Nepal’s peace process will formally end when the last of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army forces retire or join the Nepal Army. The number of PLA soldiers to be admitted to the army was determined only after years of stalling and wrangling between the parties. But it is clear that fewer than one in ten of the PLA fighters originally counted at the end of the war in 2007 will become part of the national force.
Of the 32 thousand rebel soldiers mustered into camps under UN supervision in 2007, more than eleven thousand later went missing and 8,640 were disqualified for being underage or not actual combatants. It was believed at the time that the Maoists had encouraged young men to join their ranks after the cease-fire, promising them jobs in the national army in return.
A year later the Maoist chairman told a meeting of PLA troops that he had hoodwinked the UN. “Our strategy was to convince them that we were 35,000,” he says in a grainy video. “That way, we infiltrate more people into the Nepal Army.”
The 17 thousand combatants left after attrition and disqualification have dwindled to just over three thousand now. Many were induced to retire by compensation packages of $7-10,000.
Others retired because they were dissatisfied by the integration plan, believing that they should be eligible to join the army at their current rank. Many will not be allowed to do so because the integration agreement between the parties uses a rebel’s educational level at the time of joining the PLA, not his or her current level, to determine rank.
Of the three thousand-plus Maoist soldiers still pending integration, some will not pass the recruitment testing. And most of the remaining officers are expected to opt out at the last minute rather than accept rank reduction.
If the Maoist’s strategy was to capture the Nepal Army through force integration, it has failed. The three thousand or so who will make it into the national forces are unlikely to be hardened ideologues any more. They are disenchanted with their own leadership over the poor integration terms and over allegations that Maoist leaders and PLA commanders skimmed from the soldiers’ pay.
One mid-level officer told reporters, “We no longer have revolutionary ideals. We are joining the army for jobs.”