The peace process is always in the headlines for one reason or the other. However, if the slow pace of progress is diagnosed, the core matter to be resolved besides the discharge of the disqualified Maoist combatants from the cantonments which is continuing, the rehabilitation and integration of the former Maoist combatants is proving to be a matter of contention though some guidelines, though not very clear, have been provided by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Now, we have Defence Minister Bidhya Bhandari saying that the bulk entry of the combatants into the Nepali Army was unacceptable to her. Furthermore, to put her point across more emphatically she has asserted that the Defence Ministry and the Nepal Army should not necessarily abide by what the Special Committee on the Integration and Rehabilitation of Maoist combatants decides about the modalities of the integration process. This assertion comes from a sitting member of the government and when she says that she could refuse to accept the government's directives one wonders which version is the official viewpoint of the government. Incidentally, the current Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal too belongs to the UML as does the Defence Minister. There is general confusion as to what the government stance is on this matter of the integration of the Maoist combatants when she says that since there is no representation from the Defence Ministry and Nepal Army in the special committee they would not treat its decision as final.
The Defence Minister may be right in that she fears that bulk integration of the Maoist combatants would politicize the Nepal Army which has always remained professional. There are apprehensions that the entry of politically indoctrinated combatants could bring division in the army and lead to its disintegration, thereby, impacting the national security. Recruitment of the combatants who are qualified and meet the criteria could be possible in the Nepal Army on an individual basis should they wish to join the national army. However, as the CPA does not state precisely on how the former combatants would be reintegrated in the Nepal Army the clash of interests seem to be running rife. There are other options for integration besides the Nepal Army but which has not been taken with keen interest at the moment besides its viability.
The integration of the former Maoist combatants is a most important CPA feature. Now with four months left to write the new constitution there is general apprehensions as to whether the integration could take place by then. There is no doubt that two standing armies are not in the interest of any country. So the issue of the integration of the former Maoist combatants should be thoroughly deliberated and all the stakeholders should find a way out of the impasse for else the controversy could derail the entire peace process. It is a vital issue to such an extent that there is fierce debate on whether the statute gets precedence or the settlement of the former Maoist combatants spending their days for the last three years in the cantonments.
Despite missing the bus twice in 2000 and 2005, Nepal has finally been declared leprosy free with the start of 2010. It was at the call of WHO that special thrust had been taken to eradicate the disease at the earliest but due to various reasons including the insurgency and the lackluster performance of the government, the cut off date had to be shifted. Leprosy had been looked upon earlier as a curse to an individual for his/her sins in previous birth. It carried social stigma because, in the past, no sure cure was available. But, the development of medical science brought about medication and treatment regime that could stop the infection, and also stop deformation right on its track. If the disease had advanced amputation was necessary but the patient regained the composure.
With all the odds stacked against the government in its delivery of health services, these small achievements cheer the heart. The only question remains whether diarrhoea and cholera could prove so fatal with all the health logistics that the country never tires of boasting. One disease may have been ticked off officially, but new ones like swine flu are emerging threats in addition to those that have not been conquered as yet.