Integrating the people's liberation army




Brig Shokin Chauhan, VSM is a third generation Army Officer. Apart from having had an instructional stint at the National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakvasla, he has extensive experience in counter-terrorism operations, both, in the North East and in Jammu & Kashmir. An alumni of the NDA and Defence Services Staff College, his staff experience includes being the Brigade Major of a Mountain Brigade and General Staff Officer Grade 1 (Operations) of a corps, both deployed in intense counter terrorist operations. He commanded 2/11 Gorkha Rifles while the battalion was once again in counter terrorism operations under Counter Insurgency Force (Delta) and thereafter was the director media and Psychological Operations, at additional Director General Public Information, Military Directorate, Integrated Headquarters of Ministry of Defence. The officer was the defence advisor at the Embassy of India in Nepal, Kathmandu from July 2004 to October 2007. The officer after successfully commanding an infantry brigade deployed in intense Counter Terrorism Operations under Counter Insurgency Force (Victor), and in the high altitude terrain of Eastern Ladakh, is the Senior Instructor at DSSC Wellington.



1. History, geography, religion and culture have bound India closer to Nepal than to any of its other neighbours. Pakistan and Bangladesh may have emerged from the same landmass but today they are separate entities looking at separate prisms. In the case of landlocked Nepal, which is bordered by India on three sides, relations are even more controversial. Nowhere else are they more intertwined and complex. Indeed, it wouldn't be unreasonable to say that everything in this extremely complex relationship can be politically exploited[1].

2. Historically, India has been central to all the three major democratic changes that have engulfed Nepal since the 1950s. Late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru mediated in 1951 with King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah, the hereditary Rana premiership and the Nepali Congress, the ensuing settlement being instantly denounced by Nepali communists as a 'sellout'. India's sympathy and support aided the collapse of the three-decade Panchayat Raj in 1990. Increasingly, India's actions were seen as machinations to limit Nepal's sovereignty. The recent Indian initiative in 2006 to partner the mainstream parties and the Maoists against King Gyanendra's rule, too, was interpreted as part of an elaborate plot to perpetuate political control over Nepal[2].

3. What must be clear to all Indians studying Nepal is the fact that a confused, politically unstable and chaotic Nepal will gravely expose India's Indo-Gangetic Plains and will be very easily exploited in order to transmit trouble into the Indian heartland or to the already unstable northeast. Improved communications have proved that regular infiltration of Pakistani/Jehadi irregulars could just as easily be carried out from an unstable Nepal. It would therefore always be in India's interest to ensure that Nepal remains stable, and hence it is imperative that we continue to share a mutually profitable and collaborative relationship.

Nepal's Constituent Assembly (CA) Elections

4. Nepal's constituent assembly (CA) elections in early 2008 were a major step forward in the peace process. However, it also opened up a difficult new transitional phase. The 10 April 2008 elections delivered a surprise result, with the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal (CPN (M)) winning over 200 assembly seats, and emerging as the single largest party which was approximately a third of the total strength of the assembly. After many wrangles and discussions, a Maoist-led coalition government was finally sworn in August 2008.

5. This government immediately faced a number of significant challenges. Some of the important ones were as under:-

  • Completing the peace process.
  • Writing a new constitution.
  • Reforming the security sector, mainly bringing about a closure to continuing existence of 'two standing armies' and ensuring a mutually acceptable integration of both, the Nepali Army and the People's
    Liberation Army (PLA).
  • Restoring law and order.
  • Dealing with the return of seized land and land reform.

6. The CA elections, held after two postponements in 2007, were largely peaceful and well managed but, as is the norm in the sub continent, tainted by violence and disruption. The outcome of the elections reshaped Nepal's political landscape. CPN(M)'s political victory marked a step forward in its transformation from an underground insurgent group; while traditional mainstream parties Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal, Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), finished a distant second and third to the Maoists.

7. Parties representing the Madhesh, in particular, the Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum (MJF), emerged as genuine political actors. Thanks to a multitude of quotas, these elections were also the most representative of Nepal's caste, ethnic, religious and regional diversity than of any past parliament. One third of its members elected were women, catapulting the country into regional leadership on gender representation.

8. In its first sitting on 28 May 2008, the CA also ended the 240-year old Shah monarchy and gave birth to the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. Negotiations over a new unity government were drawn out, as the NC and the UML were only willing to participate in a Maoist-led government under certain conditions, despite a constitutional commitment to maintain a consensus-based administration. On 15 August 2008, the CA elected Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' as Nepal's Prime Minister. Only the NC voted against him; it stayed out of government while Prachanda announced a coalition cabinet which included UML and MJF ministers.

Integration of Maoist Combatants into the Nepal Army

9. Integration of Maoist combatants into the Nepal Army (NA) has become the most contentious and emotive issue[3]. According to the agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies between the Nepal Government and the Maoists on 8 December 2006, the UNMIN (United Nations Mission in Nepal) had identified 19,602 Maoist combatants. Initially, the Maoists had registered 32,250 Maoist cadres who were then placed by the UNMIN in 28 cantonments. Later, after a detailed screening, 19,692 cadres were found eligible to be treated as combatants and they were transferred to seven camps. However, due the lack of a better solution, the balance of approximately 11,000 cadres continued to stay in these 'cantonments' or camps as they are commonly called without any payment being made to them. It is felt that in the final analysis, the Nepalese government would have to take the responsibility of these 'illegals' as well.

