Nepal's Maoist Army: A Real and Ready Fighting Force

A revolutionary army was created and hardened in Nepal, through ten years of revolutionary guerrilla warfare. In a major political maneuver, the Maoists entered into a "peace process" three years ago -- that toppled the monarchy, opened up the urban areas to their political work, gave them legitimacy as the people's most popular party, and initiated political struggle over the nature of New Nepal. They were accused of giving up their army, of abandoning armed struggle, and more. But three years later, it remains clear that the Maoists' Peoples Liberation Army has used the last three years (in "cantonment" base camps) to train their ranks much more deeply in revolutionary politics and military science.

The following is a major article devoted to this in the New York Times -- where (if you read between the lines) you can see that the existence of this revolutionary armed force is a major factor in the whole political situation and future of Nepal.

This article also points to the ominous development that the reactionary National Army has grown tremendously over these last three years too -- being prepared to finally defeat the revolutionary forces and enforce existing class society in Nepal.

* * * * * * *

February 4, 2010

Nepal Waits as 2 Armies, Former Foes, Become One

By JIM YARDLEY JHYALTUNGDANDA, Nepal — Up in the foothills of the Himalayas, the soldiers of Nepal’s onetime rebel army have spent more than three years in camps monitored by the United Nations. Mornings begin with exercise, breakfast and drilling. Afternoons often mean political education sessions on their Maoist agenda for restructuring Nepal’s government.

 

But, more than anything, the Maoist fighters are simply waiting, and Nepal is waiting with them, because the fate of the rebel soldiers will largely determine the fate of the nation.

Within the next four months, Nepal must complete the final and most difficult piece of the 2006 peace agreement that ended the brutal Maoist insurrection by integrating these fighters from the People’s Liberation Army of Nepal into the country’s security forces, including the Nepalese Army.

At the ramshackle headquarters of the Fourth Division of the People’s Liberation Army, soldiers in dingy tracksuits loitered in the compound’s dirt courtyard. Their leader, known as Commander Pratik, smiled when asked if integrating his troops with their enemies would prove difficult. “It is more difficult to fight one another,” he answered.

Perhaps. With Nepal facing a May 28 deadline to restructure its government and approve a new constitution, nothing is posing a greater threat to the peace process than the unresolved task of merging the two enemy armies. Maoist leaders and Nepalese political parties have alternately bickered and dithered, with Maoists stalling the dismantling of their army while negotiations go on about how to revise the Constitution.

As a result, Nepal is grasping for a lasting peace, trying to overcome the legacy of a war that has left it more militarized than ever. The 19,602 Maoist soldiers continue to train, even as they remain quarantined in the United Nations camps, or cantonments. The Nepalese Army is twice as large today, with 96,000 soldiers, as it was when the guerrilla war began, and the number of police and paramilitary police officers has steadily risen to roughly 80,000.

“How can you have one country with two armies?” asked Kul Chandra Gautam, a former United Nations diplomat and native Nepali who has consulted with different parties in the peace process. “A country like Nepal does not need 200,000 security personnel. That’s more than all the country’s civil servants combined, minus teachers.”

Nepal cannot begin to rebuild its tattered economy until the military standoff is eased, which first means finding a solution on integration.

On a recent morning, a ceremony at the United Nations cantonment that houses the Maoist Fourth Division underscored the uncertainty ahead, even if it was a small sign of progress.

Sitting in rows of plastic chairs, 361 male and female soldiers were being discharged from the Maoist army and returned to civilian life. The United Nations had listed them among the 4,008 Maoist rebels deemed ineligible to enter the Nepalese security forces, either because they were minors at the time of the May 2006 cease-fire or had joined the Maoist army after that date.

Pernille Ironside, a child protection specialist with Unicef, said the majority of these “disqualified” soldiers had joined the Maoists as minors, a violation of international law, and had grown into adulthood as guerrilla fighters. Yet unlike many child soldiers in Africa, who are often abducted or coerced into fighting, many of those who joined the Maoists did so voluntarily, making the job of integrating them into Nepalese society a different challenge.

“In some ways, this is more challenging because these children don’t want to leave,” Ms. Ironside said. “They’ve found a kind of family and something to believe in.”

Even though the Maoist soldiers have remained in the cantonments for three years, the terms of the peace deal have tightly restricted access to them by United Nations caseworkers, allowing almost no opportunities to interview or counsel them. Instead, the soldiers have been subjected to regular political education sessions on Maoist dogma, something that may make their re-entry into society even harder.

Under the peace agreement, the Maoists turned over most of their weapons for storage in United Nations-monitored containers, but kept enough to continue training. “During the war, we couldn’t have organized training,” Commander Pratik said. “But since we came here, we’ve been able to train. Now, we are more professional.”

The mistrust surrounding the integration is pervasive on all sides. Many analysts say the Maoists have maneuvered to keep their army intact as a bargaining chip to influence the constitutional negotiations.

At the same time, the Nepalese Army, which before 2006 answered to the king, now deposed, has grudgingly succumbed to civilian control. In January, the defense minister announced that the army was not obligated to accept Maoist soldiers and should be included in civilian negotiations over integration — comments rejected by the prime minister and seized upon by Maoists as evidence of bad faith by the government.

The discharge of disqualified soldiers was supposed to have been a relatively easy first step to begin the integration process. The soldiers being discharged at the Fourth Division ceremony were eligible to leave two years ago, but Maoist leaders rejected the rehabilitation package and demanded large cash payments for every departing soldier.

