Why are we not talking about "Weapons Decommissioning"?

A learned friend of mine, while we were just talking about political happenings in Nepal, asked what "arms management" meant exactly? I tried to explain him on the basis of what I had read on the Nepali news media, recent interviews with political figures, including Prachanda, in Nepal and Kul Gautam's interview to eKantipur. He wasn't convinced with either my answer or of what the people were saying back in Nepal, which made me think this issue through a bit more seriously. Really, what does arms management mean and why are we not talking about "arms decommissioning" instead?

Ever since the so called April Revolution brought about a series of political changes in Nepal, things have been moving so fast that it is hard to keep up with the happenings. SPA/Govt and Maoists have already had a series of "summits" and points of agreements have been made been made public - the latest being the "eight-point agreement". As I mentioned in one of my previous entries, through these series of "summits", Maoists have actually got way more than what most people had expected. How strongly the militias and the weapons they hold were used as a bargaining tool, we may never know but they surely have been able to get what they had asked for (and most likely more than what they had expected!), including CA elections, dissolution of the parliament and formation of an interim government with the inclusion of their representatives! Now, the first two points most people will have no problem with; however, inclusion of their representatives in the interim government while they continue to hold large number of militias and arms under their control must ring alarm bells in all quarters.

Although the Maoist chairman Prachanda has scrapped the "people's government" and called for complete halt in the functioning of its structures, there have been reports of torture from the Maoists and continued forced donations. So, there is no doubt the continued presence of the so called People's Liberation Army and the weapons they hold (which, nobody knows how much they have got!) is a serious cause for concern, especially when the Maoists talk of being part of an interim government under which there is a National Army. Well, who this "National Army" is under we still don't know, especially after their recent participation in celebrating Gyanendra's birthday despite government's decision to scrap the official celebration of the event and the directives to all government bodies including the army not to visit the palace to offer official greetings! Nevertheless, it is the legitimate army of the state unlike the Maoist’s PLA, which were considered terrorists until only a few weeks ago.

In his interview to eKantipur and more recently to international news agencies, Prachanda talks about his party's will to participate in the democratic process "peacefully" and their reluctance to go back to the armed struggle, talking even of "October Revolution" if necessary. If there is so much will to be a part of the peaceful and democratic political process, then why not also talk about abandoning the armed struggle completely? It is clear that armed militias are their biggest bargaining tool; however, if they really want people on their side, they should be able to go to them and say “we will abandon the armed struggle completely if you support us in our political struggle”. Given the disillusionment with the SPA and their leaders, especially the NC’s and the UML’s, over the years, I am sure the Maoists will be able to garner far more support now than they could have ever imagined. However, for the Maoist to give up their most effective bargaining tool – their weapons – the SPA/Govt should be able to guarantee certain things. First, that the eight-point agreement would be implemented, especially with regards to the formation of the interim government inclusive of the Maoist representatives, and the holding of free and fair CA elections within the time frame agreed during those summits. Second, the present government should be able to guarantee and provide amnesty to the militias involved in the armed conflict over the years under the Maoist’s rebellion, paving way for them to give up arms and lead a non-violent way of life, as political cadres or just ordinary citizens. If the SPA (despite all their in-fighting, especially within the NCs and the UML, I must add) can guarantee these two things and create enough trust between themselves and the Maoists, and with a bit of pressure from the people and civil society leaders, we may see Maoist change their position and agree to completely abandon their armed struggle.

Now, the crux of the matter here is not just the abandonment of the armed struggle but that of the decommissioning of the weapons that the Maoist have. What do the Maoists and the SPA mean by “arms management” anyway? To me, management could mean anything – from keeping arms with you safely to making sure it is used properly and according to the rules of engagement! Unless we talk about completely destroying those arms i.e., making them unusable, we cannot be any near to the resolution of the Maoist problem as we were a couple of years ago. So what we need is “decommissioning” – like the IRA’s arms decommissioning – and not just some vague idea of “arms management”. I see two recent examples of conflict resolution and political change that Nepal can learn from and emulate if she is to progress into a path of peaceful multi-party democracy – South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and IRA’s weapons decommissioning in Northern Ireland. Headed by Archbishop Tutu, TRC not only managed to bring together the perpetrators, the victims, and most importantly the “truth” out on the same forum, but, by doing so, also helped SA and her citizen move forward in a new democratic era. With independent international commission, headed by General John de Chastelain, overseeing the process, IRA has completed decommissioning all its weapons, which is a huge step forward for the democratic political process in Northern Ireland.

Now, if we are to put right the atrocities committed by both the security forces and the Maoists over these 10 years of insurgency, there would be no better way than to establish a commission like the TRC and bring everything out in the open. Doing so will not only help people realise how terrible those years have been for Nepal and the Nepalis, but also let the perpetrators reflect on their terrible acts, and may be repent on what they did. On the other hand, the victims and their families will be able to know the whole truth, and may be able to forgive those perpetrators. Hopefully, they can make a fresh start to their lives in a peaceful democratic country.

We also need to realise that having weapons around (most alarmingly not knowing exactly how many there are!) only creates environment of fear and violence. We have already seen, with so many armed robberies during broad daylight, what having weapons around can do to a society that is largely peaceful and democratic. I had in my entire life never heard of so many armed robberies in Nepal than I did in the past couple of months. Moreover, reports indicating the involvement of ex-Maoist cadres and ex-AFP personnel in some of these robberies shows the danger of not just having weapons around, but falling those on wrong hands. The only solution to these problems, and all the potential problems that these weapons can create, is to destroy those weapons completely – make them unusable. What Nepal needs is “weapons decommissioning” and not just some vague idea of “arms management”.

Personally, I would like Nepal to be demilitarised, which I know will not happen instantly and may not happen at all. However, as I have expressed previously, Nepal does not need massive army or a huge cache of weapons. What we need is well-educated and skilled population, secular democratic society, and economic development, taking care of the environment of course. If only our political parties and its leaders turn their attention to these issues and not just waste time fighting among themselves on petty matters, we can hope for a better future. Else, we may be talking about these same problems and how to solve them in another 10 years time! I’ll say it again – “weapons decommissioning” and NOT JUST “management” will be a huge step forward to creating a brighter future for Nepal and Nepalis.