The last minute deal struck by Nepal's political parties on Sunday will extend the life of the Constituent Assembly (CA) by another three months but whether this will be enough to finalise a new constitution depends on the extent to which the young republic's political parties are willing to show flexibility. Under the terms of the five-point deal, the parties have agreed to conclude the major tasks of the peace process and prepare a first draft of the new constitution within the CA's extended tenure. They have also decided to effectively implement past agreements, including with the Madhesi front, to make the Nepali Army inclusive. Finally, Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal of the Unified Marxists-Leninists (UML) has undertaken to clear the way for the formation of a national unity government by tendering his resignation. A dispute of sorts has already arisen over the last point, with the Nepali Congress (NC) contesting Mr. Khanal's reasonable stand that he can only resign when a viable alternative is ready. At the heart of the continuing stalemate, of course, is the unresolved question of when and how to integrate former combatants from the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in the Nepal Army. The parties have made some progress since the last time the CA was extended, in May 2010, but a final settlement seems to be proving elusive. There are also major differences among the UCPN(M), the UML, and the NC on key constitutional questions such as the form of government and federalism.
The fundamental problem in Nepal is two-fold. The NC and, to a lesser extent, the UML continue to act as if the Maoists still pose a military threat — which they do not — and have made forward movement on constitution-drafting conditional on the formal disbanding of the Peoples' Liberation Army. The Maoists, on the other hand, play on this fear by trying to use the PLA's interim existence as a lever to extract concessions from the NC and UML on the constitutional front. In doing so, the Maoists underestimate their actual strength, which springs from their impressive electoral support. The PLA is no longer a fighting force and the longer its former combatants languish in limbo, the greater is the likelihood that they will become undisciplined and even lumpenised. With Maoist leader Prachanda broadly endorsing the Nepal Army's proposal for integration, a serious push should be made by all sides to take the peace process to its logical conclusion. India can help by abandoning its negativism and sending a clear signal to all parties that it supports the speedy integration of the PLA as part of the wider process of making the NA more professional and inclusive.