federalism, governance, the judiciary, the electoral system and investigation of human rights violations during the conflict years.
The gap between the Maoists’ past promises and their delivery is huge. They have not returned the property confiscated from individual citizens during the conflict. Bhattarai has unilaterally withdrawn human rights violation cases, including those of murder and abductions, against his party leaders and cadre. This has made the proposed truth and reconciliation commission almost redundant. Will the other parties agree to issue an incomplete constitution just to meet the deadline?
With the combatants under the state’s control, Maoists will be less feared. But it is too early to say an acceptable constitution will be delivered by the May 27 deadline. How the state treats the rebel group within the Maoists, how “renegades” among the PLA act, and how the state reacts to them will influence the peace process as well as constitution making. The latter is not participatory or transparent in the least. Top leaders say they don’t doubt its timely delivery. But none of them knows the content of the constitution.
With the combatants gone, the prime minister and the party chief have lost their bargaining power with other political parties. The only option left to them is to endorse the basic values of democracy and declare, once and for all, that they have renounced the politics of violence. For Prachanda and Bhattarai, the real challenge begins now.