PAST EVENTs

DIALOGUE

ROAD TO PEACE AND PROGRESS IN SOUTH ASIA:
LEARNING FROM THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

(Organised by the Centre for Development and Peace Studies with support from the British Deputy High Commission, Kolkata, at Guwahati, December 20 & 21, 2005)

A Report


Analysing and learning about the major conflicts prevailing in South Asia and examining the various approaches to peace-making in these nations was the main thrust of the two-day dialogue.

H I G H L I G H T S

  • CDPS Director Mr Wasbir Hussain noted that the region is marred by complex non-traditional security problems that calls for unconventional approaches at solutions.
  • British Deputy High Commissioner Dr. Andrew Hall expressed the view that in an increasingly interdependent world, everyone has a stake in addressing the causes and consequences of conflict.
  • Special guest Dr. Indira Goswami laid stress on inclusion of peace studies in the academic curriculum.
  • Assam Chief Minister Mr. Tarun Gogoi, during his key-note address,          promised safe passage to the ULFA leaders to facilitate direct peace talks.
  • CDPS President Mr Tapan Lal Baruah called upon both India and the UK to engage in more joint ventures and take bilateral relations to a new high.
  • Prof. Sridhar Khatri suggested evolving early warning mechanisms in the South Asian region to check impending trouble.
  • Ameen Izzadeen contended that more than anything else, placing ethnic identities above national identity is the fundamental reason behind the conflict situation in Sri Lanka.
  • Shahedul Anam Khan exuded confidence that moderate Bengali Muslims in Bangladesh conforming to liberal values of Islam would subdue jehadi elements rearing their ugly head at present.
  • Dr. Indira Goswami stressed on Gandhian teachings to mould the younger generation positively in a conflict environment.
  • Ram S Mahat said that democracy has been a boon, not bane for Nepal despite many inner contradictions.
  • Partho S Ghosh made a case for Assam to shed its Northeast tag as it has not been of any benefit to the State economically.
  • Binalakshmi Nepram said that insurgencies in Northeast India are driven purely by ethno-nationalism among the different ethnic groups who are increasingly engaged in asserting their distinct identities.
  • Nani G. Mahanta called for enhancing trans-national cooperation in South and South-east Asia to address the major problems of the region.
  • L.T Pudaite saluted the strong will of the masses for being the chief driving force behind establishment and sustenance of peace after a long drawn conflict in Mizoram, where he hails from.        

WELCOME ADDRESS OF DIRECTOR, CDPS
 

Welcoming the participants and guests CDPS Director Mr Wasbir Hussain said that the challenges faced by the South Asian region have both internal as well as external dimensions. The region is marred by complex security problems and may need unconventional solutions. Deft handling shall be required both at the political and social levels, he observed, and hoped that the Dialogue would enable analysts and observers in India’s Northeast to learn from the peace-making approaches in countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal etc.

ADDRESS OF BRITISH DEPUTY HIGH COMMISSIONER TO EASTERN INDIA, Dr ANDREW HALL 

Dr. Andrew Hall, British Deputy High Commissioner to Eastern India, stressed on finding a clear road to peace and progress in the region. He lamented that conflict disfigures and destabilizes significant parts of South Asia. Conflict can provide havens for criminal and terrorist activity and can have a devastating impact on some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. All have a stake in addressing the causes and consequences of conflict in an increasing interdependent world and keeping this in mind, the British Government strongly supports conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction. Great Britain is also seeking to improve the UN’s response to humanitarian crises. The Deputy High Commissioner also expressed pleasure at the presence of speakers from countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. In his concluding remarks, he cautioned that there are no easy solutions to the problems South Asia is facing, but was very optimistic that through a collective effort, a lasting solution could be worked out.  

INAUGURAL ADDRESS OF SPECIAL GUEST, Dr Indira Goswami

Special guest Dr. Indira Goswami said in her address that the world is craving for peace and is tired of bloodshed. Dismissing the notion of cynics that dawn breaks in the Northeast of India with the sound of guns, she clarified that it is the chirping of birds that ushers in every new day in the region. She further added that yearning for peace is a basic human tendency, and violence only an aberration. The eminent litterateur pinned great hopes on Gandhian ideology and a spiritual path as fruitful means of conflict resolution. She also shared with the participants her experiences of meeting cadres of insurgent groups like ULFA and their family members. She emphahised on the need for introducing a peace studies in educational institutions in the country, particularly in conflict-ridden areas.

