Ineligible Insurgents: The Politics of Rehabilitation Programs

Rehabilitation of ex-combatants is often thought of as one of the essential components of returning to and maintaining peace after a period of civil strife. Such initiatives are not just limited to disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, and rehabilitation (DDRR) programs that are undertaken during a ceasefire or a period of relative peace, but also refer to attempts by governments and IGOs to convince combatants in ongoing insurgencies to give up arms and commit to a rehabilitation program. In 2006, faced with a low-intensity civil war that had been carrying on for decades in many parts of Central and East India, the central government of India first announced its surrender-cum-rehabilitation policy targeted at Maoist insurgents (The term Naxalite and Maoist are often used inter-changeably in this context – the word Naxalite has its origins in Naxalbari, West Bengal, where this movement sympathetic of Maoist ideology first originated). The policy’s success or failure moving forward can be one of the keys toward the resolution of the broader conflict.

Map of the Maoist Insurgency in India

The policy had two main objectives and was applicable to insurgents who surrendered with or without arms:

(i) to wean away the misguided youth and hardcore naxalites who have strayed into the fold of naxal movement and now find themselves trapped into that net.

(ii) to ensure that the naxalites who surrender do not find it attractive to join the naxal movement again.

However, in May 2012, three months after 22 insurgents had surrendered to the West Bengal government and had offered intelligence about the whereabouts of Maoist leaders, they were denied the terms of the rehabilitation package as the cash-strapped administration did not consider these insurgents important enough to be eligible. Such behavior by states is not unheard of. In Nepal, a number of ‘late recruits’ to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of Nepal founded during the Nepalese Civil War, were not deemed eligible for rehabilitation as former full-time combatants. Given the lack of economic and educational opportunities in the conflict-ridden regions of India, it is not unlikely that these surrendered insurgents will return to arms. However, given the inability to gain access to a full or representative sample of insurgents in a conflict, research has been less conclusive while trying to understand why some ex-combatants have been able to integrate successfully, while others not.

In a 2011 article in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, Annan, Blattman, Mazurana, and Carlson conducted a quasi-natural experiment in Northern Uganda to determine the impact of war on participants, and if ex-combatants threaten social stability, as is normally feared. Their main findings suggest that males suffer a substantial human capital deficit – both in terms of a loss in educational opportunities and a doubling of injuries. Even if males attempt to return to school, the lack of opportunities for adult education makes it hard to acquire the needed skills.With regard to female combatants, their findings are less disheartening:

Our evidence challenges the more pessimistic theories of female psychosocial reintegration: social acceptance is high, many women and girls are psychologically resilient, and there is little evidence of aggression and violence.

While the ability of female ex-combatants to reintegrate socially might be promising, their alternatives (to being a combatant) are said to even more dismal in regions with already low educational and employment opportunities.

The Maoist insurgency mostly affects under-developed parts of India and given the lack of opportunities in these regions, the ill economic effects are likely to persist, as in the aforementioned study. However, unlike most LRA members, Maoists combatants were not forcibly abducted, which raises the danger of their return to arms, especially when faced by the lack of opportunities. Indeed, for the long-term, a more holistic development strategy for the conflict-prone districts needs to be pursued. Valuable lessons can be learnt from the way Mozambique dealt with the demobilization and reintegration of combatants. The government first signed a peace agreement with the Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo) in 1992. By 1995, a majority of the ex-combatants had been granted promised job opportunities, most of them initially being employed in road-building projects in under-developed regions, which gave an impetus to the establishment of agriculture and industry in those areas

Just a month ago, journalists discovered that Abujmarh, which was considered the headquarters of the Maoist movement in India and was marked as a no-go zone until 2010, was actually just an area with, “scraggly villages and forlorn clusters of leaf and bamboo huts.” The area and neighboring regions lacked such a fundamental level of services that one of the journalists involved succumbed to a lethal attack of celebral malaria, typhoid and jaundice contracted while on this assignment. The Indian government must realize that simply granting a lump-sum of money to ex-combatants for a period of time cannot guarantee their reintegration—education and training are crucial skills that need to be imparted, but until these skills are used to develop these regions further, there is no guarantee that other civilians might be deterred from taking up arms. In the short term however, the governments must make the effort to establish credibility – initiation of rehabilitation programs that fail to deliver promised benefits will just reduce the conviction among insurgents and their civilian supporters that the government intends to meet them mid-way and achieve some sort of resolution.


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