Nepal's political transition has entered its final lap, with all parties signing a major peace agreement on November 1. The deal settles the future of combatants of the Maoist People's Liberation Army (PLA), who have been in cantonments across the country for over four years. A maximum of 6,500 of the 19,602 former fighters will be integrated into a special directorate under the Nepal Army. The rest would be offered attractive rehabilitation and cash packages. There is also an informal understanding that once the peace process commences, opposition parties would join the present government to give it an inclusive character. Once the constitution is promulgated, a new government under the Nepali Congress (NC) will supervise the next elections. The pact removes the single biggest obstacle in the process of constitution writing, as non-Maoist parties had refused to resolve the constitutional issues until what they saw as a Maoist instrument of coercion was not disbanded. Now that the Maoists have agreed to surrender their ‘advantage', the other parties can no longer cry wolf about the absence of a level playing field.
The breakthrough was made possible by the coming together of the original set of actors, primarily the Maoists and the NC, who had conceptualised the peace process in its early days. Maoist Chairman Prachanda and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai did well in standing up to pressure from dogmatists within the party, and being flexible on the modality of integration, norms, and ranks. The NC also deserves credit for not playing spoiler despite being in the opposition. India, which facilitated the 12-point agreement in 2005, played a constructive role as a non-partisan, behind-the-scenes interlocutor. There are two key challenges now. The first is implementing the agreement within the tight timelines that have been laid out. The parties have committed themselves to completing the regrouping of combatants into those to be integrated and rehabilitated by the third week of November, and preparing a draft constitution by November 30. This would enable another extension of the CA. The second is resolving constitutional issues, particularly the nature and shape of federalism. A longer term challenge is the democratisation of the Nepal Army, meaning institutionalising both civilian control and the respect for human rights. This goal was a part of the original peace agreement but has not been touched in the recent pact. Nepal's politicians have shown remarkable wisdom in shepherding the transformation of their country from a monarchy to a republic, from war to peace. In this final phase, they must direct all their energies towards writing a democratic, socially equitable, and federal constitution.