With the integration process having reached “an irreversible point,” there is now a renewed hope for a timely constitution. However, dissatisfaction among Maoist combatants is becoming more vocal, with the Maoist hardline faction’s Mohan Vaidya emerging as a leader for the disgruntled camp. In conversation with Bidushi Dhungel and Gyanu Adhikari, Minister for Peace and Reconstruction, Satya Pahadi, spoke of the dissatisfaction among the combatants, and her Ministry’s efforts in assisting the peace process. From Dolpa and married to Maoist Chairman Dahal’s confidante from Jajarkot, Shakti Basnet, Pahadi has won praises for her affable personality. Excerpts:
It’s hasn’t been dissolved, it’s been integrated. The ‘dissolved’ definition doesn’t fit when special decisions have been taken according to international criteria to create a directorate which will incorporate the ex-fighters into the Nepal Army. Dissolving would mean to simply shove out all of the fighters from the cantonment and send them on their way with no recourse to any means of livelihood.
But the Mohan Baidya faction of your party has been defining the process in this way
That is their understanding. But we have been saying all along that this is integration. And towards that end we have worked since the 12-point agreement, to the CPA, and onwards.
What couldn’t be done in four years was finalised a couple of days ago. How did this become possible?
It’s not that this came all at one go. This started with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006 which mandates the CA, integration and the constitution through the CA.
But what changed to make consensus on integration possible now?
This breakthrough was a long time in the making. It is the accumulation of countless talks and rounds of negotiations and discussions. That it’s come now should be seen as the culmination of past efforts rather than an isolated incident caused by some dramatic turn. It’s taken a long time, but at the end, consensus has come in a very satisfactory and harmonious manner. We have to see this in a positive light. Things have moved according to plan in that sense.
Why did it take so long?
Well if you look at other countries’ experiences, you can see that we haven’t taken that long. In countries where civil conflict didn’t even exist, just deciding on federalism has taken 10-12 years. But where we came from as a nation, we haven’t done so poorly. As the people have said on occasion, and as we sometimes think as well, maybe a two years timeframe to come out with a new constitution was not enough to begin with.
To change the topic slightly, there was news of dissatisfaction within the cantonments which led to a sudden deployment of the Nepal Army. Did the situation in the cantonments get that bad?
That’s not true. If that’s how we look at it, then the solidarity that people feel will be affected. The Nepal Army and the People’s Liberation Army are under the Nepal government. The latter was already in the cantonments and the former were asked to join them and look after the security situation at the behest of the all-party decision.
Then why did it all take place at night and that in an unofficial manner?
That is a coincidence. It might have been delayed for logistic reasons. The decision was made late and the Army was only following their chain of command. We shouldn’t take it otherwise.
So there were no problems at all in the cantonments before the Army stepped in?
Well, to assume that places like the cantonments would exist without any problems would be hypothetical. For every positive action, there will also be some negative reaction.
Still, there must be some level of dissatisfaction within the PLA.
The dissatisfaction within the cantonments cannot be said to be non-existent. Specifically, those that do not meet the age requirements and are forced to retire, and those who wanted to serve in the Army for their entire life are naturally unhappy. The integration process should have taken place much earlier, and in the interim that it was stalled, some of the fighters were upgraded. They feel that the Special Committee’s decisions discount their years in the cantonment. Additionally, as the peace process draws to a close, the aspirations of all the fighters were naturally going to grow, and with it dissatisfaction was bound to grow. For those like the wounded and disabled, the criteria set by the Committee may have been dissatisfactory. A lot of it is also personal vendetta and anger among the fighters.
Are you saying the frustration is more to do with personal issues than with the integration process and the party?
Look, you already know about the situation in the party and one faction’s discontent with the line the party has chosen. It’s not entirely unnatural for people in such situation to be unhappy. There are those who believe in a different path and ideology. After all, these are people too. The only question is if their political beliefs got in the way of their duty or not. It’s not up to us to decide what Kiran-ji and his followers do in the long run. It’s not that they should be denied the right to assembly. They may even create a group, as they try to do in Dang.
Will such activity affect the peace process?
It is the elements that triggered the conflict that can affect the peace process: feelings of disrespect, inequality and dissatisfaction caused by it. So those that left the PLA feel unsatisfied for that reason—they were even denied certificates of appreciation. The Special Committee failed to realise this.
What programmes has the Ministry for Peace started for the disabled fighters who op-ted for voluntary retirement?
For those who have gone for voluntary retirement and have been generally hurt in the process of any political change, including Jana Andolan and Madhes Tarai Andolan, we have some programmes in place. We have divided the taskforces into two/three types. One will deal with the wounded and disabled within the cantonments, including those that have opted for voluntary retirement. That taskforce has already submitted a report and we will start with that as it’s the first to finish its work. Those ordinary citizens who were hurt during political change also have a taskforce working for them. We have given guidelines for work on the former already. Five days ago, we received the directives from the PMO to give a monthly living allowance of Rs 6,500 to the seriously injured. We have also decided on a care centre that also provides emergency care.
What about programmes for women PLA soldiers?
Yes of course. For those who have chosen retirement because of young kids or pregnancy, we have decided to provide shelter for one and a half years. And for those with young children, we’ve agreed to help them find work and look after their kids through centres. But aside from those with children under one year, those who are pregnant and those with serious injuries have opted for integration. Those in the former categories are somewhat dissatisfied because they say those in the Nepal Army who have injuries remain in the Nepal Army. These women question why they can’t do the same. But we are staying within the norms of the Special Committee. The Committee should have considered their grievances. If you ask them now even, of course they have aspirations, but the Special Committee was unable to address these grievances.
How will these grievances be addressed?
Integration alone is not the end of the peace process. There are many other aspects that need to be addressed, without which, it will be difficult to say that the peace process has concluded. I have been saying this all along. First, all the points of the peace process need to be addressed, and second, the reasons which pushed the country into conflict need to be addressed. Otherwise, the country will fall back into conflict. For the sake of the constitution drafting and compromise, the Maoist party has pushed forward with integration to take the peace process to an “irreversible point”. But there has been dissatisfaction with this process and various other issues have been a cause of discontent for many. Unless these are addressed, we cannot guarantee that lasting peace is possible.
On a different note, the Peace Ministry deals with the various armed groups across the country. What are their latest developments?
As a part of the peace process, in the “other” section, we have been in talks with a few groups. Three groups have recently handed over their arms from the Tarai. Another three groups are ready to hand over their arms. We are confident that this will be dealt with quickly as a part of the peace process. There are around five to seven armed groups that are ready for talks with the government. Most are from the Tarai, and a few from the hills. The situation is getting better overall. Insecurity that the country faced because of all these armed groups has gotten better as the peace process has moved forward. We have been addressing their demands and that has made it easier, as the reason to pick up arms is dissatisfaction.
Last question. Do you see favouritism along blood lines in the Maoist party?
That’s a sensitive question. How do you even define naatabad? This always comes up but the truth is that those in the families of the leaders often face mental torture. They hardly experience parenthood and when they want to partake in any kind of comfort, they are immediately attacked—even when it has little to do with their parents or kin. Even my son says so. If there are family members that have made politics their life and the sacrifices associated to it as much as the next person, then blood has no relevance to the positions that they hold. But beyond that, I don’t see any kind of favouritism.