Big breakthrough

A ray of hope is visible in Nepal’s bleak political scenario. A historic agreement allowing former Maoist cadres to enter the Nepal army has removed a huge obstacle that was blocking implementation of the peace process. The army, which has fought the Maoists for over a decade, was fiercely opposed to integration of the Maoists into its ranks. The Nepali Congress and royalist parties too had dug in their heels on the matter. It is to the credit of Nepal’s new Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai that a compromise was reached. Only a third of the Maoist cadres will be integrated in the army and that too in non-combat roles.

Yet, the rest are not left without a future. Roughly 12,500 cadres will be provided with funds as start-up cash to rehabilitate themselves. The integration of Maoist cadres into the Nepal army is a bold step that other countries in the region can draw ideas and inspiration from. However, its success will depend crucially on how the former combatants are treated within the army. The experiment will fail if they continue to be treated as the ‘enemy’.
The latest deal has powerful opponents, interestingly, from among Bhattarai’s comrades.

The Maoist faction under Mohan Baidya has expressed displeasure over the deal and described it as ‘anti-people’. Should the Maoists split vertically at this juncture, it would give rise to new complications for the Bhattarai government.

The deal indicates that when they set their minds to it Nepal’s perpetually squabbling political parties are capable of working together. Now they must show similar resolve to complete the task of writing the constitution. They have agreed to complete this task in a month. While this is heartening, past experience has led to great cynicism in Nepal. Many believe that the Bhattarai government has struck a deal only to ensure its own survival.

That is, it hopes to be able to hold up the achievement of integration of cadres to convince the president, parliament and the Nepali people that the government deserves another extension beyond the November-end deadline. It would be a pity if this is so. Bhattarai is a man who evokes deep respect in Nepal. He has displayed admirable qualities of bridge-building and compromise. He must use these skills to find common ground on a constitution rather than think up ruses to ensure regime survival.

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