Nepal's beleaguered Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala now faces the biggest test of his 60-year-old political career, the amalgamation of the Maoist Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) and the Nepal Army.
Koirala is already under tremendous political pressure following the Maoist demands for the immediate declaration of Nepal as a republic and adoption of a fully proportional electoral system.
Nepal was taken by surprise when Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula on Wednesday claimed that around 19,000 PLA soldiers would be eligible for inclusion in the national army. Koirala is against this amalgamation process.
Interestingly, Sitaula claimed that the seven parties had already reached a consensus on inclusion of 19,000 PLA combatants in the national army.
The Home Minister said the government has started work through constitutional changes to transform Nepal Army as a professional force. It is now believed that Nepal Army is still loyal to King Gyanendra.
The process of amalgamation of the PLA and the Nepal Army would result in a series of problems. Firstly, the Nepal Army has around 90,000 soldiers, and is larger than its requirement. And, the amalgamation would bleed the impoverished country's exchequer.
Secondly, there would a serious problem with the command structure of the force, as the PLA soldiers may not respect the orders of the Nepal Army personnel. However, senior Maoist commanders are optimistic about the amalgamation process, and are of the opinion that the merger is the need of the hour to ensure restoration of peace in Nepal.
Senior PLA commander Barsa Man Pun alias Comrade Ananta told Hindustan Times that the merger is a must to respect the peace accords in Nepal during the last one year.
Emphasizing on a Security Structure Reform (SSR) for Nepal, the Maoist commander said the government should assess the exact number of army personnel the country would need in the post-conflict situation.
"When Nepal has 2.5 crore population, what is the point in having a huge army?" Pun said, adding that the size of the merged national army should be down-sized.