Wait Prachanda Wait!

Nepal’s Maoists have to be disarmed

‘Chairman Prachanda’ has returned to the surface with some clever ideas. He has just concluded an 8-point agreement with the Seven-Party Alliance that commits both sides to implement the 12-point understanding of November 2005 and the 25-point ceasefire agreement of May 2006. The latest agreement allows the Maoists to join the government and control key ministries, before parliament is dissolved and a committee drafts a new constitution. What remains to be decided is whether or not the Maoists will disarm before ‘New Nepal’ arrives. Prachanda certainly does not think so.

The 8-point agreement does not mention disarming — it just commits both sides to approach the UN to ‘monitor and manage the armies and arms of both sides’ to ensure free and fair elections to the Constituent Assembly. So even before they invite the UN or anyone else, the Maoists have managed to secure more than just legitimacy for their militia. The Maoist militia, it would appear, has a status equal to that of the (formerly Royal) Nepal Army. Prachanda argues that eventually both the Nepal Army and the Maoist militia need to be disbanded. Since Nepal does not have the status to beat China or India, he contends, it is superflous to maintain a 90,000 strong army or a 30,000 strong Maoist militia. Instead, he argues that a Swiss-style reservist force will suffice — all citizens will be five-year military training and called upon to defend the country in case of an attack.

Interesting ideas for sure. But it is not for Prachanda to impose on Nepal under the threat of violence. The political grounds for the Maoists to retain arms no longer obtain — Gyanendra has handed over power, the military has been de-linked from the monarchy, there is agreement on a new constitution and parliament is likely to be dissolved soon. The only thing remaining is for the Maoists to disarm. (See this excellent commentary on United We Blog)

The SPA-government finds itself without any levers of its own to insist that the Maoists do so first. That job — like the one that brought the SPA and the Maoists together — belongs to New Delhi. India blinked too soon in the endgame: It failed to prevail on the SPA to insist on the Maoists disarm before committing to a common political agenda. Given how important this is for its own security, India must attempt to bring this about even at this late stage.

Looking ahead, it is likely that international monitors under UN sanction will be overseeing the ceasefire in Nepal. Allowing the UN a security role in the subcontinent was a lazy option and a strategic mistake. A stable Nepal is sufficiently in India’s interests to commit troops for peacekeeping duties. A badly-managed intervention in Sri Lanka long years ago cannot forever be used as an argument to rule out the use of Indian troops as an instrument of foreign policy. There is only one country, save Nepal, that cares whether or not the Maoists disarm. It is also the only country that can get them to do so.

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