Policy On Peace Talks—A Round Table

Guwahati, 15 september 2010

a report

 

  Dr Udayon Misra, National Fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, addressing the Round Table
 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Peace activists, militant leaders, academics and journalists today observed that the Government’s delay in taking the peace process forward with insurgent groups who are on a ceasefire as well as not addressing the core issues raised by major groups like the ULFA have complicated the conflict scenario in Assam and have made the problems multi-dimensional.

At a Round Table titled “Policy on Peace Talks” organized by the Guwahati based Centre for Development and Peace Studies, a non-profit think-tank, the speakers noted that the Government need to keep its doors open for negotiations with all major insurgent groups but must take care to ensure that dialogue is pursued with groups who enjoy a certain amount of legitimacy. The Round Table was moderated by Prashanta Rajguru, executive editor of Amar Asom and a Governing body member of CDPS.

On whether the Government should call a moratorium on peace talks with splinter groups of major rebel outfits or newer militant groups, pro-talk ULFA leader Mrinal Hazarika said, “We must first see whether a splinter (rebel) group has been created by the State or whether it has emerged because of internal squabble within that outfit.”

Hazarika said unless the Government comes forward to address key issues raised by the ULFA, militant leaders like Paresh Baruah (ULFA’s military chief) will continue to call the shots and emerge stronger. “The ULFA has certainly committed errors but the question is whether anyone can actually reject the issues raised by it,” Hazarika noted. The Government, he said, must create a situation that can help guarantee the fact that talks would be held if leaders like Paresh Baruah come forward to join the rest of the ULFA leaders who are ready to join the peace process.

DHD leader Dilip Nunisa said the Government must analyse if it was correct to give more importance to those factions of a rebel group who have killed more people or who have been able to demonstrate its military might. “If the Government comes to encourage splinter groups, the problems will get more complicated,” Nunisa observed.

Initiating the discussion at the Round Table, Dr Udayan Misra, National Fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, said the Government’s failure to have an inclusive approach at peace-making is leading to the emergence of splinter groups of rebels on the scene. “Lot of the conflict we are faced with today will ease out if the Government is able to provide distributive justice and ensure the rule of law,” Dr Misra said. “Peace accords and peace process are two different things. Peace accords are ad-hoc arrangements while peace process is something that cannot be limited to negotiations,” he added.

Giving a different perspective, former Assam police chief, G. M. Srivastava, currently security adviser to the state government, said: “There is need for alternative voices in society. But today, dissent appears to be just a search for political space by few individuals. Dialogue is, of course, the best way to resolve conflicts in a region like the Northeast.”

While academics like Dr Noni Gopal Mahanta of Gauhati University said the government cannot close its doors to negotiations with any militant group, others like Col. Manoranjan Goswami, a former Army officer, said the Government cannot keep on holding peace talks with each and every splinter group or new rebel groups that would emerge on the scene. “The Government must identify the main (insurgent) groups and hold peace talks with only such groups,” he said.

Earlier, Dr Monirul Hussain, Head of the Department of Political Science and Sociology, Gauhati University, released the book “Peace Tools and Conflict Nuances in India’s Northeast” edited by CDPS Director Wasbir Hussain and published by Wordweaves India, a Guwahati based publishing house. The book is a collection of essays that includes commentaries on whether Political Science as a discipline can be used to understand and resolve conflicts in a conflict ridden area like the Northeast.

CDPS President Arun Sarma, a noted playwright, welcomed the participants and stressed on the need for the Government to formulate a comprehensive policy on peace talks. Among those who participated at the Round Table include P J Baruah, Executive Editor, The Assam Tribune and Jt. Secretary, CDPS (Hony.), columnist and former ULFA leader Sunil Nath, Kanak Sen Deka, editor, Dainik Agradoot, writer Nitya Bora, peace activist Dilip Patgiri, Gandhian Natwar Thakkar, actor and activist Akashitora Dutta, and IIT Guwahati professor Abu Nasser Ahmed.

 

THE REPORT

The Centre for Development & Peace Studies, Guwahati organized a Round Table titled “Policy on Peace Talks” in Guwahati on 15 September 2010.

