Dates for the constituent assembly could be announced any day. Pushpa Kamal Dahal is waiting to hear from Baluwatar so he can send his nominees into the interim government. But in the public mind, the fear of Maoist combatants persists. The process of arms management and the flaunting of weapons by Maoist cadres have raised doubts about the real intentions of the CPN-M. The manner in which decommissioned combatants behave in the coming days will determine the fate of peace process and democracy.
UNMIN has declared complete the first phase of its job-registering and verifying Maoist combatants and weapons. But there is something remarkable at work in the figures released by UNMIN. For the 30,852 combatants registered at the seven main and 21 subsidiary cantonments across the country, only 3,428 weapons have been locked up for joint monitoring. That's roughly one weapon for every ten fighter. It pushes the limits of one's credulity.
When the media asked Nanda Kishore Pun, the no-nonsense Maoist deputy commander who liaises with the monitoring team, to explain the inconsistency between these two figures, he was visibly uneasy and averted his gaze from the tv cameras. He then mumbled that on occasion his fighters had humbled the then Royal Nepal Army on the strength of improvised socket, pipe, and pressure cooker bombs.
Dahal went one better. In an explanation as ludicrous as that of automatic guns going off 'accidentally' in Narayanhiti, he swore that some of his weapons were lost. Others were taken away by the police, and more were washed away by floods. By this time it all sounds preposterous. But the Nepal Army has accepted UNMIN's figures without reservations. Apparently the people in power know something the rest of us don't.
Clearly, the Maoists ran a frantic recruitment drive after the 12-point understanding with the seven-party alliance in order to raise their profile for the international community. CP Gajurel admitted as much in New Delhi last month.
Most combatants in the camps are therefore untrained militia and political cadre rather than battle-hardened fighters. They lack the ideological commitment to a cause that comes from facing adversity together for a long time. Some already left the camp once. There is no reason to believe that others will not do so again.
New recruits are unlikely to develop the self-control necessary for living in camps and on an allowance of under a dollar a day.
When the king's direct rule was at its strongest, a retired RNA general suggested that lasting peace in Nepal was impossible unless the Maoists well-trained irregulars were repatriated to their home country. The India-baiters have not yet insinuated that the weapons have gone back to where they believe they come from: the jungles of Chhatisgarh, the ravines of Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand's hills, and Bihar's floodplains.
The number of combatants in cantonment and the type of weapons in the UN-monitored containers suggest that the Maoist leaders can't withdraw from the peace process unless they are offered safe passage and sanctuary once again.
Given various geo-strategic reasons, that seems unlikely. Dahal is staying put in Kathmandu-a Ramshah Path firm was just awarded a Rs 2 million contract to furnish the residence of the person after whom Prachanda Path is named. That's a pittance compared to the extravagance of other leaders, communist and otherwise. The man needs a spacious desk to write his long speeches. That should keep him busy for a while.
But if the monarchy, democracy's main enemy, were to get ambitious, there is no telling what Maoist cadres living in rudimentary cantonments will do. What, after all, do they have to lose?