Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Inordinately delayed solution to Naga issue after signing of a Framework Agreement on August 3, 2015, is not an encouraging sign

Talking when Fighting Ends

Although ceasefires have been anvilled with a number of insurgent outfits in the North East, robust follow-up mechanisms have—for one

reason or the other—circuited the processes the led up to it. This has led to prolonged periods of ceasefire engendering thereby a sense of not only uneasiness among the once warring groups, but has acted as “stalling-strategy” for militant outfits that have been waiting in the wings to enter into dialogue. The lament that is making the rounds is “If there has been no perceptible solution to the high profile Naga problem which completed quarter of a century on 1 August 2022, lesser groups would certainly be caught in a greater traffic jam”.

Indeed, in a sense, the grievance is not wholly without substance. Cessation of hostilities between a state and a non-state group should follow a series of steps which leads to a comprehensive resolution. The path, which a peace process normally takes after a ceasefire is instituted, is expected to be less unwieldy than the one that precedes a ceasefire. Whereas the dynamics that could govern the pre-ceasefire stage can be a long-drawn-out affair, with protracted in camera parleys, entry and engagement of intermediaries, mediators and intelligence agencies, an ably managed post-ceasefire situation should ideally result in early resolution. As a matter of fact, prolongation of a post-ceasefire period—prior to resolution—is deemed unnecessary, as much of the groundwork on which a future resolution would be structured on should have already been established preceding a formal cessation of hostility. Indeed, it is analysed that in its haste to cobble out ceasefire arrangements, New Delhi has not  quite taken into consideration certain imperatives that should govern such agreements.

But the flip side also suggests that the aspects that govern cessation of hostilities and consequently resolution have invariably encountered a number of spoilers. External forces inimical to India have tried their utmost to derail peace processes. Belligerence in the North East, for instance, appeals to the strategic calculus of China and Pakistan even as such countries seek to pin down Indian army to the region and away from both their primary duties in the border and the growing intransigence in Kashmir, the real battlefield. However, the gaffe which New Delhi seems to be continually making is by tom-tomming its piecemeal achievements. The most glaring of instances was the over seven year old “Framework Agreement”.

Shrouded in secrecy the “historic” agreement was not only been kept away from the public, but it gave rise to myriad suspicion. Furthermore, it is yet to be understood as to why a “Framework Agreement” had to be signed in the first place, and with so much fanfare, especially if it were to be kept a secret.  The only rational explanation seems to be that New Delhi wanted to “inform” the rest of the country that conflict in its eastern borderlands has been resolved, when in effect it is not the case. If this perception is true, then it is not an only unsound policy, but one that is fraught with grave danger to India’s national security. After all, all that has been achieved since the “historic” agreement is suspicion, criticism and inter-group rivalry. Also, in the process of wooing NSCN (IM) and alienating NSCN (K), precious lives have been lost. The attack on the Dogra soldiers in Manipur’s Chandel on 4 June 2015 is an important case in point.

The turf has become murkier with reports suggesting that The (Manipur) Valley Based Insurgent Groups have come into an agreement with the Myanmar army after the 1 February 2021 putsch in Myanmar. While the “understanding” has been analysed to be a marriage of convenience, the fact of the matter is that it has engineered an about-face for Indian security management. Whereas, in the pre 1 February 2021 scenario, Naypyidaw—at the behest of New Delhi—had acted against the Indian Insurgent Groups (IIG) billeted in Myanmar by way of two robust military operations—Op Sunrise I and II—the present poses a 180 degree turn with the insurgents acting in tandem with the same dispensation which New Delhi had hoped to utilise against the North East insurgents.

This author also wishes to take the opportunity of psycho-profiling a belligerent group before it enter into a ceasefire: an imperative that might have escaped the high offices of New Delhi. It must be understood that a heightened sense of caution guides belligerent parties before they enter into a political reconciliation process. The primary concern of such groups is whether the stronger party—as asymmetry characterises almost all cases of conflict between belligerents and constituted authority—would permit an honourable solution, which would be acceptable to the belligerent group and the constituency it seeks to represent. Such groups also exercise caution as they sense that a coaxed entrance into a political process could be a ploy of the stronger party to “wear them out” by engaging them in protracted negotiations. But notwithstanding such predicaments compromises are often made when a belligerent party perceives a stalemate in the movement and when conflict fatigue begins to set in, as also when they realise that the populace among which they operate are building consensus to force the belligerents to enter into dialogue.

In such scenarios belligerents try to shape the environment in an array of ways, which may range from escalating the level of violence to internationalising the movement. The motivation is to force the stronger party to open channels for dialogue as the moves of the belligerent party becomes increasingly unacceptable. However the movement from intention to actual institution of political process is usually long drawn: most belligerent groups put forward conditions that may not be acceptable to the stronger party. But non-acceptable conditions are usually made only by way of bargaining counters, with a comprehension that a climb-down to acceptable conditions would eventually take place, and ones which were actually intended by the belligerents. Sincerity of both parties to resolve conflict by adhering to the principle of mutual accommodation and by prolonging the peace dividend when fighting ends is crucial at this stage. This is primarily because of not only the possibility that subterfuges may be engineered by hardliners among belligerents who feel that they will not be given their due in a post settlement scenario, but also because of the presence of—as aforesaid—spoiling efforts by vested interests. Back channelling and secret parleys with earnest mandate are best suited to navigate the process at such junctures: publicity normally results in devious objectives coming into play, derailing the political process in its infancy.

The sense of mistrust that prevails among the stakeholders of the Naga Peace Process and the growing antagonism between people that should have come together to cobble out a solution that is all-inclusive has become the most palpable of banes. The manner in which the dialogue has careened out of control when it could have been salvaged is an observable fact that has dawned upon all right-thinking observers. All-inclusive charity and correct confidence building should have guided state action. The adhocism that has hitherto characterised the manner in which the state has been ordaining for the longest running insurgency in the world is a theme that clearly eludes reason.

Comprehension of such sage articulation and course correction demands that a correct mustering exercise be undertaken. Even as the Naga people and the other on-looking groups await Raisina Hills offer, the most important aspect that the state should be examining the immediate anvilling of a peace committee headed by a non-partisan personage such as former union home secretary, G.K. Pillai. His knowledge of the North East is extraordinary and he commands great respect among the people of the North East. Other equally astute observers of Naga affairs such as Lt Gen Arun K. Sahni and Pradip Phanjoubam could be incorporated into such a group. After all, quite clearly the aftermath of a “compromise” that would be offered may not gratify all stakeholders and there could be murmurings of dissatisfaction in the region. In such a setting there would be need for a set of people—without state moorings—who would be able to act as a “composing buffer” and ferry the message that a “war” is truly ending. The group can also act as both shields and safeguards in the extremely crucial period that characterises the “end-of-the-road” scenario. Foresight and vision—if exercised with both care and caution—could well witness the gifting of a well-earned “Christmas Present” that concludes in rightful cheer.

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