How prolonged periods of ceasefire are engendering disquiet among insurgent groups in North East

Cessation of hostilities between a State and a non-state group should follow a series of steps that leads to a comprehensive resolution

Jaideep Saikia January 27, 2022 07:23:15 IST
How prolonged periods of ceasefire are engendering disquiet among insurgent groups in North East

Deadly militant attack on an Indian Army convoy occured in Manipur in 2015. PTI

Although suspension of operations has been anvilled with a number of insurgent outfits in the North East, a robust follow-up mechanism has — for one reason or the other — circuited the practice. This has led to prolonged periods of ceasefire engendering thereby a sense of not only disquiet among the once warring groups but has acted as “stalling-strategy” for militant outfits that have been waiting in the wings to enter into dialogue.

The lament that is making the rounds is that “if New Delhi cannot even find a reasonable resolution to the Naga problem which will complete 25 years of cessation of hostilities on 1 August 2022, lesser groups would certainly be caught in a bigger traffic jam”.

Indeed, in a sense, the grievance is not wholly without substance. Cessation of hostilities between a state and a non-state group should follow a series of steps that leads to a comprehensive resolution. The path, which a peace process normally takes after a ceasefire is instituted, is expected to be less unwieldy than the one that precedes a ceasefire. Whereas the dynamics that could govern the pre-ceasefire stage can be a long-drawn-out affair, with protracted in-camera parleys, entry and engagement of intermediaries, mediators and intelligence agencies, an ably managed post-ceasefire situation should ideally result in early resolution.

As a matter of fact, prolongation of a post-ceasefire period is deemed unnecessary, as much of the groundwork on which a future resolution would be structured should have already been established preceding a formal cessation of hostilities.

Indeed, it is analysed that in its haste to cobble out ceasefire arrangements, New Delhi has not taken into consideration certain imperatives that should govern such agreements.

But to be fair to New Delhi, the aspects that govern ceasefires and consequently resolution invariably encounter a number of spoilers. Anti-India forces would try their utmost to derail a peace process. Belligerence in the North East, for instance, appeals to the strategic calculus of China and Pakistan even as such countries seek to pin down the Indian Army to the region and away from both their primary duties in the border and the growing intransigence in Kashmir where the real battle is being waged.

However, the mistake that New Delhi seems to be continually making is by tom-tomming its piecemeal achievements. The most glaring instance was the over six-year-old “Framework Agreement”. Shrouded in secrecy the “historic” agreement was not only kept away from the public, but it also gave rise to myriad suspicions. Furthermore, it is yet to be understood as to why a “Framework Agreement” had to be signed in the first place, and with so much fanfare, especially if it were to be kept a secret.

The only rational explanation seems to be that New Delhi wanted to “inform” the rest of the country that conflict in its eastern borderlands has been resolved when in effect it was not the case.

If this perception is correct, then it is not only an unsound policy, but also one that is fraught with grave danger to India’s national security. After all, all that has been achieved since the “historic” agreement is criticism, suspicion, and inter-group rivalry. Also, in the process of wooing NSCN (IM) and alienating NSCN (K), precious lives have been lost.

The attack on the 6 Dogra in Manipur’s Chandel on 4 June 2015 and the one on the 46 Assam Rifles in Churachandpur on 13 November 2021 are important cases in point. Of late, the (Manipur) Valley Based Insurgent Groups have come into an agreement with the Myanmar Army. While the “understanding” has been analysed as a marriage of convenience, the fact of the matter is that it has engineered an about-face for Indian security management.

Whereas in the post 1 February 2021 scenario, Naypyidaw — at the behest of New Delhi — had acted against the Indian Insurgent Groups (IIG) billeted in Myanmar by way of two robust military operations (Op Sunrise I and II), the present poses a 180-degree turn with the insurgents acting in tandem with the same government which New Delhi had hoped to utilise against the North East militants.

How prolonged periods of ceasefire are engendering disquiet among insurgent groups in North East

The security situation in the North East has always been on the edge. ANI

The author also wishes to take the opportunity of psycho-profiling a belligerent group before it enters into a ceasefire — an imperative that might have escaped the high offices of New Delhi. It must be understood that a heightened sense of caution guides belligerent parties before they enter into a political reconciliation process. The primary concern of such groups is whether the stronger party — as asymmetry characterises almost all cases of conflict between belligerents and constituted authority — would permit an honourable solution, which would be acceptable to the belligerent group and the constituency it seeks to represent. Such groups also exercise caution as they sense that a coaxed entrance into a political process could be a ploy of the stronger party to “wear them out” by engaging them in protracted negotiations.

But notwithstanding such predicaments, compromises are often made when a belligerent party perceives a stalemate in the movement and when conflict fatigue begins to set in, as also when they realise that the populace among which they operate are building consensus to force the belligerents to enter into dialogue. In such scenarios, belligerents try to shape the environment in an array of ways, which may range from escalating the level of violence to internationalising the movement. The motivation is to force the stronger party to open channels for dialogue as the moves of the belligerent party becomes increasingly unacceptable.

However, the movement from intention to the actual institution of political process is usually long-drawn: Most belligerent groups put forward conditions that may not be acceptable to the stronger party. But non-acceptable conditions are usually made only by way of bargaining counters, with a comprehension that a climb-down to acceptable conditions would eventually take place, and ones which were actually intended by the belligerents.

The sincerity of both parties to resolve conflict by adhering to the principle of mutual accommodation and by prolonging the peace dividend when fighting ends is crucial at this stage. This is primarily because of not only the possibility that subterfuges may be engineered by hardliners among belligerents who feel that they will not be given their due in a post-settlement scenario but also because of the presence of — as aforesaid — spoiling efforts by vested interests.

Back channelling and secret parleys are best suited to navigate the process at such junctures: Publicity normally results in devious objectives coming into play, derailing the political process in its infancy. The ignominy with which the “Framework Agreement” had to be abandoned by New Delhi is a clear example of an observable fact that could have been sensibly avoided.

The author is a conflict analyst and author of several bestselling books on security and strategy. Views expressed are personal.

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