The search for a government based on ‘consensus’ and an agreement on the integration and rehabilitation of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) combatants - were two major issues that shaped Nepal’s political discourse during 2011. This article attempts to review these two issues, their impact on the peace process, and the implications of the political outcome during 2012.
Problem of Consensus-building
The year began with the appointment of a political head for Nepal - Jhalanath Khanal, by the Constituent Assembly (CA) in February 2011 after a seven-month stint with a caretaker government and 17 failed attempts at reaching consensus. But the failure of the political leadership to constructively address the issues of constitution-drafting and PLA’s integration led to his resignation and the appointment of a new incumbent – Dr. Baburam Bhattarai. This appointment proved competent in filling the leadership vacuum, thereby giving impetus to the peace process, but it was unable to create a foundation that the formation of a consensus based government would require. What was challenging was that both the premiers appointed within this year were heading coalition governments. In fact, the Bhattarai government reflected a new partnership at the political level - the Madheshi-Maoist alliance.
The failure of building-consensus can have grim consequences for Nepal. The fourth-time call for extension beyond May 2012 of the CA resulted in a tussle between the Supreme Court and the government. The drafting of the constitution is far from realization as is the peace process. The delay in building-consensus, owing to the diverse interests of the political parties will only make things worse. However, there are some signs of progress: the continuation of the Bhattarai government; the positives from brought about so far and the informal understanding reached between the Nepali Congress Party (NC) and the UCPN (M) with the former being entrusted with leading the government once the constitution is in place; conduction of the next elections etc. But this optimism can be marred by political suspicions.
Integration of former Combatants into Army
The second major issue, which attained partial success, was the deal giving former combatants an option of: integration into the Nepal army, buy out and voluntary retirement or rehabilitation. Though, many believe the passage of the deal was a result of Maoist presence at the high table (the premier being a Maoist man), the PLA’s ‘usefulness was declining and its potential to be a liability (for the UCPN (M)) was increasing,’ and the delay in the finalization of the deal as a major obstruction for Nepal’s peace process also needed to be accounted for. The deal certainly has led to progress in the peace process but its implementation, especially in the face of growing dissent, will be an onerous task.
The fruitful implementation of the deal depends on both political as well as psychological criteria. At the political level, it is a known fact that the Maoists were not allowing the deal to be passed as a corollary to their dual security system. The basics of the deal need to be spelt out clearly as it suffers from serious discrepancies, the most obvious being the number of combatants to be integrated into the Nepal Army. While the initially anticipated number was 6500 combatants, almost double the number have opted for integration. Concerns over the qualifications desired, post being offered and the package being allocated also appear as major hurdles to the implementation. At the psychological level, the drawbacks loom large given that the deal does not account for women combatants and those with disabilities. Also, the fact of working with a group they once fought against can also be psychologically difficult for them.
The Year Ahead
Besides the above two events, the previous year also witnessed a lot of other changes viz. it witnessed the fourth extension of the CA, disagreement between the government and the Supreme Court and the repeated display of brinkmanship by Nepali leaders post - withdrawal of the United Nation Mission in Nepal (UNMIN). 2012 seems to be as compelling as the previous one, more so now, as the emphasis has shifted from the above two essentials to the third most pressing issue in Nepal - the restructuring of the country.
The issue of restructuring, often clothed within the broader issue of federalism has had some takers in Katmandu, but the real audience is the ordinary Nepalese. Although, some effort in this direction has been made with the formation of the State Restructuring Commission and the decrease in the number of disputed issues on federalism in the CA to 20 from an earlier 83, the real task ahead is getting the issue solved, more precisely, before the ‘final’ expiry of the CA’s term. From New Delhi’s perspective then, the tumultuousness of the peace process or the peacefulness of the tumult would depend on events that unfold in Nepal in 2012.