ALONG THE DEEPLY RUTTED ROAD that slices though the vast expanse of paddy fields in Chitwan district in south-central Nepal, life moves unhurriedly. In the small settlements that punctuate the landscape, girls cycle, women bathe under open taps—a certain slowness permeates nearly everything. After driving for hours from the town of Narayanghat—close to the headquarters of the Third Division of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the biggest of the seven PLA cantonments spread across the country—we arrive at Shaktikhor, a dusty bazaar at the foot of the hills. Here, since the end of the decade-long Nepalese Civil War in 2006, more than 3,000 former Maoist fighters have been idling.
Janak Bista ‘Kuber’, a spokesman for the PLA, requests I confirm my visit with the Special Committee officials tasked with dividing the 19,000 Maoist combatants into three groups: those opting for integration to the Nepalese Army (NA), those choosing voluntary retirement, and those accepting a rehabilitation package. For most of these former rebels, waiting has not been easy. Five years after abandoning their revolutionary “people’s war”, the promise of a new Nepal seems more distant than ever.
We park our car on the dirt track and face a bamboo barrier. Peeking into a wooden cabin, I find a young man and a woman, both in military fatigues, glancing through the day’s Kantipur newspaper. The former fighters are busy in discussion, Bista warns when I call him once more, and media persons are not allowed inside. He is adamant. Don’t I know that the programme has been changed?