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No More Talk with Insurgent Groups


rani pathak das
senior research associate, centre for development and peace studies

The Government of India, fighting armed separatist rebels for six decades, is having a new challenge. The challenge is, talking peace or agreeing to talk peace with each and every insurgent group, big or small, the breakaway factions, those with some sort of an ideology or without. But now, an answer to this challenge becomes clear and strong, when on 5 January 2013, Mr Shambhu Singh, Joint Secretary (Northeast), Ministry of Home Affairs stated that the Government has a plan in the pipeline to take a decision that it shall no longer hold talks with any insurgent group, anywhere in the country. Mr Singh’s statement means that the decision to this effect has been taken at the highest level at the MHA.

The idea of a ‘moratorium’ on peace talks found ground way back in July 2010 when media reports quoting the then Home Minister P Chidambaram said that the Government was considering the possibility of declaring a moratorium on peace talks, particularly with newer militant groups or factions (The Telegraph, July 16, 2010). In this context, the Centre for Development & Peace Studies, Guwahati organized a round table titled 'Policy on Peace Talks' on 15 September 2010, in Guwahati. 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 excluding those groups which are already in the peace mode and those whom the Government has invited for talks.

The Government’s effort to bring the rebels to a ceasefire mode in order to maintain order and stability was indeed necessary. Every significant group, or at least factions within each, is now in a truce with the government in insurgency-hit Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura. Hundreds of rebel fighters have been lodged by the government in the so called ‘designated camps’, as they await ‘acceptable solutions’ to their ‘problems’ through negotiations with the authorities. The challenge for the Government is to carry on multiple peace processes to the next level – an indeed complex process, since in many cases, demands of one insurgent group contradict the others’.

Again, it has to be seen whether peace talk with any particular rebel group is indirectly providing a status of legitimacy to that group. For instance, the Government in engaging the NSCN-IM in peace talks since the past 15 years, has only succeeded to control the so called ‘violence’, but the group has been openly carrying out its extortions, smuggling of narcotics and arms to smaller outfits to expand their area of control. Mostly, it is the Government and the media who give legitimacy to the splinter groups. Once legitimacy is attained, Government invariably starts peace talks with such groups. Thus, while on one hand, the Government is giving legitimacy to the demands raised by the rebels, on the other, it seems to be clueless as to what could be offered to the different groups in their respective peace deals. BTC was formed for the Bodos after talks with the BLT. But what will be offered to the other groups like the two factions of the NDFB who have been still fighting for their demands in Bodoland? Similar is the problem with the NSCN or the DHD.

In this context, the present statement of Mr Shambhu Singh is significant. He said, “the reason is that every time you talk to a group, a small remnant of the group tends to break away and again continues with illegal and prejudicial activities. These break-away groups think that they will be given the same moral high grounds and be given the chance to sit across the table with their list of demands which are often non-existent……They better surrender.” In the tripartite dialogue between the Centre, the Meghalaya Government and ANVC (Achik National Volunteer Council) held in Shillong on 5 January, the Joint Secretary (Northeast) MHA sounded stern and straight even to the ANVC clearing them that the concept of general amnesty would never happen. Again, his reply to the question of holding talks with the GNLA (Garo National Liberation Army) was: “How do you expect that the Government will invite these rogues to the talking table and make them sit at the talking table?” Such reactions are remarkable.

Ceasefire by militant groups for dialogue and negotiations has played a key role in maintaining the region’s stability. Peace process should become a tool to achieve peace and not an instrument for delaying conflict. The government agencies are well aware of the realities of the difficult situation on the ground.

Questions have always been raised as to whether there is any need for the Government at all to give importance to different splinter groups or groups that have been creating havoc. The long-drawn-out peace talks and negotiations that follow ceasefires without coming to an end at some meaningful resolutions has the potential ranging from violation of ceasefire rules, factional clashes, as well as giving birth to newer factions or new insurgent outfits. Peace talks are giving incentive to some, while those who are left out form new rebel groups to fight for their own causes. Thus, the big question remains: are the talks backfiring? Here, fresh talks with new militant groups imply more militant groups emerging. Therefore, the Government must form a firm policy on peace talks where there will be confirmation that henceforth no more talks will take place with any fresh militant groups.

So there is a need for the Government to formulate a comprehensive policy on peace talks. It is true 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.