Finally, some good news on the political front. The army integration process which has been stalled for the last two months is all set to gain renewed momentum following the decision of the Special Committee to restart the process from September 6. What makes this a particularly heartening breakthrough is that it has the backing of all four major political forces. In the cross-party discussions on Monday, they agreed to resolve the controversy over age of ex-PLA fighters, a festering debate which had brought the whole process to an abrupt halt early July. According to an earlier seven-point agreement among the four forces in 2011, integration would be carried out on the basis of the age as verified by the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).
But if those criteria had been strictly followed, around 900 of the 3,123 combatants who chose the integration option would have been ineligible on the age ground alone. This was the reason the cantoned combatants had vehemently resisted the integration process back in July. The latest decision has cleared the age hurdle by agreeing to finalize the age of the cantoned combatants on the basis of their citizenship certificates. The service period of combatants will be counted from the date they turned 18 and a three-year concession will be given to those who were over the age of 24 (the cut-off for entry into Nepal Army) when they entered the Maoist PLA.
We hope the climate of trust witnessed during the cross-party meeting on Monday is carried over into vital discussions on the way out of the current political and constitutional crisis. Indeed, it was a welcome development to witness Nepali Congress and CPN-UML come around on their rigid stand on age of ex-combatants. With Nepal Army all set to formally take over the Maoist arms in the cantonments on September 6, the six-year-old peace process will enter its final leg, which is expected to be completed without many hitches now that the main roadblock to the dignified entry of Maoist combatants seems to have been cleared.
The opposition parties have shown the flexibility with the belief that their concession in the peace process would be reciprocated by the UCPN (Maoist)-led governing coalition in settling the broader political and constitutional issues. The opposition parties are sure to play up their ‘concessions’ in order to leverage the ruling alliance for reciprocal concessions in future negotiations. The opposition parties would do well to restrain themselves from chest-thumping. But the onus also lies on the Federal Republican Democratic Alliance (FRDA) not to test the opposition’s resolve.
Addressing the nation on Tuesday, caretaker PM Baburam Bhattarai sounded a defiant note, accusing the ‘status quoist’ forces of sabotaging the constitution agenda and contributing to CA’s demise. He singled out Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala for opposing CA extension. Such provocative statements are uncalled for. At a time when there is finally some hope of wrapping up the peace process, and thereby lending a big push for the resolution of other important issues, no side should make remarks that threaten to drive the negotiating sides further apart