KEYNOTE ADDRESS OF CHIEF MINISTER OF ASSAM, Mr Tarun Gogoi   

Greatly appreciating the initiative of CDPS in organizing a dialogue on an issue of vital importance to South Asian region, Chief Minister of Assam Mr. Tarun Gogoi emphatically stated that there would be no stopping the Asian tigers from emerging as a major economic player in the world if they join hands to fight terror and support each other in resolving all the prevailing conflicts. The Chief Minister also reminded that sister nations of South Asia share a common heritage. Speaking in the context of the North Eastern region’s development, he said that devolution of power at the grass roots is the best means to usher in all-round development and rejected the view point that autonomy to different ethnic groups in the State would result in fragmentation of the society. The Chief Minister appealed to Assam’s main insurgent outfit, the ULFA, to come forward for talks and promised to offer the outfit’s leadership safe passage if they responded favourably.

VOTE OF THANKS BY PRESIDENT CDPS, Mt T.L.Baruah         

CDPS President Mr. Tapan Lal Baruah thanked Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi for an encouraging speech and all the participants for their presence. He presented a brief sketch of insurgency related  events starting from 1980. Mr Baruah pointed out that India has inherited many positives from the British Raj in the fields of administration and policing and hoped that new ventures between governments of India and Great Britain would immensely benefit both the countries.     

PAPER I             

Prof. Sridhar Khatri
Executive Director, South Asia Centre For Policy Studies, Kathmandu

In his paper, Prof. Sridhar Khatri says that conflicts afflicting South Asia are basically of two types- inter state and intra state. An asymmetrical power structure leads to conflict and poor governance further compounds the problems. Conflict is a permanent recurring phenomena and has a life cycle. Conflict is not always bad and may bring about positive results also. Prof Khatri ridiculed some exaggerated ideas that have emerged after 9/11 (World Trade Centre incident) in understanding terrorism.

Insurgency in South Asia is not just about certain violent events; rather it is a process that has emerged due to failure on the part of the state to redress the grievances of various sections of society. To understand this process in its entirety, it is not sufficient to look at insurgent groups and their activities alone. The entire process of governance needs to be looked at. He refused to put the entire blame on state and also pulled up non-state actors for dereliction in various spheres.

The paper expressed dissatisfaction at the fact that the state always resorted to military means to quell conflicts, most of which erupt due to poor governance. Laws formulated against terrorism in most South Asian countries are harsh in nature and curb the liberty of citizens. More disturbing is the fact that the scope of such laws is increasing by the day. The paper informed of many such laws in different countries of South Asia that also includes the draconian TADA, POTA and AFSPA in India. Branding the use of military means as a knee-jerk reaction, the paper strongly opined that use of such means only aggravated the problem and lead to further confusion.

The paper also took a special interest in India’s Northeast and said that conflicts are present at various levels- between centre and state, amongst states of the region, within the states, amongst ethnic groups of the region, between the indigenous population and outsiders in the region etc.

He regretted that there are no mechanisms for institutional learning in South Asia. Role of civil society is not defined and also dissatisfactory. Sometimes civil society takes up a political role and primarily for this reason, government sees it as an external force and views it with distrust.

The paper gave many valuable suggestions as well. It called for a coordinated networking of civil societies in South Asia. To check impending trouble, the paper called for evolving early warning mechanisms.  

PAPER II

Sri Lanka: Negotiating the Road to Peace

Ameen Izzadeen
Deputy Editor, The Sunday Times, Colombo 

The paper examined the reasons behind conflict in the island nation and found that Sri Lanka is a country sharply divided on ethnic, linguistic, religious, and other socio-politico-economic lines. Giving a clearer picture of the ethnic position, the paper said that the Sinhalese constituted 70% of the population, North East Tamils 12%, Tamils of Indian origin 5% and Muslims 8%. The paper rued the fact that the ethnic groups place their ethnic identity before national identity. Making all the ethnic groups assert their Sri Lankan identity over respective ethnic identities has been a major challenge on the path to peace.

