In the early days of the peace process back in 2006, a lot of the negotiations were around semantics. The Maoists did not want their emergence from the jungles to look like surrender, so the UN-supervised sites were not called 'camps' but 'cantonments'. The Maoists inflated their fighting force to more than 30,000 to guarantee advantage in future negotiations and compensation. It was unacceptable to call it 'decommissioning', so guns were stored in containers even though everyone knew that the more sophisticated weapons were outside. 'Demobilisation' was a bad word, so we used 'integration' to keep everyone happy.
Neither the Maoists nor the Nepal Army lost the war, but neither side won. It was the Nepali people who lost, the country's development was pushed back decades, jobs vanished as investors and tourists got spooked. The conflict brutalised society, leaving a legacy of violence, impunity and crime.
Next week, it will be five years since the Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed. The entire process has taken twice as long as it should have, and perhaps we were too ambitious to think that everything would be sorted out in five short years.
The conflict may have ended, but the guerrilla war has been replaced by criminal violence. In the absence of a strong state, organized crime dominates not just the underworld but also above-ground politics. Those in power correlate deteriorating security with the need to enlarge the security apparatus. But that ignores the real root of insecurity: rulers setting the wrong example by blatant impunity (the prime minister, for example, getting the expanded cabinet to make the president pardon a crony convicted by the Supreme Court of murder and sentenced to life). It ignores the politicisation of crime and the criminalisation of politics, protection rackets run by officials elected to protect the people, and political parties coddling crime syndicates for payoffs.
The reality is that the army and police are so bloated they are ineffective. The army doubled in size during the war to 90,000. The Armed Police Force was set up to fight the insurgency and is 40,000 strong. The Nepal Police has 60,000 personnel. Add to that another 6,500 Maoist ex-fighters to be integrated and the 10,000 people of Madhesi origin to be included in the army, and it is clear Asia's poorest can ill afford such a large military.
The first order of business will be to de-link politicians from criminal networks and address accountability and impunity. We need to remove the excuse politicians use to maintain military expenditure. Without this demonstration of political will to democratise the army and instil civilian command, security sector reform will just be a slogan.
Nepal's expenditure on security is more than 2 per cent of GDP. Defence expenditure in 2009-2010 stood at Rs 20 billion, making up nearly 14 per cent of the total budget. At a time when education, health, infrastructure are in such disarray, splurging on security is not just stupid, it is criminal. Our model should be Costa Rica, which has no army because it decided it doesn't need one. If we must have an army let's re-oriented to disaster relief, rapid response and infrastructure.
The real security we should be worrying about is social security. It is poor service delivery, the lack of inclusive health care and education and job creation that are going to be the real security concerns in the coming years.
Getting away with murder