10. These combatants continue to live in seven UNMIN supervised cantonments since November 2007. Around 90 per cent of them are from rural areas. They have not undergone any training programme either for military integration (MI) or civilian integration (CI). UNMIN was only mandated to provide technical support to the CA elections and monitoring of the peace process[4]. There has been no change in this mandate.

Resettlement of the PLA-Discordant Voices

11. The November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was not as comprehensive as its name implied. It was vague on the future of the two armies and, just as damaging, silent on the question of militias and demilitarisation. Meanwhile, there was little in the way of sustained process. Inter-party committees met only sporadically; there were no effective mechanisms to monitor the many commitments that held the deal together.

12. The Nepal Army held the view that the lack of conventional training of Maoist combatants would have a serious effect on its professional standards. General RukmangudKatuwal, the present Chief of Army Staff of the Nepal Army had gone on record to state that though he was fully committed to support the ongoing peace process and the CA, he strongly felt that there were clear recruitment rules framed by a legitimate government which laid down the regular army recruitment norms, on who could and could not be recruited. Further, he felt that the NA would accept only those recruits who met international recruitment norms.

13. G.P. Koirala, Nepali Congress (NC) ex-Prime Minister, who was the architect of the peace process, has pointedly opposed reintegration clearly stating, "We cannot allow the Maoists to integrate the radical communist indoctrinated PLA and any attempt to integrate the armies would result in a Nepalese bloodbath. We cannot allow the Maoists to transform Nepal into a Cuba or a North Korea."

14. According to an NC leader, Shovakar Parajuli, the Maoist leadership designated Nanda Kishore Pun as chief of the PLA after Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal relinquished the position upon becoming prime minister in August 2008. Parajuli states, "We suspect that the Maoists have received support from China in this regard. Other parties are silent but we object to it." Also, he claimed that the Maoists were planning to send Pun to China where he would receive a nine-month defence course. Parajuli felt, "This is a part of the Maoist covert strategy to prove that Pun meets internationally-accepted standards to hold the post of chief of the Nepali Army."

15. The Maoists on the other hand argue that since their militia possesses 'military skills' rather than academic qualifications, this should be the criterion rather than any other aspect and since they claim that their cadres were involved in a 15-year 'war' with the then RNA (Royal Nepalese Army), they had adequate combat experience and should be given equal positions in all ranks and file of the NA[5].

16. This Maoists' insistence on military skills and not education as the criterion is likely to create problems especially when it comes to promotions. This will especially be problematic while integrating the middle level leadership of the PLA. Treating academically under-qualified 'commanders' of the PLA at par with well-trained officers of the NA is creating and will continue to fan resentment among the existing NA leadership. Since the NA and PLA have different doctrines, organisational structures, and widely divergent political backgrounds, their integration would in all probability be a tortuous and difficult process.

17. The question that dogs all of Nepal and its well wishers is what would Nepal do with these 19,000-odd Maoists who were involved in an extremely unpopular insurgency?

18. This dilemma has been faced by a number of developing countries in the midst of tackling a similar crisis and confronting several more. More often than not, the answer has been to provide the ex-militia with inadequate cash support and a host of 'empty promises' of future employment. This approach, however, is fraught with challenges and controversy. The question very often asked by many is whether this package is the best path to peace and development. Are these perpetrators, some ask, criminals to be rewarded over their victims? Are (mostly male) fighters to receive benefits over (mostly female) wives and support staff? Are unconditional cash handouts appropriate for the child and adolescent cadre?

19. For the majority of these young PLA combatants/non combatants, what needs to be focused on is accelerated education at least till completion of high school. There is also a need for improving the existing secondary school support, and a well-planned livelihoods assistance, which in Nepal remains nonexistent.For the 'PLA combatants' who were injured, educational and economic support is secondary in importance to continued medical treatment and conflict mediation.

Present Situation

20. The intractable problems between the Nepal Army and the PLA have continued to worsen in 2009. The current dispute came to a head after the Maoists' attempt to oust the Nepal Army COAS, General Rookmangud Katwal for 'allegedly' disobeying government orders just before he retired in August 2009 and replace him with Lt General Kul Bahadur Khadka, the Chief of Staff who was to retire a month earlier, a controversial move opposed even by their own coalition partners, the UML and the MJF. Nepal's President Ram Baran Yadav countermanded the sacking, arguing that he had the right to accept or reject government decisions - a step which prompted Prime Minister Prachanda to resign in protest at what he called the president's "unconstitutional and undemocratic" effort to establish himself as a parallel power centre. Earlier, the Nepal Army had recruited 2,800 new soldiers. The Maoists had protested that this fresh recruitment was a violation of the 2006 agreement and responded by insisting that they too would recruit additional cadre themselves which would effectively revive their PLA as a 'parallel army'. Nanda Kishore Pun, the chief of the PLA, stated that they "had called for applications from Nepalese youth to fill vacant posts and had planned to recruit over 11,000 soldiers to fill vacant positions."