The paper further probed this divide by studying the mindset of the main ethnic groups. It said that for the Sinhalese, the Sinhala Buddhist identity is synonymous with the Sri Lankan identity. The Tamils complained of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese while Muslims saw themselves as ‘a people apart’ from the majority. All the ethnic groups suffered from a sense of insecurity and do not even mix with each other.

The paper said that to assert their identity strongly after Independence, the Sinhala ruling elite made Sinhala the official language, gave state protection to Buddhism and formulated land and education policies favouring them. But the hardline Sinhala nationalists shed much of their rigidity after LTTE, the insurgent group fighting for a separate homeland for Tamils, achieved many military successes and kept Sri Lanka burning.

A negotiated settlement was favoured and ceasefire agreement signed with LTTE in 2002. But with the election of hardliner Mahindra Rajapakshe as Sri Lankan President in the November 17, 2005 Presidential elections, there is a fear that the brief thaw in acrimonious Sinhala-Tamil relations is likely to be broken. The new President’s promise of maximum devolution of power within a unitary state looks largely unrealistic.

The paper also looked at other roadblocks to peace and role of Norway as a peace facilitator. It says a lasting solution to the conflict situation could be possible only through devolution of powers to the Tamils in the country’s North East. The major impediment, however, is that Sri Lanka is a unitary state and the majority community views political reforms and establishment of federalism with fear and contempt. The paper also took a dig at the Norwegians and said they are pursuing an elusive peace agenda which does not have any sanction of the Sinhala majority.

In the concluding part, the paper made it clear that patience and prudence shall be required to solve the problem. It called for granting reasonable concessions to minorities and draw lessons from the Indian Constitution which upholds both secularism and federalism and bestows significant rights to minorities. 

QUESTIONS PUT UP AND OBSERVATIONS MADE DURING DISCUSSIONs ON PAPER I AND II                

  • Do we need to hang on to foreign models of nation building or should we follow and cherish our own approaches. Whether we in India have been able to overcome the prejudices of narrow nationalism.
  • Will it be possible to develop institutional response mechanism in the whole of South Asia when no such mechanism exists even within the countries.
  • Democracy is looked upon as a solution to problems that nation-states face. But poor governance has resulted in problems of insurgency. How this paradox can be explained.
  • What actually constitutes civil society.

 

The Answers: A direct explanation of the definition of civil society should be avoided to create further confusion over the mater. Given the current political structure in the South Asian region, a response mechanism is not working but it is possible due to certain common strings. Irrespective of failures on certain fronts, democracy is still the best means to redress grievances and there is no compulsion on South Asian countries to imitate foreign models of nation building.              

PAPER III

Bangladesh: The Middle Path To Peace

Shahedul Anam Khan
Defence & Strategic Affairs Editor, The Daily Star, Dhaka

The paper by Shahedul Anam Khan was a well segmented one consisting of four parts.
In the first part, the paper looked at the current regional security situation in South Asia and drew attention towards Indo centricity of the region. The paper expressed some concern at nuclearisation of South Asia with both India and Pakistan becoming nuclear powers and said that future environment in South Asia would be dictated largely by Indo-Pak relations. The paper pointed to the fact that after 1996, many countries of South Asia had seen change in governments and with that, there has been a welcome attitudinal change of the regional leadership as regards South Asian unity.

In the second part, the paper discussed Bangladesh’s security concerns which have both internal and external dimensions. It said that though democracy gained strength in Bangladesh after its revival in 1990, the abysmal role played by the two major parties weakened parliamentary democratic ethos and allowed fissiparous elements like religious extremists to exploit the situation and strengthen their base. The external security dimension largely revolves round India as the largest neighbour that locks Bangladesh on three sides. Mainly due to the negative fallout of the rise of religious extremism in Bangladesh, India has started looking at Bangladesh as a major security threat.

