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Can ‘armed peace’ in Assam lead to real peace?


Executive Director, centre for development and peace studies

Words like peace, security, armed conflict etc. are common in any insurgency or counter–insurgency lexicon. But, of late, a coinage that has been in use for some years seems to find echo more often in security seminars and conferences, and that is the one called ‘armed peace.’ I heard this the other day at a South Asian security conference in New Delhi, being used by a well known strategic affairs analyst, a former Indian Navy Commodore.

I am aware the coinage ‘armed peace’ has been used in the case of Europe to describe the situation in certain parts, but I have realized that perhaps we are heading towards an intractable phase of ‘armed peace’ in South Asia, and the turbulent Northeast of India is no exception. At regular intervals, I am reminded, as all of you are, by Assam’s Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi that there is peace in the State now because people are out on the streets till late in the night!

Well, the Government and the security establishment in Assam might find solace in the fact that the authorities are talking peace with 13 militant groups or factions in the State. But, according to the State Government’s own admission, there are still 12 rebel groups active in Assam, of which six have been formed in the past two years. So, if we are to take into account the fact that talks are on with as many as 13 groups, including three frontline groups like the ULFA and the two NDFB factions, we should be actually having some peace in the State as these outfits are on a truce mode.

But what we are actually having is ‘armed peace’ because the cadres of these pro–talk rebel outfits are largely confined to designated camps while the armed security force personnel are engaged without a break in trying to check the activities of the rest of the rebels who are still opposed to joining the peace process and are continuing their violent armed campaigns. If anyone is seeking to achieve peace through the use of arms, it would be nothing more than ‘armed peace’ and that cannot restore either lasting peace or peace in the real sense of the term in any society or state. If there is a reduction in the scale of militant violence over the mid–nineties in Assam, we can at best say it is ‘armed peace’ that is prevailing.

If we are to look at the possible end to certain conflicts like that of the ULFA or the NDFB in view of the peace talks that are underway, we need to look as to why they began in the first place. Simply put, the root cause of any conflict must first be diagnosed before any peace process can start or make headway. Unfortunately, what the Government seems to be best at in so far as dealing with insurgents in states like Assam is to postpone peace by not reaching acceptable solutions within a reasonable time frame. May be, the authorities are clueless on dealing with groups like the NDFB, and, that, too, with two factions of the same group!

There is another tragedy: peace talks are between the Government and the armed outfits. But, what about the role therein of the victims and the ordinary civilians who are impacted the most by any insurgency and counter–insurgency situation? Don’t the unarmed civilians and the victims have a stake? There are instances in the world when insurgents sought civil society participation in the peace process. A fine example is that of the the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who actually wanted civil society role in the peace talks to end the civil war, and not the Columbian Government!

In so far as the Northeast is concerned, ‘armed peace’ is not enough. The draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which is in force in the region, has not succeeded in containing insurgency. Talking peace to one and sundry rebel gangs is also not a great idea. So, what is a good thing to do? Most are clueless and that is the reality! (Courtesy: The Sentinel)