Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the Maoist leader popularly called Prachanda, and Madhav Kumar Nepal, the country’s prime minister, signed a joint declaration 22 January 2011, placing the former fighters under the control of a cross-party committee headed by Madhav Kumar Nepal.

The government now faces the onerous task of integrating the Maoist fighters into the security forces, or otherwise rehabilitating them into civil life. But the entire population is behind them in that effort.

An innovative touch for the mountainous country was, the handover was telecast live from a Maoist camp 80km south of the Kathmandu, a week after a United Nations peace mission came to a close in Nepal.

The UN mission was monitoring Nepal’s disrupted transition to peace after the civil war which upset the entirety of Nepal from 1996 to 2006 and which resulted in the deaths of over 16,000 people.

The top rankers of various departments of government and the military who were present on the day of the signing were in agreement in seeing the move as ‘a big step forward’ and were like minded in their optimism for the future.

Robert Piper, a UN co-ordinator, said: “Certainly the atmosphere is very exciting and we all hope that today is the beginning of another exciting chapter in Nepal’s peace process.”

The future of the former fighters is crucial to the stability of this country, that sits between China and India, both competing for influence in a nation that can hardly afford to ignore their at times disruptive opposing pulls.

Nepal’s Maoists control 40 per cent of seats in parliament. They headed a coalition after their victory in the 2008 elections which had as a central motif the launching of a special constituent assembly meant to draw up the country’s first republican constitution.

However, that never happened and the alliance fell apart with Prachanda resigning as prime minister in a conflict with the president over matters pertaining to the national army. Nepal has been in political turmoil ever since.

The problem is that the officers among the Maoist soldiers were seen as young and undisciplined and difficult to place in positions of command in a regular army and on the other side, the officers of the government troops were reluctant to serve with ‘ex rebels’.

The country’s parliament has to date failed to elect a new leader and has been in a state of political pause since June 2010 when prime minister Nepal quit under pressure from the Maoists. Mr Nepal is still acting as caretaker prime minister.