Thursday, November 3, 2011

Towards a finale

Parties took a critical leap forward on Tuesday, but they will have to be realistic about anticipating the problems in its implementation.

After dithering for over three years, the major parties finally gave what they had promised—a breakthrough in the peace process and a genuine effort to restore the consensus mechanism on statute drafting and power-sharing. This is a landmark agreement and second only to 2005-06 peace framework.

Statistically, it is rare that civil wars result into permanent peace. Out of 140 civil wars around the world since 1945, just over 18 percent have ended in a peaceful settlement. The risk of backsliding into conflict even after initial settlement is high. But Tuesday’s agreement is another assurance that Nepal’s peace process is in different league altogether and has developed a level of resilience that is difficult to undo.

It has also shown that Nepali political actors understand risk of another conflict and are capable acting rationally when it matters.

Integrating and rehabilitating Maoist combatants is a critical component of Nepal’s negotiated settlement, but examples from elsewhere shows that implementing a Military Integration (MI) agreement isn’t always easy. According to dataset put together by Doyle and Sambanis between 1945 and 1999, 27 wars ended in negotiated settlement and MI took place in 34 cases. Out of 34, only 23 were actually implemented.

Many integration agreements fail to take off or fail midway because of irreconcilable differences aided by calculations among warring sides that returning to conflict is less costly than permanent peace. But in Nepal, thankfully, the settlement process has come to a point where the cost of returning to conflict far outweighs the cost of peace.

The deal has now opened doors for tangible progress on peace, statute-writing and power-sharing, and its implementation will complete the Nepal’s five-years-old arduous peace journey.

The deal appears to be win-win situation for both the Maoists and non-Maoist parties. On ranks and modality, Nepali Congress and CPN-UML managed to get what they wanted. On numbers and rehabilitation package, the Maoists managed to strike a rather sweet deal. The agreement is bit ambiguous on rank and leadership issue of the new directorate but it is possible that the parties have a gentlemen’s agreement behind the actual agreement, and that the ambiguity on ranks and leadership were deliberate.

Both sides in the negotiation pro-cess have constituency to keep, and the deal has enough to keep even the extr-eme elements on both sides engaged.

Maoists hardliners have been insisting all along that the leadership of the directorate be given to PLA combatants. On number and financial package, the hardliners do not have much to complain about. Although Mohan Baidya and company were publicly calling for 8,000 combatants to be integrated, they had more or less accepted that it won’t exceed 7,000 — the number proposed officially by the party establishment. By agreeing on a generous rehabilitation package, NC and UML have deliberately given Dahal room for some face-saving with the hardliners. In return the Maoists have agreed to return seized properties and provide compensation to the owners. Though the tab will be picked by the taxpayers, the price for peace is far less than the cost of continued stalemate.

The give-and-take also indicates the growing rapport between parties and how far both sides have gone to accommodate each other’s concern. This should all work out well for Dahal

in undermining the hardliners’ case. Reports from Maoists cantonments

suggest that Dahal may have pulled

this one off very well .

Integration is a big issue for rebels anywhere after a negotiated settlement for two primary reasons: security guarantee by being part of state’s coercive apparatus and financial incentives. In Nepal the political landscape is such that the former rebels have no need for the security guarantees that comes with integration. The Maoists are part

of the state establishment as an unintended consequence of the political expediency at the time. Nepali actors didn’t follow the typical sequencing of a peaceful settlement: demobilisation, disarmament and elections. Election before the management of arms catapulted the rebels as the largest political party in the CA—dramatically altering the political equations. This has also eliminated the possibility of state reneging on its integration promise or giving a raw deal to the rebels, although the thought must have crossed minds of non-Maoists politicians.

The morphing of former rebels into state actors before the integration started leaves little need for security guarantees. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise people if generous financial package end up attracting more ex-PLA men than the Maoists had intended.

Overall, Nepal Army deserves credit for thinking outside the box and floating the original proposal that became the basis for Tuesday’s agreement. But there are still many unanswered questions. The deal only provides a broad outline of an integration process and seems to make false assumption that process will be smooth. For it to work the agreement will have to be properly structured. The fixing of the top ceiling for integration, though a political necessity, contradicts the principle of voluntary integration and retirement. What if, hypothetically, more people than expected express wish for integration and also pass the norms of the NA? The current deal assumes that the Maoists will be able to persuade them to change their minds. The Maoists have already finished their version of ‘expression of interest’ survey and the number on the deal is comfortably within the rang. Experiences from sub-Saharan Africa, however, suggests otherwise. Too many simplistic assumptions about a process as complex as integration leads to a poorly worked out integration process that risks failure. Although in Nepal, the transformation of Maoists into a mainstream political force is a guarantor against that risk.

Integration can be a messy process, and working out tight time-bound calendar, though a political necessity, appears unrealistic.

Another significant issue which the parties need to pay attention to is the dispute resolution mechanism. At some point there is bound to be grievances, especially from the former rebels, about real or imagined discrimination. The ex-PLA could find the disciplinary regime of a national army unfair and may feel that they are being discriminated against. Parties and the Special Committee, therefore, should look into forming a separate tribunal to address these issues. Absence of such a tribunal could tempt the Maoists to meddle in favour of their comrades, especially if they are in a position of power.