Peace activists, militant leaders, academics and journalists, among others, participated in the Round Table to deliberate on whether the Government can declare a moratorium on peace dialogue with newer militant groups or new splinter groups. This excludes those groups which are already in the peace mode and those whom the Government has invited for talk.

 

PARTICIPANTS

1. Padma Sri Natwar Thakkar, eminent Gandhian
2. Dr Manirul Hussain, HoD, Political Science & Sociology, Gauhati University
3. Dr Noni Gopal Mahanta, Gauhati University
4. Mr G M Srivastava, IPS (Retd.), former DGP, Assam and currently Security Advisor, Govt. of Assam
5. Dr Udayon Misra, National Fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science and Research
6. Mr Dilip Nunisa, DHD President
7. Mr Mrinal Hazarika, pro-talk ULFA leader
8. Col. Manoranjan Goswami, writer & former Army Officer
9. Mr Sunil Nath, former ULFA publicity chief, now a columnist
10. Mr Kanak Sen Deka, Editor, Dainik Agradoot & former President of Asom Sahitya Sabha
11. Mr Nitya Bora, writer
12. Mr Dilip Patgiri, peace activist
13. Ms Akashitora Dutta, Actor and activist
14. Prof. Abu Nasser Ahmed, IIT, Guwahati
15. Padma Sri Arun Sarma, President, CDPS
16. Mr Wasbir Hussain, Director, CDPS
17. Mr Prasanta Rajguru, Executive Editor, Amar Asom
& Governning Body member, CDPS
18. Mr PJ Barua, Exeutive Editor, The Assam Tribune & Jt. Secretary (Hony.), CDPS
19. Dr I S Mumtaza, Gauhati University & Member, CDPS
20. Ms Seema Hussain, Journalist & Member, CDPS
21. Ms Rani Pathak Das, Senior Research Associate, CDPS
22. Mr Susanta Talukdar, The Hindu
23. Mr Bijoy Sankar Bora, Chandigarh Tribune
24. Mr Ranen Goswami, Journalist
25. Ms Elizabeth Devi, Researcher
26. Ms Urmimala Sengupta, Researcher

Besides, host of representatives from the media and students and research scholars of Cotton College and Gauhati University attended the Round Table.

 
  ULFA leader Mrinal Hazarika is putting forward his views
  INAUGURAL SESSION

CDPS Director Wasbir Hussain welcomed the guests and participants of the Round Table. The Round Table was preceded by release of the book Peace Tools and Conflict Nuances in India’s Northeast, edited by CDPS Director Wasbir Hussain and published by Wordweaves India, a Guwahati based publishing house. The book is a collection of essays that includes commentaries on whether Political Science as a discipline can be used to understand and resolve conflicts in a conflict ridden area like the Northeast. It was released by Dr Monirul Hussain.

Releasing the book, Dr Monirul Hussain stressed on the need for a holistic inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary approach to understand peace.

  THE DEBATE

Addressing the Round Table, CDPS President Arun Sarma emphasized on the need for the Government to formulate a comprehensive policy on peace talks. He said that apart from the major militant groups, many new groups have appeared in the region. So, it is imperative that the Government formulate a policy as to the desirability and justifiability of carrying on talks with all the militant groups.

The Round Table was moderated by Mr Prashanta Rajguru, Executive Editor, Amar Asom and Governning Body member, CDPS.

Initiating the discussion at the Round Table, Dr Udayon Misra said that the Government’s failure to have an inclusive approach at peace making is causing emergence of splinter groups of militants. Any peace process must be inclusive, should have multiple voices and dialogue is an inevitable part. Government should ensure distributive justice and rule of law to ease out conflicts and facilitate peace process which is not identical with ad hoc means like peace accord. Any conflict should be analyzed under the historical and democratic perspectives. He said that one of the important aspects of democracy is devolution of power. Indian nation state has not remained the same, it has gained experience, whatever experiments are going on here are successful to some extent. Parameters of Indian Constitution have expanded. Compared to Myanmar and other African tribes, our experience is unique.

