Nepali Times
"Integration is the backbone of the peace process"

Nepali Times: What was the outcome of your meetings with Madhesi militant groups this week?
Janardan Sharma: We held informal face-to-face talks with all major groups except Goit. We have been trying to reach him, and hopefully will get through. We talked with Jwala Singh over the phone and met one of his emissaries. We reassured them that the government is serious about addressing Madhesi grievances, and the groups I met were positive, they are committed to the constitution-drafting process and Nepal's territorial integrity.

What were their main demands?
At present, they wanted amnesty for political prisoners and their security before negotiations. I believe these are reasonable demands. We have requested them to discuss it in their central committee and come up with a decision on how to go about it. If they can decide independently, they will come to the dialogue table. Various factions have started uniting and this is a positive sign and will expedite talks.

What is the mechanism under which they can participate in constitution writing?
I can't tell you that.

But couldn't that be a stumbling block?
The major task ahead is to write a constitution and build a new Nepal. They want a new constitution where the rights of Madhesi people is guaranteed. The issues of inclusiveness and proportional representation in all government level are the common issues of all political parties. We have promised the voice of Madhesi people will be heard. There is representation of the Madhesi people in the CA, and they told me that they played a positive role in the election of the CA.

What now?
We hope to hold another meeting very soon. All we need is an atmosphere of trust between the government and these groups. We will begin releasing prisoners through due process. They assured me that violence and destruction would not solve anything, all they need is proof that the government is serious. They are not yet convinced because past agreements have not been implemented. They are right, but we have already started the process. Some of the past agreements aren't the purview of the government, only the CA can decide on them.

How important is PLA integration to the peace process?
It is the backbone of the peace process. It is as important as the writing of the constitution and both are directly linked with the peace process. There are some vested interests that don't want integration and want to derail the process. It is this that is hindering integration. This is a difficult issue, but not one that is intractable. One just needs to follow the clauses in the comprehensive peace accord.

Will the NC join the integration committee?
The NC is just trying to get some practice being in opposition. We gave up the post of coordinator, even though logically it should go to the peace minister. The committee will start its business, and there are some in the NC who want the party to join the committee. But integration is not just about merging the two armies, we have to see it as a part of wider security sector reforms. We have to redefine our security strategy and terms of reference of the security agencies and their chain of command. The PLA is a guerrilla army, and the national army needs guerrilla capability. The Nepal Army has a long history of professionalism, but was also feudal. So we are talking about an integrated army that has the best of both.

There have been delays in setting up the commissions on disappearance and truth and reconciliation.
The cabinet endorsed the draft law on setting up the disappearance commission on Wednesday, now we will start work on truth and reconciliation. Without finding out the truth there can be no reconciliation, and we are committed to this process. The commissions on civil service reform and land reform are also on the way.

Looks like there is serious disagreement within your party.
It's not as serious as reported in the media, there are issues that will be decided by the national cadre meeting. Anyone expecting the party to split can dream on. It's not going to happen.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)