TODAY -

Outdated ideas of conflict resolution

Yenning *

Army patrolling in Imphal city sometime in August 2011
Army patrolling in Imphal city sometime in August 2011



The direction of scraping the nine Empowered Groups of Ministers and 21 Groups of Ministers by the Prime Minister's Office to expedite the process of decision-making and "usher in greater accountability in the system" and subsequent announcement to replace the Planning Commission was considered as a new approach of governance. However, the idea seems to remain the same when it comes to Northeast India or the armed conflict in particular. For instance, Union Home Minister and the Mister of State (Home) appeal to the armed groups in Northeast India that, if they give up violence, they (Government of India) are ready to talk under the Constitution of India.

But, none of the armed group responded and in fact they must not have feel the necessity to respond to the appeal as it is a ritualistic dialogue for everyone, Home Minister or PM of India. It would be worth mentioning that these ideas are circulating in India since the armed movement started in the 80s and have no takers so far. The reason for no takers is also as simple as that the proscribed armed groups are fighting for restoration of Manipur's sovereignty and the Government of India (GoI) has so far not accepted any movement of such nature.

GoI called it a law and order issue but justifies their stand to deploy army and paramilitary forces and even by declaring the state as disturbed area. So, it is up to the prerogative of GoI, what we should see and listen. But, why is the government trying to convey by their ritualistic appeal when they themselves know that it is not going to work. They reason could be that (i) to indicate, that they are not interested in the issue and (ii) the ritualistic appeal could be for media management to save face in the international community that they are always ready for peace talk and it is the armed groups who are not willing to talk.

Now, let's see a reverse scenario, where the armed groups appeal to the GoI, "Shun violence and let talk's but with the precondition that sovereignty of Manipur will be the only agenda". It is just the opposite what the government is appealing so far. What will be response of the GoI in such a situation? It is absolutely clear that, they will say 'not acceptable at all'. If the armed groups are in a superior position like what GoI is today, then the armed group will say, if you don't agree with the condition, we are not interested to you but our doors are always open and ready for peace talk.

This is the same situation that the armed group must be experiencing. They know, militarily, they cannot defeat the GoI and also GoI cannot defeat them militarily as it is not a regular war. And at the same time, they don't want to sell out their principles which they have stood for decades by sacrificing thousands of life. In both the scenario, there cannot be any peace process. What is happening now is that the GoI and the proscribed armed groups are moving in parallel directions and very little has been done to address the root causes of the armed conflict. In this situation, the creative thinking or out of the box thinking is required which the GoI is not doing so far. Managing the conflict will not bring any good except complicating the situation.

Peace talk is something that can be done between two groups which are not dependent to each other. Further, the government must be aware that peace talk does not necessarily mean surrender. Of course, hostility must cease and violence should be put on hold before initiating any peace talk or political dialogue. There can be peace talk to negotiate their claims and if they are not happy, they can continue with their processes. Likewise, the government should always remember that peace talk cannot be done with the Government and the AOG alone. They can talk to each other but since they exist in the name of the people, every peace talk should involve the public including women in any of the process.

Negating the public has led to failure in earlier peace process in Northeast India which is not expected to repeat by the government. The change of policy from homecoming to peace talk should be reviewed if the government is serious about any peace process in Manipur. However, it will be impossible to start a conflict resolution or transformation process without defining a common problem. So, if at all the government is interested to resolve the conflict in Manipur through peaceful and democratic means, then the first and the foremost step is initiation of a process for identifying the common problems, which are acceptable to both the conflicting groups, through an inclusive mechanism. Mere appeals for peace talks from time to time along with military engagements cannot bring about any tangible solution and least of all, addressing the problem.

Just see, what has the conflict done to both sides, it has killed innumerable people in Manipur, traumatised the more or less the whole population, created thousands of widows and orphans. The present proceeding of PIL filed in connection with extrajudicial executions is an indication that the policy of executing people in the name of counter-insurgency is not going to work for long. Besides traumatising the people of Manipur, the central security forces also get traumatised. The mental disorder/illness of the state actors particularly central forces is disturbing and alarming.

It was revealed by the study entitled "psycho-social aspects of optimising operational efficiency of security forces to combat insurgency in the northeast", from September 2000 to May 2005 conducted by Defence Institute of Psychological Research-a laboratory of Defence Research and Development Organisation has come out with some disturbing findings. The study showed that fear of torture; uncertain environment and domestic stress were the three main operational stresses responsible for most of the psychological problems in various groups of the armed forces.

It also revealed that, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has taken its toll on both traumatised and non-traumatised troops, spawning a variety of psychosomatic symptoms. Middle-rank officers have been found to be more vulnerable and stressed out than JCOs and jawans deployed in the counter-insurgency grid. Further, Indian Army has recorded an average of 100 suicides every year since 2002. Stress-related fragging - soldiers killing their own colleagues - has also sent the force scurrying for cover. In 2006 alone, the force has witnessed 23 cases of fratricide, involving three officers, four JCOs and 16 jawans. The only successful mark is that the GoI is holding the territory and the proscribed non-state are not able to achieve their goal, besides, exploiting the resources.

So, if the GoI is serious enough to resolve the armed conflict, then the first and foremost thing is to scrap the outdated ideas. Setting precondition and limiting talks within the Constitution of India must stop immediately at least with the proscribed armed groups. The GoI as well as the Constitution must have the flexibility to resolve the conflict.

It is not necessary that government has to take up all these processes at one time. The most important one is to constitute a committee to identify a possible common meeting point within a time frame. Similar studies were conducted at Jammu and Kashmir by the government of India but members of the Manipur committee should to be selected in such a way that they have the capacity to reach out to the major AOGs.

However, the process of constituting the committee should be done under the Prime Minister Office or Ministry of External Affairs with the state government particularly the Home Minister and/or elected legislators as facilitators. This will increase the commitment of the government to the AOG. The involvement of PMO office is necessary because the proposed committee might come up with various recommendations such as (i) within the Constitution of India; (ii) Within the Indian Union and (iii) Beyond the Indian Union.

The state government cannot discuss any of these issues on its own, so constituting the committee is a compulsion. Moreover, the major AOGs have represented as leaders (of a country) in different platforms. So merely degrading them at the level of the state will be an insult which might deter the process. The other issue of elected legislators of state as facilitators is because bureaucrats deputed by the Government of India for various peace talks are merely good in taking orders which they have been doing for decades.

However, if the committed elected legislators are involved, they might think 'out of the box' unlike the bureaucrats who only wait for their next assignment from the government. Initiating the process of constituting a committee could be a major breakthrough for the state government which has created history in getting the attention of two UN Special Rapporteurs.


* Yenning wrote this article for The Sangai Express as part of 'Hoi Polloi And Mundanity' column
The writer can be contacted at yenning05(at)rocketmail(dot)com or visit hoipolloiandmundanity.blogspot.com
This article was posted on September 07, 2014.


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