Nepal: Resistance to change threatens peace process

Issue 

On March 3, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which fought a 10-year war against the Nepalese monarchy, started recruiting new soldiers to fill vacancies.

The mass pro-democracy movement, along with the Maoist-led PLA's armed struggle, succeeded in bringing down the centuries-old monarchy.

Elections for a Constituent Assembly occurred in March last year, with the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (which has since united with other forces to form the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, UCPN-M) winning the largest amount of seats.

The new assembly declared Nepal a republic. As part of the peace deal that ended the armed struggle and paved the way for the constituent assembly elections, an agreement was made to work towards the integration of the PLA with the (ex-monarchist) Nepali Army.

The move by the PLA to restart recruiting to itself has been condemned by the mainstream media and political opposition (both inside and outside of the Maoist-led coalition government) as a major barrier to the process of integration, one that is said to put the peace process in jeopardy.

However, such a conclusion disregards the facts and the real issues surrounding this recent controversy. The PLA recruitment has occurred in response to similar recruitment by the Nepali Army.

This recruitment took place against the instructions of the defence ministry, the government and the Supreme Court, yet it did not receive the same condemnation from the opposition.

The opposition, lead by the right-wing Nepali Congress, has called for the PLA recruitment to be stopped and has demanded the UCPN-M halt the recruitment.

However the UCPN-M is not in a position to do so, as the PLA is no longer the military wing of that party. It has been repeatedly been stressed by both the UCPN-M and the PLA that the PLA now takes its directions from, and is loyal to, the civilian government.

The PLA and the UCPN-M both continue to reconfirm their commitment to the ongoing peace process and the process of creating a new Nepal.

It is the old army, with the political support of the opposition, which is putting the peace process in jeopardy and continues to act against the spirit of the "people's movement" that brought down the monarchy — and the mandate given to the government in the elections.

When placed in a position where, despite its commitment to the peace process and the government, the old army of the defeated monarchy continues to grow and build its strength, the PLA was left with no option but to follow suit.

The peace process only can be brought to a conclusion if the two forces are integrated into a new, democratised national army, loyal only to the new Nepalese republic.

Contrary to the opinion of the opposition, the most pressing need in this matter is not to rehabilitate the PLA into the community, but (as this whole episode shows) to bring the rogue army back under the control of the civilian government.

Following this, is the need to dissolve both of these forces, and then reintegrate them into a New National Army.

However, this will be a struggle for the Maoist-led government as those inside and outside of the army will fight tooth and nail to preserve it in its current state as insurance for the status quo against attempts of the elected government to push for a democratic, pro-people transformation.

It is clear to most observers that while the king may be gone and the new constitution is still being written, the shape and form of the "new Nepal" is anything but certain, and is still being fought over.