Peace Audit Northeast–A Roadmap to Restore Normalcy (Part 2)
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he fundamental question is – on whose authority do the rebel groups seek fulfillment of their demands for separation, autonomy, creation of new territorial entity, etc? Don’t the common citizens have a say in the matter of how their political and economic life would be determined and whether they at all want the changes sought by the rebels concerned? Interlocutors get into secret parleys with self-styled armed groups where the fate of the ordinary citizens of given areas is largely negotiated. Is it fair?It is felt that there should be transparency in the matter of such negotiations, if at all the government wants to negotiate ‘peace’. Secret parleys do not achieve lasting results for peace. It leaves many dissatisfied. See the examples of Bodo and non-Bodo people in the BTC area. Thus interlocutors should share with the people through the media or otherwise the progress of talks they have with the parties concerned. Public opinion is certainly a most valuable input in resolving opposing view-points.
The concept of rule of law – the foundation of a democratic system – is invariably a casualty in conflict situations. The formula of peace process that is followed in most cases puts the last nail in its coffin. Such a circumstance makes conflict attractive for the young generation. Persons committing heinous crimes are allowed to sit and negotiate ‘terms of peace’ and fulfillment of ‘demands’. They are allowed to retain ill-gotten wealth that they had acquired through their violent activities. They are unnecessarily allowed to internationalize their labels and related activities. While peace initiative should always be welcome within the arameters of law, people indulging in heinous crimes against the society should not get away with them in the name of peace. In my opinion, the process need be redefined and made democratic by keeping a provision for a survey of public opinion on the points of proposed action for resolution of a conflict in a given area.
At the same time, offenders must face the consequences of their sins.
Restoration of normalcy: a road map ‘Insurgency’ has been a way of life for the north-easterners for nearly six decades now. All the states herein are affected by militancy of various hues and degrees. Militants have even acquired some degree of ‘respectability’ over the years though everyone knows what they do and how. Their strength increases when topmost government functionaries vie with one another to shake hands with so-called surrenderees at ‘surrender ceremonies’. Seeing the ‘soft state syndrome’ prevalent in the region, the Maoists have now joined the fray, especially in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Over-ground Maoist elements have already been cultivating the ground with gusto and soon we may see yet another ‘peace process’ with them. Right now, they are out to consolidate themselves in economically backward areas of Assam and stockpile arms for raising a revolt by peasants and unemployed ex-tea garden workers. They are very likely to collect arms through the small-scale traffickers of arms in Manipur, Nagaland, etc as well as by attacks on security forces and the police unless appropriate measures are taken to control the situation. Right now it appears to be their policy to take up local issues, agitate and popularize themselves. The Maoist extremists are indeed in an expansion mode over the wide space available in the region, especially in the plains.
The key to the restoration of peace and normalcy in the North East lies in physically choking up the trafficking routes for arms and ammunition – the physical tools of insurgency. It is the ready availability of guns that sustains insurgency. The militants will be forced to give up their vocation once availability of guns is controlled. It is no secret that supplies of weapons come to the region primarily from Yunnan province of China, besides Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and other countries of Southeast Asia. The other day, Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma stated that the GNLA was procuring weapons from Bangladesh both for itself and the ULFA in Assam. Earlier reports had said that the ULFA had commissioned the GNLA to keep the gun-running routes from Bangladesh (to the Brahmaputra valley via the Garo Hills) secured for them.
The gun-running routes across the Stilwell Road axis (Arunachal Pradesh), Tamu-Morey (Manipur), Kaladan valley (Mizoram), Champai (Mizoram), Garo Hills (Meghalaya), Barak valley (Assam), Feni river (Tripura), etc. are all known to our intelligence agencies and through them, to the central and state governments concerned. An examination of the arms seized and traffickers arrested by the security forces (SFs) gives out the sources of the supplies. Why can’t the SFs seal up the routes? The need of the hour is intensive air and over-ground surveillance of the arms trafficking routes, identification of the big players in the game, interception of the supplies on the ground and neutralization of the traffickers. The interception and seizure by Bangladesh police of truck-loads of arms allegedly meant for the ULFA at Chittagong port in April, 2004 showed us vividly the NE militants’ organized network for import of arms. This need be dealt with.
PEACE AUDIT NORTHEAST
Some NE rebel groups have gradually been assuming the role of regional arms merchants and it is not difficult to imagine that they are in the business with an ambition to become global players in the field – a la Dawood Ibrahim. Reports say they have already been exploring the Mekong river route for the purpose even as the Irrawaddy river basin in the upper region of Myanmar has largely been their domain long since. The NE groups involved in the area are mainly the NSCN (IM), the NSCN (K), the NSCN (K-K) of Nagaland, the ULFA of Assam, the PLA, the KYKC, the PULF, the KCP, etc. of Manipur. It is important to note that ULFA (I) leader, Paresh Barua, has been reportedly concentrating in Ruili and very frequently visiting Kunming and other places in Yunnan. He has obviously developed some business interests in this region even as his ‘war’ against the Indian state never came to fruition. The NE groups have tie-ups with various rebel outfits of northern Myanmar – namely, those of Sagaing Division, Kachin state, Shan state, Chin Hills, etc for supply of arms, training of guerrillas and providing hide-outs from the onslaughts of state forces.
The unwritten alliance among the Indian and the Myanmarese rebel groups helps all of them to continue waging their ‘war’ against their respective governments indefinitely. They do these things certainly not for ‘liberation’ of their father-land or mother-land, because they know it well that the said proposition is not really achievable. In the name of this ‘liberation’ enterprise which is but a label, they, at the same time, extort huge sums of money from traders, industrialists, professionals, peasants and even government servants of their respective home states. Development funds of the respective Indian states get siphoned off to them to a large extent.
In addition, they facilitate production and trafficking of drugs both locally and across the international border. As a matter of fact, the north-eastern states of India have turned into a corridor for trafficking of drugs from the Golden Triangle – an un-administered area on the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos known for production and manufacture of heroin and various other drugs of abuse, particularly Methamphetamine tablets (also called Yuba). Consequent on the regular smuggling of drugs (from Myanmar) by routes passing through the porous eastern borders, the entire Manipur valley, Dimapur and a good part of Mizoram have become largely a drugaddict’s haven. Here there is no option other than physical intervention to make it impossible for the militant outfits to carry on with the type of things they do.
Secondly, the state must decide to establish the rule of law in letter and spirit, and come down heavily on all crimes and violations of law. The North East has seen during the last half a century an enormous amount of bloodletting.
(To be continued)
Inspector General of Police (Retd), Assam