In the third part, the paper studied the rise of religious extremism in Bangladesh and its potential of destabilizing the country. The paper talked of a symbiosis between religious extremists in Bangladesh and other international Islamist organizations. The use of some madrassas to impart radical messages is disturbing, conceded the paper but appreciated government moves of making madrassa syllabus more eclectic. The paper asked the question whether Bangladesh is going the Afghanistan way but allayed all such fears by saying that the moderate Bengali Muslim conforms to liberal values of Islam and would never allow extremists to distort Islam for achieving narrow goals.

The paper admitted that the South Asian situation is fluid but pinned great hope on SAARC to devise ways to coalesce member nations and project a common position against common threats.

PAPER IV

Nepal: Governance vs. Insurgent Politics

Ram S. Mahat
Author and Former Finance Minister, Nepal

In the wake of the Palace blaming poor governance under democracy for the rise in Maoist insurgency, Ram S. Mahat embarked on a fact finding mission and with the help of statistics contended that it is not democracy but the political players who have failed Nepal. The paper informed that post-Panchayat democracy from 1991 onwards actually changed the face of Nepal. Market oriented economic reforms were initiated, power was decentralized, and substantial investments made in social sector which included education, health, drinking water, and rural development. The average longevity of the Nepali went up, infant and maternal mortality ratio decreased, adult literacy, school enrolment and access to safe drinking water went up. On the whole, Nepal’s position in human development index (HDI) improved to 140 from 152.

The paper asked a pertinent question- if progress under democracy was satisfactory, what inspired Maoist insurgency? The paper then searched the answer and informed that Nepal’s backwardness and poverty is so deep rooted and extensive, the modest gain from democracy was too little to make a dent on a vast ocean of backwardness. Coupled with that is the fact that Nepal’s diversity on ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious lines has never been respected and groups like Dalits and women remained a perennially oppressed lot. All this provided a perfect breeding ground for the growth of Maoist insurgency.

The paper rejected the view that Maoists enjoy popular support and said that the Maoist reign of terror is based on coercive and brutal methods, thereby forcing people to accept their writ across Nepal. There has been two peace attempts in the past, but Maoists have shrewdly used both occasions to consolidate their position.

The paper made it clear that the success of present peace initiatives to resolve the conflict situation would depend to a large extent on the stand of both Maoists and the monarchy. The paper wanted monarchy to restore democracy and adhere to constitutionalism while Maoists have been advised to shed ideological rigidity, accommodate other political views and decommission their armed forces under reasonable terms.


QUESTIONS PUT UP AND OBSERVATIONS MADE DURING DISCUSSION ON PAPER III AND IV
  • Who are the actual representatives of civil society and what could be a clearer definition of peace and progress?
  • What attitude has the King shown in involving women in the peace process of the country? Can the process be enriched if women are given a greater role?
  • Is the jehadi problem in Bangladesh a sudden development or is it the underpinning of something brewing for quite some time?
  • The Indian sub-continent has entered into an era of coalitions. Some of these coalition partners like the Jaamat-I-Islami subscribe to extremism and violence. Is it true that coalition compulsions have bred violence?

 
The Answers: The jehadis are responsible for the current violence in Bangladesh.     They have even targeted members of the civil society. But civil society has joined hands and is unitedly resisting the jehadis. It is also a misperception that Pakistan’s ISI has taken over Bangladesh.
     Many women groups are playing a commendable role in Nepal’s peace process.             

PAPER V

Dr. Indira Goswami
Novelist and Peace Facilitator

Dr. Indira Goswami’s paper radiated an earnest desire of the litterateur to see her home state Assam, beleaguered by conflicts of a myriad nature, excel in all fields.

Dr. Goswami is crestfallen at the magnitude of influx of students from India’s Northeast to Delhi and wanted to know whether it is a fallout of the insurgency situation in the region. In her quest to find out reasons behind this influx as also the key problems afflicting Assam, she interviewed a few students and professionals from the region. There is unanimity in their view that insurgency, a decay in the educational system and poor infrastructure are the main problems plaguing the State.

Coalescing her own views with that of suggestions she received from interviewees, Dr. Goswami put forward a strong action plan to catapult the State to greater heights in all spheres. In the educational front, Dr. Goswami called for a complete overhaul of the academic curriculum. Computer literacy should be attached importance and campus recruitment programmes arranged to give proper placement to educated youths. Efforts should also be made to upgrade some universities in the Northeast as centres of excellence and give priority to teacher training programmes. Above all, the paper called for inclusion of peace studies in academic curriculum to orient the psyche of youths in a proper direction.

