If the status quo prevails, we will keep going round and round in circles with the leaders making the rhetorical commitment to bringing the peace process to a 'logical conclusion', without caring two hoots about it.
No political party is committed to integration, or has a clear roadmap about it. It is tactical and dependent on how it affects their strength and larger balance of power.
No one quite knows where the Maoists stand on it, whether they want it, when they want it, and what their bottom line is. What we know is that they will push for it only if they sense that it will help tilt the army's orientation towards them, or if the rising discontent in the cantonments is becoming unmanageable, and in a manner that will bolster the party.
Till that point, they will keep playing the victim, pretend to be the picture of reasonableness, talk up their internal difficulties, and try to bargain for financial incentives in return for any progress on the issue.
The discharge of underage inmates was a fa?ade. The visiting team found the disqualified insisting on integration in the army, which was, one suspects, what they had been instructed to do by their divisional commanders. Some suggest that the Maoists have maintained a veil of secrecy internally, and all those disqualified do not even know they are out.
While one recognises the necessity of working out a rehabilitation package for all these men and women who are trained and indoctrinated, Maoist duplicity on the issue must be taken into account. First, they fill in people who were never fighters in cantonments, including children, while sending many of the real fighters out. Then they grudgingly accept the disqualification of some and promise the world they will discharge them. The state is supposed to take care of them, and even then, they drag the process on.
But why are the Maoists behaving in this manner, and how are they getting away with it? The Maoists are insecure. They genuinely feel the right-wing wants to marginalise them completely, and reverse the achievements of the last few years. Those arguing that the PLA must be kept intact to fight a 'counter-revolution' cite developments of the last few months as proof, and have gained the upper hand. And voices that no integration till constitution is written have asserted themselves.
The most realistic possibility of progress, albeit gradual, was when the Maoists were in power. To think they can be bullied, and will co-operate when the power alignment is stacked up against them is na?ve.
But the real blame for the state of affairs must go to the other parties, for their lack of clarity and myopia. When they should have pushed for integration, they got paranoid about Maoist control of army and said no.Now they understand the dangers of having PLA around, but have no clue how to deal with it.
Instead, they rely on vague formulations like 'PLA will evaporate', 'cadre will get disillusioned and leave', and at best, 'a few can be taken in'.
Kathmandu parties seem to care little about prospects of lower level armed groups, which may splinter off from PLA, and add to the disorder.
But to assume that NC and UML have a mind of their own is being over-generous. It will boil down to what India decides. Just see how Rakesh Sood says PLA must be integrated in society in a newspaper interview, and GPK follows suit a month later. And Delhi is either unclear itself, with some pushing for token integration in the army and others opposing it outright, or waiting and watching.
Any deal on integration will finally depend on rapprochement between Maoists and India because neither the army nor the parties will take a step without that. Only RAW, MEA and the Indian Army have the collective leverage to engineer a compromise.
In the debate over integration, security sector reform is all but forgotten. How to democratise and downsize the army, make it inclusive, and push accountability as part of the peace process.
As writer Manjushree Thapa has perceptively noted, 'Army integration in the absence of security sector reform and justice would be disastrous.
(Imagine a one lakh plus, part-feudal, part-Maoist army that believes it can act with impunity).'