The peace process has now moved decidedly forward, possibly irreversibly. The decision of the Special Committee to vacate the cantonments, sending some PLA combatants into voluntary retirement and the remaining ones under Nepal Army control for integration along with handover of their weapons to the government, all by April 12, is strong indication that the peace process has moved into the final stage. Since 9,700 PLA combatants are still in the cantonments, some more will now have to choose voluntary retirement so that the total intake by the army remains within the agreed limit of 6,500.
A meeting of top leaders of the three major parties—UCPN(Maoist), NC and UML— held Friday morning also agreed on broad principles for the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Disappearance Commission. This is another important convergence and one without which it will be impossible to conclude the peace process.
With these two agreements, the mood of the leaders and their confidence in one another have received a major lift. Speaking a function in the capital Friday afternoon, top leaders, including Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, NC President Sushil Koirala and senior UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal said confidently that the peace process will now see completion. Though there were some words of caution and calls to remain constantly vigilant and be ready to exert pressure on the leaders if necessary, none of them seemed to have any doubt that the peace process has now reached an irreversible phase.
The new-found confidence and trust among the top leaders will also help make the constitution-writing process smoother than was thought possible earlier. Make no mistake, differences on key constitutional issues, notably on system of governance, remain unresolved and the parties have not given any indication that they are willing to give in on their respective positions. But a realization on the part of the leaders that compromise is necessary to promulgate the constitution seems far stronger than any appetite to hold on to their party stances.
There also seems to be a greater degree of convergence on the issue of state restructuring. The leaders appear to be in agreement that Nepal cannot afford to have more than eight provinces. And such provinces will be carved out bearing in mind both identity and sustainability issues. At the same time awkward demands such as special rights for certain ethnic groups and secessionist ones such as the right to self determination will be repudiated. Not everyone will be happy, but this is the best compromise for the country. With all these developments, the conclusion of the peace process and promulgation of the constitution appear tantalizingly close. The leaders should now do all it takes to see that these twin goals materialize at last