Major political parties have added a fillip to the peace process by bringing former Maoist fighters, their weapons, containers, cantonments and other materials under the Nepal Army. The decision challenges widespread speculations that the process of transition to peace and constitution writing bogged down over the continuing inter and intra-party differences. It also shows that the top political leaders, who are frequently heard blaming one another as being a party in a perpetual rat race for power and position, are capable of mustering consensus when its need is urgent. As a key milestone of the peace process, the Army Integration Special Committee has assigned the Nepal Army the other day with the responsibility to provide security to combatants and cantonments with immediate effect. Apparently, skirmishes in cantonments among the former combatants hastened the handover. Nonetheless, the much-awaited move pushes the sluggish peace process, which started after the Constituent Assembly elections four years ago, a great step forward. Actually, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement among the political parties regarding the management of former Maoist fighters had laid the basis of peace and new constitution for the country six long years ago. The delay in accomplishing the tasks despite several changes at the helm of government over all these years was painful for the people who overthrew unitary state structures and institutions in favour of a federal republic. The incumbent government of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai deserves credit for the gains it has been able to make in this particular front.
The recent decision, made by the AISC in the presence of the party top brass, will also go to restore some trust political leaders had lost among the people with every extension of the CA deadline in the past. Their original mandate, after the historic CA elections, was to conclude the peace process in six months and to promulgate the country’s federal republican constitution in two years. Now, the final deadline, at least in the legal sense, is May 27. The Supreme Court has ordered that the government and the parliament respect the deadline for completing the twin tasks or go for other options outside the CA. Nobody knows what the country has in store beyond May 27 if it sees no hint of progress in the national tasks as per the timeline. In that backdrop, what parties were able to achieve at the AISC meeting certainly gives a sense of the peace process moving forward.
In fact, according to leaders, the decision has opened doors to peace and constitution. They have agreed that once the peace process concludes, constitution writing will gain momentum, putting to rest debates on structure of the NA directorate, composition of the selection committee, the issue of rank determination and training period for Maoist combatants and so on. Next ‘to do’ list, again, has many items in the lineup, including evacuation of the cantonments and shortening the parliamentary procedures to promulgate the new constitution. As work progresses, the ex-fighters, who still have a choice to retire voluntarily or go for rehabilitation like their comrades had done during the regrouping of combatants sometime ago, would do well to support the political move wholeheartedly and follow the code of conduct being developed by the government. The army chief has also shown readiness to implement the consensus decision. All this shows expectations are building up that political uncertainties will go away and the peace process will end, allowing for the promulgation of the new constitution so the nation can get down to addressing its real challenge: the social and economic inequalities.