In the economic sphere, an improvement should be brought about in infrastructure with particular emphasis on construction of roads, generation of more power, and providing clean water to all. A boost to tourism and intensification of flood control measures is also suggested.

The paper refused to endorse military action as means to subdue conflicts and demands scrapping of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from the region. She admitted honestly that her admiration for the Indian Army known for its great valour has been eroded to a great extent after she stumbled upon evidence of killing of ULFA cadres, mostly women in fake encounters by the soldiers. Dr. Goswami said she too has lost many near and dear ones due to insurgency.

In the last part of her paper, Dr. Goswami made a fervent plea to introduce Gandhian studies in academic curriculum. Elucidating her strong belief in the teachings of Gandhism, she said his teachings may have been forgotten with the passage of time but have tremendous power to mould the younger generation positively.

PAPER VI


Meeting the Challenges of Peace Building in India’s North East: A Holistic Perspective

Partha S. Ghosh
Visiting Professor, OKD Institute, Guwahati

Partha S. Ghosh addressed issues of critical importance to Assam and the rest of India’s north eastern region in his paper. The paper was of the view that India’s Northeast is a unique laboratory of ethnicities, religions, languages, races and looks, and where a highly complex process of national integration is constantly underway.

For purposes of clarity and greater understanding, the paper was divided into five sections. The first section viewed India’s Northeast from the prism of tribal and non- tribal groupings. It said that tribal population not only formed a sizeable chunk of the population, some of these tribal communities were also a restive lot. While linguistic factors form the core of India’s federal model in other parts, in Northeast ethnicity is the main factor.

The second part delved into the historical debate on the best way to incorporate tribal communities into a unified India with pointed references to the Constituent Assembly debates. It said that two schools of thought on the matter resulted in incorporation of two schedules in the Indian Constitution- fifth & sixth- to deal with the issue. In accordance with the Sixth Schedule, Autonomous District Councils (ADC’s) were formed in tribal areas but have largely been failures. On account of the above, the paper seeked opinion on whether the provisions of fifth schedule aimed at assimilation of tribals into the Indian ‘mainstream’ should only prevail.

The third section took up Assam’s case and discussed Assam’s identity crisis and economic dilemma. The paper said Assam is a microcosm of India’s Northeast with no ‘majoritarian’ population in terms of ethnic and linguistic groups. The paper strongly contended that Assam should shed its Northeast tag as it has not been beneficial to the State economically.

The fourth section took up the security dynamics and said that India’s Northest is seething with unrest for various reasons. But, of late, insurgency has degenerated more into a money-making industry in the region, said the paper.

In the concluding part, the paper said that tightening the screws of governance alone can address the real problems.
 


QUESTIONS PUT UP AND OBSERVATIONS MADE DURING DISCUSSION ON PAPER V and VI               

 

  • Any attempt to divide the Northeast into tribal and non-tribal areas, even for academic purposes cannot be appreciated. There is always ground for reconsideration of such a scheme having a divisive character.
  • There is a need to condemn both state terrorism and terror acts of insurgent groups in the same breath. Heinous acts like kidnapping and murder of social activist Sanjay Ghosh by the ULFA brings a bad name to the Northeast region.
  • Where should the line to differentiate individual rights from group rights be drawn?
  • Should we have a rethink over the notion of state security? How long will the Northeast remain hostage to state security?

The Answers: The business of governing a state is a different ball game altogether and one should adopt a realistic approach while analyzing the factors of governance. There is no contradiction between individual rights and group rights. The Uniform Civil Code can be cited as an example. There is also no dichotomy between state and civil society. It must be reminded that civil society could operate only in a democracy and not a dictatorial regime. All members of civil society should strive to create an atmosphere conducive for redressal of grievances              

PAPER VII

Ethno-Nationalism in India’s Northeast: Can Homelands Fulfill the People’s Aspirations?

