Buoyed by the success achieved in handing over the Maoist cantonments to the Nepal Army, the leaders of the major political parties held a marathon meeting at a secluded Kathmandu resort to reach consensus on all outstanding issues that have so far delayed the drafting of the new constitution.
Despite their failure to hammer out a middle-of-the-path solution to several outstanding issues of the constitution, the leaders expressed the belief that they had been successful in narrowing down their differences during the two-day extensive discussions held at the resort. And when they sit together the next time, they are hopeful of finding a solution to all issues, which have so far been obstructing and delaying the drafting of the constitution.
The parties stated that they needed to do their own homework on several contentious matters. However, the ice-break achieved through the cantonments’ handover is expected to boost the chance of writing the constitution in time.
No denying that the most difficult aspect of the peace process - the agreement on the combatants and weapons handover - has been settled now. The parties now need to sort out their differences on the key contentious issues to facilitate constitution writing in time.
The Hattiban parleys, which symbolically brought the leaders closer on resolving the tenuous issues, was indeed an outcome of the success of handing over the cantonments and weapons.
The credit for handing over the Maoist cantonments and weapons should go to all the stakeholders of the peace process - the Maoists, opposition political parties, civil society, the Nepal Army, intellectuals and the media that did not get tired of raising the matter of army integration ever since the Maoists returned to peaceful politics.
The role of the Maoist supremo had a catalyst impact on the integration procedure. Therefore, major credit for the success should go to Maoist Chairman Prachanda for effecting the smooth handing over of the cantonments to the Nepal Army. Coerced by his party’s internal dynamics, the Maoist chairman felt an urgency to hand over the cantonments under the purview of the Nepal Army as soon as possible to thwart the simmering anger among the many combatants and rivalry with members of the hardline faction.
Several of the Maoist fighters residing in the various cantonments started creating trouble through their unruly behaviour against the commanders and the party leadership. Some of the irate combatants staged protests and created scenes that undermined the party’s sway over the combatants.
The angry combatants even went on to raise the issue of financial irregularity in which many commanders were alleged to have been involved. As the days of completing the twin tasks – ending the peace process and writing the statute - were drawing to a close, the dissatisfied lot within the Maoist party resorted to different tactics to delay the integration process, giving much headache to the party chairman and the prime minister.
The fear that the protests of the irate combatants could escalate led the Maoist supremo to hand over the cantonments to the Nepal Army, apparently to contain the rousing anger among some combatants against the commanders and the party leadership.
On the other hand, the move brought the spotlight on the Maoist supremo as having unparallel power and sway over his followers and supporters. The incident has indeed lifted some portion of mistrust that the key parties and leaders harboured against the Maoist leaders. The new trust, an outcome of the unexpected move to shift the cantonments and weapons under the army’s responsibility, has created a conducive ambience for the leaders to find consensus on several outstanding issues.
The decision also helped dispel the lingering suspicion that the Maoists never wanted the integration of their fighters with the Nepal Army. The past obstructions in the completion of the peace process was largely due to the deepening distrust among the parties and also because of the internal dynamics of the Maoist party, whose leaders are still divided on the issues of army integration, division of the provinces in a federal set up, nature of the new constitution along with other issues such as the independence of the judiciary and form of governance.
Though the two-day-long parley drew a blank as the leaders failed to come together on the outstanding issues, they have said that they would sit together after a few days to find a solution to their differences.
The leaders have no option other than to find consensus to end the political impasse. They have little time left to complete the constitution drafting by finding consensus on the pressing matters of federalism, form of governance, judiciary, electoral system, citizenship and the formation of a national unity government.
If they continue to carry on their past differences on these matters, they would certainly fail to promulgate the constitution within the deadline, after the expiry of which no one knows what shape the national polity will actually take.
The parties and their leaders, therefore, need to sit to make one final call on the outstanding issues through concrete homework at the respective party level. When they next congregate to find a solution, they should make some compromise on their stances on the outstanding issues, which are obstructing the writing of the much-awaited constitution since the past four years. There is an urgency to put the nation and its people before the party interests.