6-12 September 2013 #672

Combatants to captains

“We made immense sacrifices to come this far, the parties too need to also sacrifice their self-interest for the greater good.”
Trishna Rana

As Ganga Maya and Nanda Prasad Adhikari continue their hunger strike in Bir Hospital for the fifth week, an entire country awaits in anticipation to see whether the state will follow through with its promise of prosecuting their son’s murderers. The couple’s struggle is emblematic of the deep-seated impunity that has plagued Nepal since the end of conflict. How fairly and efficiently the government handles this case will set the precedent for thousands of other families.

Post-war reconciliation and justice for victims and their families remain painfully slow, but we finally managed to end one aspect of the peace process this month. On 26 August, 70 former Maoist combatants became captains in the Nepal Army they had fought a decade long war against. As Chairman of the Interim Election Council, Khil Raj Regmi, handed over insignias to the new graduates, those gathered at the military academy in Kharipati heaved a collective sigh of relief.

Nepal’s messy, protracted transition has taken us seven agonising years. But from squabbling over the number and ranks of combatants to the opposition of the Army in admitting ‘politically indoctrinated’ individuals, the country has come a long way. The successful integration, management, and rehabilitation of the PLA is undoubtedly a notable achievement.

More than 17,000 Maoist soldiers languished in seven cantonments across the country for years. Keeping them there any longer would not only have run the state’s treasury dry, but increased the potential for future unrest.

“Six years in the camp was the worst time of our lives, we were treated like prisoners,” recalls Bimala Pant, who graduated with her husband Ram Bahadur Lama from Kavre. “It was far more terrible than the war because we joined the PLA of our own accord and were ready to die for the cause, but we hadn’t signed up for this.”

The couple list the 2006 People’s Movement, transformation of Nepal into a secular republic, growing political awareness and participation specially of women and marginalised communities and their demands for increased recognition as major accomplishments of the conflict. But they are quick to point out that army integration is not the end of the peace process as everyone has been so eager to claim.

Lama told me, “Writing a constitution is not easy. There are many players and it is natural for the process to be delayed. We made immense sacrifices during the 10 year conflict and the parties too need to sacrifice their self-interest for the greater good. Nepalis deserve a new constitution, the leaders owe it to the people."

Two months before elections and countless High Level Political meetings later, the big four and the fringe parties seem to be finally nearing an agreement. Disillusionment among voters – many for the first time – is growing. At this late hour, the political parties need to think beyond winning and losing because the constitution is neither a competition, nor an end goal. It is simply the first step among many that will help us build a more inclusionary and fair society.

Those who actually put their lives on the frontlines have swapped their uniforms for a new, stable life. They are keen to leave their past behind and want Nepalis to judge them based on what they now do with their future.

Says 30-year-old Keshav Raj Dhami from Bajura who was the winner of the best male cadet award, “We set a peaceful precedent by becoming the first country to bring together former warring sides into the same army. Now we need to take this a step further, draft an inclusive and just constitution, and close the chapter.”

Yet reckless leaders like Mohan Baidya continue to threaten - from the comfort of their offices - a return to bloodshed if their demands are not fulfilled. Even if another large-scale armed conflict seems quite unlikely, using it as a political slogan shows just how out of tune some leaders are with the aspirations of ordinary Nepalis.

When we are trying to draft Nepal’s modern history, why do the political parties insist on standing on the wrong side?

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