I traveled to Nepal in early 2012 to research the challenges Nepal has faced after the armed conflict that took place from 1996 and 2006. As peacebuilders, my group and I were not there to contemplate Nepal’s beauty or enjoy its culture and traditions, but rather we were looking for the scars left after 10 years of civil conflict between those who supported the monarchy and the Maoist combatants who opposed it. Though it was not difficult to learn about Nepal and its history, sometimes the truth hides in the most unexpected places.
We were lucky to visit the Tribhuyan University and attend a class given by Lt. Gen. Bala Nanda Sharma who was part of the Royal Nepali Army for years. He is now retired and in charge of the process of reintegrating and rehabilitating former combatants into the newly formed government. Lt. Gen. Sharma opened his class by saying that he had “Passed from a profession of killing to a profession of peace.” Ok, you got my attention - I thought to myself. In his introduction he gave a small explanation of the roots of the war, mainly poverty and inequality, and also gave a fascinating rendition of the dynamics of the conflict. He explained that he had fought during the war on the Royal Nepali Army side but was now a man of peace, a man determined to see a democratic solution to the complex problems in his country. His description of the entangled and difficult peace process made it clear that he was extremely knowledgeable of the different courses taken to end the violence in Nepal. He understands the goals of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and is now willing to embark on a diplomatic and democratic road to the recovery of the country.
The questions of integration and rehabilitation demonstrate the nature and importance of ‘compromise’ in the peace process. When there are sentiments of distrust among the former combatants, soldiers, and the general population about the measures taken with regard to their reintegration or rehabilitation, there is a perceived lack of legitimacy in the process that could later have fatal consequences. Sometimes these sentiments lie on false rumors or simple misunderstandings on how the process will happen; other times these sentiments are founded on the fear of political indoctrination that exists among those who are being integrated and rehabilitated. In my opinion, the legitimacy of the new national army will only be embraced when there is a consensus among the members of the society that this is the army that is truly representative and respectful of all Nepali.Lt. Gen. Sharma went on to talk about the logistics of the situation. As expected, it is complicated. Actually, reintegration and rehabilitation of former combatants after a civil war has been one of the key challenges for many countries recovering from a bloody conflict because it includes not only security, political, and economic aspects, but also social and pyscho-social aspects as well. There are promises to be filled along with pressure to show quick results: there are quotas, standards and programs for soldiers and former combatants; there are rehabilitation efforts to create skills; and last but not least, there is a community that has to be willing to welcome these men and women back into society and social life.
What is clear is that the groups planning to reintegrate into a joint security force were fierce enemies for more than a decade, each of which had inflicted and suffered considerable harm, resulting in violence that had also heavily affected the civilian population. That is why some to the political right have shied away from the reintegration of combatants into the national armed forces, believing that it could set a precedent that might encourage others to take up arms against the State. On other hand, since the political changes in the country could not have happened without the war, there are some who believe that the Maoists deserve an honorable place in the armed forces. No matter the point of view you wish to look at it, history shows that the stability of new regimes after experiencing a civil conflict depends on the strength of the institutions established to manage the competing political forces. The power to manage these forces rests upon a commitment of all the parties involved to accept their identity as a post-conflict country and embrace their one-ness as Nepali.
As Lt. Gen. Sharma mentioned, “Before they were fighting a common enemy, now they found enemies among themselves.” This is the major issue in the process of reintegration. If there is no balance among the pioneers of democracy in Nepal - those who are in power in the new institutional arrangements, and those who are implementing the new projects and regulations - then the dangers of instability and breakdown in this new phase are greater. This is a tricky situation since personal agendas that were masked before by political ideals may now appear, causing both suspicion among those who were involved in the armed struggle and further distrust in the general population. I believe though that the limelight focus must be shifted. Initially, it was up to the military and its leaders to come to an agreement and bring peace to an aching population. After that the focus was on the political leaders of the country who had the difficult task of writing a suitable constitution, one that touches upon the underlying problems that caused the civil war. Now, the attention must be focused on a narrower perspective: on each and every Nepali citizen. It is up to them and and up to all of us peacebuilders.
As Lt. Gen. Sharma wrapped up his talk, it reminded me of the importance of charismatic leaders who are necessary in times like these; a person who people that are uncertain about the projects taking place can relate and talk to.
Maria Luisa Olavarría was in Nepal for a two-week field course titled “Challenges to Peacebuilding in Nepal” led by Dr. Pushpa Iyer of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Maria’s blog is part of a series of reflections by Dr. Iyer and her students on the challenges to building peace in this country after a decade long war. -Ed.
About the author: Maria Luisa Olavarría is currently finishing her Masters Degree in International Policy Studies concentrating on Human Security and Development at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. She was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela and her interests include conflict resolution, disarmament and armed violence.