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Militarisation or Demilitarisation in Nepal?

by Rita Manchanda, 5 November 2008

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Inter Press Service, November 5, 2008

Kathmandu, Nov 5 (IPS) - Fighting a decade long ’People’s War’ for the revolutionary transformation of a feudal monarchy meant that the Maoists had to militarise Nepali society, including women and youth.

However, even after the Communist Party of Nepal -Maoist (CPN-M) was popularly elected to power, following the April elections to the constituent assembly, it seems reluctant to disband the paramilitary Youth Communist League (YCL).

Indeed Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who has been under pressure to dismantle the YCL, has instead applauded its contributions. In his first statement elaborating his government’s policies, he said: ‘’Had there been no organisation like the YCL, the peace process and the new political process would have been impossible."

The CPN-M’s communist partner in the coalition government, the Nepal Communist Party-UML (United Marxist Leninist ) or NCP-UML, needed little prodding to launch its own clone, the Youth Force (YF).

Not to be left behind, all the leading political parties, that till recently had been berating the YCL for "taking the law into their own hands", are now scrambling to form their own groups.

The leaders of the centrist Nepali Congress, which has long dominated Nepal’s democratic politics, may decry the YCL, but have been encouraging the formation of the Tarun Dasta out of its youth wing in the districts.

The result has been violent clashes among the various youth forces, but most especially between the YCL and the YF. In September traffic was disrupted on the major Dharan- Danuta highway for nearly a week and a curfew had to be imposed on Dankuta Bazzar to contain violence between the two forces over road tax collection.

Even the current agitation around efforts to regulate Nepal’s famous Casinos, has a turf war angle, with leaders of the YF saying they are competing for space with the dominant TCL cadres.

With tensions growing, on Nov 2, the two communist ruling partners constituted a high level coordination committee to iron out differences. A major item on the agenda is to look into the reasons for the clashes between the YCL and YF and how to prevent them.

But it is unlikely that there will be any roll back to establishing the youth orgnaisations, going by the sporadic and contradictory statements made by political authorities about disbanding these forces that seem to be above the law.

"You’d expect that post conflict peace building would see demilitarisation,’’ said Prof. Sridhar Khatri of South Asia Policy Studies, a respected think tank. "Instead, what we’re seeing is a new militarisation. We should focus on strengthening the rule of law, not undermining it."

YCL emerged as an ubiquitous force during the political uncertainty of the 2006-8 transition that brought the Maoists into the democratic mainstream and made Nepal a republic. It was created in November 2006 after the signing of the historic Comprehensive Peace Agreement which entailed confinement in cantonments of the Maoists’ Peoples Liberation Army (PLA).

But several PLA commanders and commissars were transferred to the YCL, including its head Ganesh Man Pun. According to Pun, the YCL has a strength of 500,000 members and 6,000 ‘whole timers’. YCL has been spearheading social service activities. These cover traffic management, garbage clearance, tree planting, delivering social justice, carrying out anti-corruption drives, collecting taxes and ‘donations’, apprehending criminal offenders and seizing ‘royal’ properties.

While Maoist minister Hsila Yami, praised the YCL cadres for assisting her in implementing change against a status quo bureaucracy, the Kathmandu-centric media was full of YCL’s abuses such as kidnapping, intimidation and physical assault of opponents. The U.N. Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHR) in Nepal has lent its voice against YCL excesses.

During the elections political parties had accused the YCL of using muscle power to disrupt meetings and intimidate voters. The Kathmandu elite was convinced that the Maoists’ landslide victory in the elections was a ‘stolen victory’.

This persisting belief may explain why political parties are creating their own youth squads. Defending the YF, UML’s Raghuji Pant said: ‘’It’s to make sure that they (YCL) won’t rig and win the next elections".

Mahesh Basnet, the head of YF asserted: ‘’We are not like YCL. We will operate within the law. We will act as a deterrent to the terror and intimidation of the YCL".

Nepal’s Human Rights Commission has appealed to the major political parties to "immediately stop violating of human rights by taking the law into their own hands". However, far from curtailing their activities, Home Minister Bamdev Gautam has asked youth organisations to help nab criminals and restore law and order.

Dhirendra Raj Pandey, a key civil society player in the 2006 people’s democratic upsurge, finds this trend totally unacceptable. "I didn’t expect this irrationality from the political parties. When they should be institutionalising democratic structures they are setting up these armed youth forces.’’