In the end, when nothing else worked, the Maoists came up with a proposal for a one-and-half month work schedule on integration in an effort to win support for its prime ministerial candidate. That proposal and a four-point list of populist promises to the Madhesi alliance brought them back into government leadership after 27 months.
Winning the 2008 election was the easy part for the Maoists. The party had to struggle so hard, give so much away, to get into a coalition that it doesn't seem to matter that they lead it. The fun and games are just beginning for Dr Baburam Bhattarai.
One week before the Maoists declared their proposal to complete the integration and rehabilitation of the ex-combatants within a month-and-half, the International Crisis Group (ICG) released its latest report 'Nepal: From Two Armies to One' which discusses the present status of the Nepal Army and the 'PLA' with regard to the commitments made by the state and the ex-rebels about the future of each.
'It is tempting to see integration and rehabilitation as a technical issue, but it is deeply political,' the ICG notes. It stresses the need to ensure a dignified management of the ex-combatants, not necessarily as an acknowledgement of the 'PLA' role in the epochal change, an idea which other parties are against, but as a calculated political gesture for greater aim of transforming the parent party.
Without specifically entering into sensitive issues like the need for social reconciliation and psycho-social support for those opting for retirement and rehabilitation, the report recommends flexibility in response with multiple options in order to reduce risks of derailment. It is unfortunate that there is no open debate about the issue and everybody wants the cantonments to be empty as soon as possible at any cost.
However, the ICG's concern about the potential infusion of large compensation amount into the Maoist coffers is well-founded. It calls on donors and the government to design an incentive-based payment in small installments. And although the idea of providing skills development training is a welcome one, the mass exodus of combatants to employment abroad opens a pandora's box of corruption. It also sends the message that the state can absolve itself from responsibility of ensuring their rehabilitation into society.
The ICG is concerned that commitments about democratization of the Nepal Army to make it more inclusive and bring it under civilian control are not being discussed enough. It makes a critical observation that the unofficial move by the Nepal Army to come up with an integration modality runs counter to the principle of civilian control.
The report states: 'The NA needs to be made more affordable and accountable. It is too large and too independent for a democratic state.' It wants Nepal's military and security framework to be reviewed, engaging more civilian expertise.
However, the most interesting bits in the report deal with the decline in political utility of the 'PLA' for the mother party. At a time when the political parties as well as the international community are worked up about the 19,000 in the cantonments, the report notes: 'Its military importance has diminished steadily since 2006, and the party is not going back to war."
The ICG's Anagha Neelakantan, says that people who throw up their hands in despair at the peace process fail to see how much progress has been made. "Who would have thought a deal on integration would be so close, differences on constitutional issues narrowed so much, and people from across the political spectrum so welcoming of an ex-guerilla Prime Minister," she told me this week.
After months of stalemate, there is renewed hope for meaningful engagement among the major stakeholders to bring the peace process on track. The integration and rehabilitation process may very soon enter a decisive phase, which would have a huge symbolic impact on the peace process. But if the bloodiest chapter in the nation's history is reduced to just symbolism, it could well be the prelude to another conflict.
Make or break
Keep the flame of truth burning, EDITORIAL
From JNU to Kathmandu, JYOTI MALHOTRA
Baburam Bhattarai: "We were too ambitious …while India underestimated our strength."
Getting down to business, DEWAN RAI
Prime Minister Bhattarai may soon have a lot less to smile about