Binalakshmi Nepram
Centre For International Studies, New Delhi

Binalakshmi Nepram’s paper was an exhaustive discourse that sought to find out whether homelands carved out on ethnic lines could fulfill people’s aspirations and in course of this, touched on a variety of subjects ranging from ethnicity to small arms. The paper said that an immensely diverse Northeast India, home to around 272 ethnic groups and communities and speaking approximately 400 languages and dialects, has been facing the onslaught of ethnicities-based armed conflicts since the late 1940’s. Citing the examples of Naga-Manipuri and Assam-neighbouring states conflict in 2001 and 2005 respectively, the paper explained that this ethnicity-driven conflict is not just directed against the state (demands for secession and autonomy), but the ethnic groups also target each other.

The paper traced the genesis of this ethnic conflict to the British period as the British ruled this region more as a territorial appendage than integral administrative unit and left the ethnic groups to live in their own ways.

It said that first sparks of ethno-nationalism in India’s Northeast came in the form of armed insurgent movements but honestly recorded the fact that at the initial phase, all movements were peaceful and non-violent.

The rise of ethno-nationalism in the states of Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram is discussed in some detail in the paper. The grievance of Manipuris has been that India has annexed Manipur illegitimately. In Tripura, the influx of Bengali Hindus from neighbouring Bangladesh had driven the indigenous tribal population of the state to resort to an armed rebellion. A near similar reason, influx of Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh is ascribed as the   fundamental reason for beginning of insurgency in Assam in the shape of ULFA’s uprising. In Meghalaya, the phenomenon is relatively new, said the paper.

The paper defined the crisis in the Northeast as one of identity, insecurity, and underdevelopment. It called for shunning the dangerous practice of policy makers in Delhi to look at the region as ‘one’ and honour its diversity. Reminding that violence begets violence, the paper wanted proliferation of small arms to stop. The paper also argued that policy makers should have a clearer insight of problems of the region and build adequate infrastructure for the region’s economic development and mitigation of grievances.

PAPER VIII

Building Transnational Connections with South and South-east Asian Countries: Scenario from Northeast India

Nani G. Mahanta
Gauhati University

Nani G. Mahanta’s paper took up the dilemma of how to manage borders in post-Cold War time and space, where there is a need both to uphold the border as a traditional defence line, and simultaneously to open it up for purposes of trade, commerce and socio-cultural interaction. Addressing this dilemma, the paper said that in a globalised world environment, enhancing trans-national cooperation in socio-economic fields is both a possibility and a necessity and can be done without withdrawing the security role of border. This is of critical importance for South and South-east Asia, the paper contended. It also added that increasing trans-national cooperation will also help in resolving some intractable conflicts in the region.

Mere identification of psychological alienation and economic underdevelopment as reasons fuelling insurgency in the Northeastern region is a myopic vision. They indeed are reasons, but to understand the conflict situation in the region in its entirety, one must strive to understand the psyche of communities who have been vehemently resisting integration with the Indian nation-state. Banking on history, they eulogize the region’s historical autonomy from mainland India and bask in memories of independent old kingdoms. Ethnically, the large majority of indigenous population of Northeast India belong to different subgroups of the Mongoloid stock whose other cognate branches are found in South-western China and South-east Asia. As such, strong cultural linkages between the ethnic groups of the South-east Asian region could easily be identified.

The paper next took up issues of immigration and illegal trade in the Northeast and discussed prospects for future. It wanted a halt to immigration in future but suggested that migrants from impoverished Bangladesh, who cross over to states like Assam purely as a survival strategy, could be made a part of the greater Assamese culture.  The paper disseminated vital information on illegal trade in the region. Quoting from Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE) statistics, it says the total volume of illegal trade for the NE region has been estimated to be a whopping Rs. 331 crores annually. The paper wanted this trade to be legalized so that economic benefits could percolate deep down the society. Emphatically stating that non-cooperation has only helped drug and arms dealers, the paper said that benefits of trans-national cooperation in South and South-east Asia would far outweigh perceived damages.       

PAPER IX

Negotiating with Insurgency and Holding On To Peace: The Mizoram Experience

L.T Pudaite

Former Indian Ambassador to Myanmar

L.T Pudaite’s paper brought to light aspects of Mizoram insurgency hitherto unknown or of which very little is known.