Mr G M Srivastava, however, said that though dialogue is the best way to resolve conflicts in a region like the Northeast, the need for alternative voices in society cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, here dissent seems to be just a search for political space by a few individuals. He asked if there is a mechanism for social engineering. Do the militants really represent the people of Assam? According to him, even PCG (People’s Consultative Group, a seven member group, was formed by the ULFA to mediate the peace process between the militant group and the Government) and Jatiya Abhibortan (a group including intellectuals, writers, peace activists, etc. formed in 2009 to facilitate the peace process between the Government and the ULFA) do not represent all segments of the society. He posed a question as to which group in Assam really represents the people of Assam. He reiterated that Central and State governments must have peace dialogue with the militants.

Speaking on whether the Government should stop peace talks with splinter groups of major rebel outfits or newer militant groups, Pro-talk ULFA leader Mrinal Hazarika said that at first it should be ascertained if such splinter groups were created by the State or such groups came up because of internal hitches within the outfit. He said, “ULFA has certainly committed errors, but whether anyone can really reject the issues raised by it.” Hazarika said that unless the Government comes forward to tackle the main issues raised by the ULFA, militant leaders like Paresh Baruah will continue to emerge stronger. So, he said, Government must create a situation which can ensure that talks would be held and leaders like Paresh Baruah may come forward to join the rest of the ULFA leaders who are willing to join the peace process. If Government takes the initiative in peace process, he hopes the people of Assam will never reject it.

DHD President Dilip Nunisa did not advocate talks with splinter groups because such talks may lead to other problems in the process of solving the main problem, and will create further complications. So, Government must not encourage formation of newer groups by offering talks and incentives to all such militant groups, which has, in turn, posed another major problem. In short, Government should analyze if it was correct to give more importance to those factions of a rebel group who have killed more people or who have been able to display its military might.

Dr Noni Gopal Mahanta said that Government must keep its doors open to militant groups for negotiations. “An accord-centric approach can yield limited results, but the peace process should have no limitation.”

Col Manoranjan Goswami, former Army officer, suggested that Government must identify the main militant groups and hold peace talks with only such groups and not with any splinter groups as it is just not possible for the Government to hold peace talks with every minor group that may emerge.

Mr Sushanta Talukdar said that it is the Government and the media who give legitimacy to the splinter groups. Once legitimacy is given, Government is bound to talk with them. State, in its design to remain stronger, wants to weaken the militant force by adopting and applying the policy of divide and rule.

Mr P J Barua, Executive Editor, The Assam Tribune, pointed at the identity crisis of the indigenous people of the region in the face of influx of foreign nationals and wanted that the indigenous people should come on a common platform to solve the crisis.

Padma Sri Natwar Thakkar said that in a heterogeneous nature of the northeastern society, ethnic groups have their own separate identity. He said that violence should be abolished at all cost, because an armed people cannot be the representative of the society. So, civil society should aim at building a peaceful society.

Mr Kanak Sen Deka said that until the mindset of people in Assam is changed, there can be no cohesive civil society that can contribute meaningfully to the process of peace making. The mindset is narrowing down to minor communal issues.

Prof Abu Nasser Ahmed observed that the role of State government in peace process is silent and the Central government’s policy is not clear. He argued that doors of discussion should be opened to the core militant groups instead of the splinter groups and that the civil society’s role in tribal places is in a dormant state.

Mr Nitya Borah said that though nation building process started in 1947, the concept of a nation state was not developed except for cultural integration. The colonial legacy of the Ahoms is followed even now. The very policy of the State is at the roots of all evil.

Ms Akashitora Dutta said that the PCG was not the representative of the people. From 1979 till date, it is found that more than 12,000 people were killed. A fear psychosis has developed among the victims of terrorist activities which has to be removed. At the same time, terrorists willing to surrender think of something in return. So conditions must be laid down in the peace policy.

  CONCLUSION

Concluding the Round Table, CDPS Director Wasbir Hussain said that dialogue should continue and there should not be any moratorium on peace talks. He, however, said peace dialogues must be held by the Government only with such insurgent groups who enjoy genuine legitimacy. It is found that the splinter militant groups are formed because of the strategy of postponing the peace process by the government.

The Round Table concluded with a vote of thanks from the CDPS Director with the hope that there would be further deliberations in near future on the peace process.

 

CDPS book released

 
  Dr Monirul Hussain, Head of the Department of Political Science and Sociology, Gauhati University, releasing the book “Peace Tools and Conflict Nuances in India’s Northeast”