It is only a matter of time before the 2006 political framework collapses.
As the three political documents in the Maoist plenum make clear, there is no question of 'dissolving and dismantling' the PLA. The Maoists will move on the PLA only after meeting three conditions – Dahal gets back to power; integration leads to some kind of structural change in the NA or gives the Maoists space in the security structure through a new force; and the Maoists get close to getting a constitution that meets their political line and the demands of their support base.
Most other parties are not in the mood to allow the Maoists back to power. They see the plenum discussions as only confirming their worst fears of Maoist intentions, of the shift away from a federal democratic republic to a people's republic. The budget antics of the Maoists would have weakened even the Jhalanath Khanal segment within the UML that speaks of allying with the former rebels – incidentally, the finance minister is related to Khanal.
And on integration in the NA, go no further than the latest issue of the thoughtful Maoist-leaning journal Rato Jhilko, in which a relatively moderate former NA officer has responded to a paper by Barsha Man Pun. There is a wide, though not necessarily unbridgeable, gulf in the understanding of a range of issues – integration, its necessity, nature and modalities, security sector reform, a new national army, and related issues.
Add to this the plenum rhetoric on India, which has only hardened Delhi's resolve to support the anti-Maoist forces back in Nepal.
It is not an easy situation for anyone. But since the UML, NC and Madhesi parties are at least in power, they can live with the status quo. It is the Maoists who are itching for change. Now to alter the balance of power, they could do two things. They either have to revive the spirit of the 2006-8 days – it was a strategy that fetched them tremendous gains but also required them to make structural compromises. Or they have to inflict sufficient damage on the other side, and bully them into submission. But they are not prepared to make the compromises required for the first; nor does the other side need them as much. The second is a high-risk approach, and could well boomerang.
The status quo cannot last for too long. The deadlock over integration and power-sharing, increased public acrimony, and rising belligerence on both sides are all signs of a coming showdown. Two looming deadlines – January 15 and May 28 – only add to the urgency of the situation.
The four-point agreement between the government and the Maoists in September held that all the remaining tasks of the peace process would be completed in four months, timed with UNMIN's exit. Integration cannot possibly happen in a month and a half, especially now that Dahal has made it clear to his party that the PLA will be kept intact.
So will the government request another extension of UNMIN? Will the Security Council (SC) accept it? What will be India's stand on the first major issue it will have to deal with as it enters the SC? Will there be a request for a downgraded technical mission, with an even more limited political presence, and can the SC live with that? If UNMIN does leave, what happens to the cantonments and who monitors them, even nominally? How will the Maoists play it? Does it mean the end of the Agreement on the Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies?
What happens to UNMIN will have implications for the CA. While one cannot discount the possibility of 601 MPs giving themselves another extension, it will be a lot more difficult for them to do so. The tussle over power-sharing is so crucial because each side wants to ensure that they are in power on May 29.
Non-Maoists fear that if Dahal is allowed back to power, he will consolidate control over the state and be in an advantageous position – irrespective of whether the CA stays or goes. The Maoists fear that even if the president does not take over directly he will use his discretion, with Indian and army backing, to give legitimacy to a non-Maoist government in a post-CA context. If this happens, as is likely, the Maoists will claim the reactionaries have derailed the CA process, and launch mass revolts. If the protests are non-violent, aka May, the state will have a low-key response; if it is violent, the NP and APF will manage if possible, with the NA stepping in if absolutely necessary.
More than others, the politicians know this is dangerous as the form of the new conflict will be uncertain. But it appears that, contrary to hopes, certain fundamental ideological and political conflicts that characterise Nepali society will be fought out on the streets, not the CA.