Talks and conditions in India’s north east

Lots of talktime available

When the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) of Manipur called for a ‘conditional’ peace recently, it was more about conditions than about peace. The UNLF was quick to clarify that rather than offering to begin peace talks with the Indian government, it was only testing India’s commitment to democracy.

The military affairs committee, however, clarified that in the four-point proposal, the outfit did not say anything about holding talks with the Centre. Hence, making the proposal should not be construed as accepting peace talks.

A few days back, the chairman of the UNLF’s central committee, Sana Yaima, proposed holding plebiscite under the UN, deployment of UN peace keepers, laying down of arms to the UN peace keepers and handing over of the power according to the result of the plebiscite. This was the most democratic solution to the ongoing armed conflict in the state, he added. [Calcutta Telegraph]

The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), on the other hand is quite ready to hold talks, as long as sovereignty for Assam is negotiable and official communications from the Indian government are personally signed by the Prime Minister himself. The ULFA is a bit further along the curve, so for its part, it has stopped insisting on getting the United Nations involved. Its Bodo counterparts have already begun negotiations with India’s central government.

Nagaland is perhaps the the only state in India’s north east where there is a genuine peace process unfolding. The key political challenge here is the redrawing of boundaries of the Nagaland state as demanded by the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) in the face of severe opposition from Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh who stand to lose territory. The situation, of course, is not helped by the fact that elected politicians in any of these states cannot countenance territorial compromises without being accused of a sellout by their political opponents and insurgents alike.

Coordinated counter-insurgency operations with the support of Bhutanese and Myanmarese forces is proving successful in driving these insurgents to the negotiating table. In this light, Bangladesh’s less than cooperative stance stands out. Any operational gains made against the insurgents will remain tactical until Bangladesh joins its neighbours in uprooting the terrorist menace. The external dimension of India’s counter-insurgency strategy in the north east now hinges on getting Bangladesh to sign up for this battle.

As for negotiations itself, the Indian central government must move away from its traditional reluctance to putting ‘sovereignty’ on the negotiating table, for it is essentially emotional in context and provides beleaguered outfits a face-saving way out. There are only two things that India must necessarily insist upon — complete cessation of violence and keeping the UN or other international involvement out.