Those demands were rejected, and Maoists agreed to proceed with the discharges only in late 2009, with caveats. Now departing soldiers must call a United Nations hot line after they leave to personally request a rehabilitation package that includes educational support, business and vocational training, and financial help to start a business.

But many of the departing soldiers derided the package, some saying they were too old to return to school, others saying they were already soldiers and did not need any other training.

Indeed, as the Maoists continue to argue with the government over the terms of integrating the armies, Maoist leaders are trying to keep the allegiance of the 4,008 soldiers now being discharged to civilian life.

“We are connected in our hearts,” Commander Pratik declared in his farewell speech to the discharged soldiers. “Until there is a complete social and economic reconstruction of Nepal, and a complete restructuring of Nepal, I hope you will continue to help in the revolution from outside.”

People in this conversation

  • Guest - CPSA

    I hate Jim Yardley's writing. He can't get basic facts about the Indian Maoists right (so I bet he used to do crappy work on China too), which leads me to have little confidence in his knowledge about Nepal either. But I'll read the article (grumble grumble).

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    The article is terrible and riddled with errors, but I think it is significant that the NYTimes feels compelled cover the question. It does point to the critical importance the PLA is playing even when confined to the cantonments. And the expansion of the NA, in blatant violation of the peace agreements, should make absolutely clear that the representatives of the old society have no intention of going down without a fight.

  • Guest - Zack

    <i>"many of those who joined the Maoists did so voluntarily, making the job of integrating them into Nepalese society a different challenge."</i>

    Because life in the country side and fighting against the monarchist army was clearly "outside of society", right? Puuuuhlease.

    And again with "coming back into society" bullshit talk:

    <i>"Even though the Maoist soldiers have remained in the cantonments for three years, the terms of the peace deal have tightly restricted access to them by United Nations caseworkers, allowing almost no opportunities to interview or counsel them. Instead, the soldiers have been subjected to regular political education sessions on Maoist <b>dogma</b>, something that may make their re-entry into society even harder."</i>

    Methinks Mr. Yardley just <i>might</i>, just <i>maaaay</i> have an motive with none too subtle a bias spewing all over the place in this article, no?

    Dude is fuckin' bogaton.

  • Sure, this piece is obviously drenched in pro-system assumptions (including about the permanence of "society" in its current forms).

    But i agree with TNL -- the importance here is the fact that the New York Times (mouthpiece of liberal imperialism) writes about this army underscores its continued existence as a potent player in Nepali politics -- and as a particular problem to those who (precisely) want to stabilize Nepali society AS IT NOW EXISTS.

    You also get a sense of how the cantonments have been schools of communism -- i.e. training recruits and army cadre as organizers for the revolution. Dispersing them "back into society" will precisely help destabilize that society -- and deepen the possibilities of revolution. (similarly the Long March through 1930s China trained many soldiers and peasants in communist thinking and the goals of the revolution).

  • Guest - Zack

    But Mike, all I'm good for is stating the obvious.

    Schools of dogma, Mike.. DOGMA.

  • Guest - gary

    So important to respond to both of Yardley's last two NYT peices, trying to find time. He does draw attn to the 2 armies issue and implicitely the fact that the regime now in power isn't abiding by the 2006 agreement. Needs to be pointed out (as the Maoists in Nepal do pointedly) that the UNMIL also states that the govt in power in Nepal now isn't observing the agreement in terms of 2-armies integration. This issue and the way it's articulated generally (civilian sovereignty vs military) needs to be discussed more. Not that I have much time right now to do it...

  • Guest - Arthur

    The NA did resume recruitment to replace turnover in violation of the peace agreement as noted in comment 2. But the article correctly states that it has consequently remained at 96,000, the same level as when the peace agreement was signed, which is double the pre-war level (not the pre-ceasefire level). Mike's final paragraph is incorrect on this point.

    The Armed Police have expanded, but nowhere near as dramatically as the YCL which is more than a match for it. Overall the military balance remains unchanged until the NA is actually democratized.

    But the political balance has shifted overwhelmingly towards the Maoists.

    Whether Prachanda's estimate that 20 out of 27 million would side with them is over optimistic or not, nobody seriously doubts that their organization and mass base has now extended dramatically throughout Nepal since the peace agreement. While the forces "in being" or "real and ready" are decisive in the initial phases of an armed conflict, the latent forces that can be generated over time are decisive for the long term outcome. The PLA grew in 10 years from just one rifle. As always, a focus on the masses has been proved correct.

  • Guest - nando

    Zack writes:

    <blockquote>But Mike, all I’m good for is stating the obvious.</blockquote>

    We all know well that this isn't true. But I do think that some people don't undestand why a revolutionary site (like this) would post articles by reactionary forces. Some people wonder if we are agreeing with them, or accepting them as truth. (This comes up all the time -- especially from people who think communists should only post and circulate articles that are communist, or that come with clear labels explaining "what to think" about the piece). So it is worth writing (some times) <em>why</em> a piece like this is made available.

    <blockquote>"Schools of dogma, Mike.. DOGMA."</blockquote>

    I'm not sure what this means Zack. Are you saying <em>your</em> response is the result of being in "schools of dogma" or are you saying that the Mike response is a "school of dogma"? Or something else? I'm just not sure what it means.

  • Guest - Zack

    "So it is worth writing (some times) why a piece like this is made available."
    Agreed.

    "I’m not sure what this means Zack."

    I was just making fun of the notion the author makes in the article, or the way I read it...

    Leaving the Maoist army away from their former comrades is equated as "going back to society."

    BUT

    Being in the Maoist army and having their politics is equated to dogma.

    Just thought that made up distinction was funny.

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