21. Under the 2006 peace agreement, both the PLA and Nepal Army were barred from undertaking any additional recruitment. The issue now has now been referred to Nepal's Supreme Court and to the UNMIN.

22. This Maoist government's 'legally' dubious sacking order prompted an even more 'contentious intervention' by a ceremonial president to countermand it. Some sections of the Nepali media argue' that Prachanda, as the legally elected PM of Nepal was well within his powers to dismiss the army COAS and this action by both the President, Ram Baran Yadav and the Nepali army COAS, Gen Rookmangud Katwal contradicted the spirit of laid down democratic norms of 'civil' control over a 'national army'. Maoist leader Prachanda quit on grounds of principle; the question of the balance of power between prime minister and president continues to remain in dispute.

23. The fragile consensus on which Nepal's peace process was built is close to falling apart and the country now faces a constitutional crisis[6]. This tussle over the army chief is symptomatic of a wider collapse in trust and a bitter struggle for the future of the country. The Maoists feel they were blocked at every turn in government while their opponents fear they are trying to subvert state institutions in preparation for a seizure of power. There are good reasons for mutual suspicions on both sides. Against this backdrop, a leaked video of Prachanda rallying his troops in January 2008 caused a predictable stir. The tape, excerpts of an 80-minute address to commanders and combatants of the PLA's third division, appeared immediately following Prachanda's resignation. Selected extracts were shown on a private television channel prior being distributed to other media were carefully selected to cause maximum embarrassment to the Maoists. In particular, Prachanda seemed to suggest that the Maoists had hoodwinked the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) into vastly inflating the number of verified Maoist combatants, that their plans to seize power by violent means were intact, and that they viewed the proposed "democratisation" of the NA as a means to politicise it.9

24. Whichever way this tussle goes, it will most certainly poison the sour relationship that already persists between these two 'armies'. Not only that, this could possibly be the beginning of the end of the apolitical Nepal Army as it struggles to maintain its the chain of command and keep its the institutions intact. Till now, it has effectively restrained those that want to come out blazing against their former enemies and those that want to sycophantically pay homage to their newly ensconced political masters.


25. Despite successful elections in 2008 and a largely successful lasting military ceasefire, Nepal's peace process is facing some of its most severe tests yet. All the earlier mentioned issues remain unresolved: there is no agreement on the integration of the PLA with the Nepal Army, very little of the land seized by the Maoists during the conflict has been returned, and little progress has been made writing the new constitution. Challenges to the basic architecture of the 2006 peace deal are growing from all sides[7].

26. The April 2008 Constituent Assembly elections delivered a convincing victory for the Maoists but left them short of an outright majority. The major parties promised to continue working together but the Nepali Congress, which came second in the last general elections, refused to join the government that was eventually installed in August 2008. For all its contradictions, political observers feel that this government is Nepal's best hope. There can be no functional government without the Maoists on board, let alone any hope of proceeding with a constitution-writing process in which they can wield a blocking vote.

27. The Maoists, too, have not adjusted to the compromises which are required in multi-party democratic politics, nor have the mainstream political parties adjusted to the arrival of the Maoist party in mainstream politics. The Maoist commitment to political pluralism remains a series of empty promises. A heated and frequent debate within the party - renamed the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) or UCPN(M), following its merger with a smaller group - shows that their original goal of establishing a communist "people's republic" is still in place. Although leading the government, Maoist leaders continue to threaten a renewed armed revolutionary struggle and the final "capture of state power". Such threats have been underlined by its cadres (particularly the Young Communist League (YCL) and elements of the PLA) continued violent behaviour and an apparent drive to consolidate alternative power bases through affiliated organisations like trade unions of Nepal's nascent industry.

28. The essence of the peace process, from the November 2005 agreement between the CPN(M) and the mainstream seven-party alliance onwards, was that the Maoists were to renounce violence and accept multi-party democracy and international human rights norms. The mainstream parties were to become more inclusive and democratic. This, unfortunately, has not happened. In the face of this continued instability, armed protests and the beginnings of identity-based movements, the immediate threat to Nepal is not of Maoist totalitarianism but of a dangerous weakening of the state's authority and its capacity to govern[8].


[1] The Raj Lives: India in Nepal Umesh Verma.

[2] Narayan Hiti Killings and After Anand Swaroop Verma.

[3] Nepal's election and beyond (April 2008) International crisis group.

[4] Democracy for Nepal (Blogspot).

[5] Where Peace Begins.

[6] Adults war on Peace Children's participation in armed conflict (Annual Report, Save the Children Nepal.

[7] Global Issues of the Twenty-First Century.

[8] United Nations Challenges (A GUIDE TO FACTS AND VIEWS ON MAJOR OR FUTURE TRENDS 04 July 2009)

9 International Crisis Group Report, Nepal's Peace Agreement, "From Arms Management to Demilitarisation".

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