The paper began with the absorbing tale of MNF founder Laldenga’s shrewdness; of how Laldenga foxed Assam’s then Chief Minister B.P Chaliha into believing that his aim is only to capture the district council while clandestinely arranging training for MNF cadres for the initial onslaught. The paper informed that while the MNF top leadership was actually in two minds at the time immediately preceding start of the violent insurgency movement in 1966, the church in Mizoram was entirely opposed to violence and had even started spadework to bring about a negotiated settlement with Govt. of India.

But events around late 60’s and early 70’s were ominous for Laldenga and his MNF;  in safe sanctuary in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) at the time and receiving active support from Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Pakistan had lost the 1971 battle with India and forfeited claim over East Pakistan, which had now become the independent nation of Bangladesh. Dejected, many top ranking MNF leaders surrendered before Indian authorities and considerably weakened Laldenga’s position. A desperate Laldenga was now in search of an amicable political settlement but the coming of a rigid Janata Party government to power at the Centre in 1977 made the negotiating road somewhat thorny for Laldenga.

Laldenga got a breather when the Congress (I) led by Indira Gandhi returned to power at the Centre in 1980. Peace negotiations after that had virtually become a                                       see-saw ride for Laldenga, MNF gaining ground sometimes and at other times losing it. Laldenga scored a few points in 1984 by helping the Congress (I) to win assembly elections in Mizoram. Laldenga scrawled further towards grabbing political power in Mizoram after the 1984 assembly elections. Finally, the peace accord technically titled ‘Memorandum of Settlement’ was signed on 30 June, 1986 between MNF and Govt. of India. Incumbent Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla stepped down in favour of the MNF, and Laldenga became the Chief Minister of Mizoram.

The paper in its concluding pages enlisted the main factors behind the Accord as also factors responsible for prevalence of peace from June 30, 1986 till now. The general public, fed up with continued acts of violence mounted further pressure on Laldenga once his political ambitions became quite clear. The sacrifice of former Chief Ministers Lal Thanhawla and Ch. Chhunga were also contributing factors for peace, said the paper.

The paper hinted at dissatisfaction over implementation of crucial clauses of the Peace Accord by leaders at the helm but gave overwhelming credit to the will of people in ending insurgency and sustaining it thus far.

QUESTIONS PUT UP AND OBSERVATIONS MADE DURING DISCUSSION ON PAPER VII, VIII AND IX               

  • Can homelands actually fulfill aspirations of the people in Northeast of India
  • Insurgents or arms dealers cannot thrive without receiving support from members of civil society. There is a need to understand this fact and isolate all such overground elements who are hand in glove with insurgent armies
  • Many ethnic groups of the Northeastern region resist being called tribals. In the wake of this development, has the need arisen to look at a different meaning for such terms
  • Should we also not look at economic factors for mitigation of problems confronting the region

 The Answers: It is really difficult to tell whether homelands can actually fulfill people’s aspirations. What is, however well known is that China provided arms and training to many Northeast insurgent groups till late 70’s as part of their state policy. Presently, Thailand is a thriving market for purchase of all kinds of modern arms and ammunition. The importance of economic development for redressal of grievances could never be underestimated. It is a fact that many young people in the Northeast are directionless today as there is a dearth of viable economic avenues in the region to absorb them.   

 

VALEDICTORY SESSION

                  
All the suggestions made by guest speakers and participants for resolution of conflicts in South Asian region came up for discussion at the Valedictory session. The Dialogue was hailed by all participants as a great learning experience. It was also unanimously agreed that in the Dialogue, conflict was discussed in an open and non-partisan manner. The session endorsed Prof. Sridhar Khatri’s suggestion for setting up early warning mechanisms to check proliferation of conflicts in future. Dr. Indira Goswami’s call for incorporating peace studies and Gandhian teachings in academic curriculum was greatly appreciated during the session. Binalakshmi Nepram’s appeal to policy makers to respect ethnic sensitivities in the region was also supported. The session also welcomed Nani G. Mahanta’s suggestion for greater trans-national cooperation in the region. Coordination of efforts for socio-politico-economic advancement in the region and a holistic and flexible approach to end conflicts was the underlying message of the seminar.