|VERIFICATION: UNMIN monitors interview a Maoist ex-combatant at Chulchule cantonment in Ilam.|
The verification process to determine who qualifies as a Maoist fighter, delayed for nearly a month by a spat between the Maoists and UNMIN, is well under way once more. But the hiccup in July, caused mainly by what the Maoists saw as a lack of progress in reforming the security sector, and by pressure from their combatants languishing in the cantonments, has not been fully resolved.
The Maoists want to integrate their fighters into the Nepal Army (NA) as soon as possible, but the seven-party coalition is not yet ready to discuss this.
Analyst Shyam Shrestha warns that while the politicians are quite happy to see the Maoist combatants worn down over time by the miserable living conditions in their cantonments, they seem unaware that the growing pressure on the Maoist leadership from the restive fighters could derail the peace process.
Faced with reports of growing desertions from the camps, the Maoist leaders want to see tangible progress on security sector reform before the elections.
There has been some progress. Parliamentary oversight of the NA is now in place and Britain is helping to restructure the Ministry of Defence. Reform of the National Security Council is under discussion, with Washington and New Delhi proposing a new national security advisor post.
But the Maoists want a complete overhaul of the security sector to 'institutionalize the gains of the April uprising'. Most importantly, they want the full integration of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) into the new national army, with their fighters keeping their current military ranks. The Maoist deputy commander, Nanda Kishore Pun (\'Pasang\'), says integration into the police forces is not acceptable.
Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal has also proposed deploying the Young Communist League to provide security during the elections. Some Congress and UML leaders scoff at the idea. Others flatly rule out the possibility of any integration of the Maoist soldiers. But there has been little discussion about such proposals among the eight governing parties.
Analysts say a sensitive issue like security sector reform cannot be based purely on political compromise and there must be a national debate. The army says it will offer suggestions on reform if asked, but insists it is the government's responsibility.
The Maoists have already criticised the narrow strategy of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR). They want a wider approach, to include the judiciary within the reforms.
"We understand that everything cannot be done before the election, but at least what we can do is begin the process and let the new government after the CA elections finish it," Pun said.
Besides overhauling the other security agencies, the Maoists plan to downsize the army to the pre-war level of about 40,000 personnel, including their integrated fighters. The army wants to call it 'right-sizing' and is unhappy about talk of downsizing and wholesale integration.
"We will accept any decision that comes as a political package, but the idea of integrating politically-indoctrinated fighters in a professional and neutral national army is a no-brainer," said one army official.
He questioned what would happen if other armed groups like the Nepal Defence Army, the Tarai Cobra or those led by Jwala Singh and Goit also demanded the right to be integrated into the army. "A national army cannot operate like a militia," said an army watcher.
But the Maoists see it differently and they believe their own rhetoric. To them, the PLA won the battle, so the vanquished government forces should be subject to their standards, not vice-versa. "How can you compare NA and PLA?" said Maoist leader CP Gajurel. "The April Uprising succeeded only on the strength
of PLA's 10-year-old people's war."