Why Political Solution is the Ultimate Option ?
- Part 1 -

Sanatomba Kangujam *

33rd independence demand day of RPF underway at its general headquarters on February 25 2012
33rd independence demand day of RPF underway at its general headquarters on February 25 2012 :: Pix - TSE

A keen observation of the prevailing conflict situation in Manipur reveals that military solution is out of question. This is primarily on account of the fact that neither side can win a decisive battle. Stringent military operations launched by the Indian State Forces have not been able to quell the armed resistance movement, on the one hand. On the other hand, the armed opposition groups are not in a position to achieve the sovereignty of Manipur by militarily defeating the Indian State Forces in the present context or in any foreseeable future. Moreover, prolonged military engagement is not favourable for all the stakeholders to the conflict as it has resulted in heavy loss of human lives and other collateral damages.

This calls for early resolution of the prevailing conflict. But any such outcome may depend on at least three conditions. First, the Government may launch heavy military operations against the insurgents with the help of foreign countries to militarily destroy the insurgents as in the case of the LTTE in Sri Lanka on the one hand or compel the insurgents into unconditional surrender, on the other hand.

Second, the insurgents may drive out the Indian forces from the soil of Manipur and proclaim its independence or seek international support for holding plebiscite or referendum as in the case of East Timor and South Sudan respectively. Third, both the conflicting parties may enter into a new phase of conflict, the phase of political engagement to resolve the basic incompatibility underlying the conflict through sustained political dialogue.

The prevailing armed conflict in Manipur is a political issue that requires political solution. As such, seeking a military solution to an issue which is entirely political in nature would prove to be highly counter-productive for India as well as Manipur in the long run. Besides, a military solution to the on-going armed conflict is a misplaced notion. Extensive deployment of Army and continued enforcement of AFSPA for the last 30 years or so have absolutely failed to produce any substantive outcome.

The militaristic approach needs to be replaced with a political approach in order to find a satisfactory resolution to the protracted Indo-Manipur conflict. Unless all the quarters of concerns particularly the GoI officially recognizes the centrality of the issue and political nature of the conflict, restoration of peace and normalcy in Manipur will ever remain an elusive dream.

The prevailing armed conflict has inflicted heavy collateral damages to the civil population. Human Rights violations and humanitarian crisis have become the order of the day. Dislocation of normal lives as a result of the conflict has directly impacted upon different aspects of the life of the people. Fear, insecurity and injustice continue to dictate everyday life in the state. Besides, the people of Manipur cannot remain indefinitely entrapped in this conflict while the world is fast advancing towards a higher development trajectory.

For analytical purpose, conflict in Manipur may be classified into two types, viz, (1) vertical conflict and (2) horizontal conflict.

The vertical conflict is the conflict involving the Indian State on the one hand and the non-state actors of Manipur on the other. The horizontal conflict refers to the conflict between the armed groups or between different ethnic communities. Of the two types of conflict, vertical conflict stands out as the principal conflict while the horizontal conflict remains as the secondary conflict. The vertical conflict is considered as the principal conflict or the core conflict on account of the fact that all other forms of conflicts are its by-products and that its resolution is central to the resolution of other forms of conflict or crises prevailing in Manipur.

On the contrary, the horizontal conflict is considered secondary in the sense that it is largely engendered by the vertical conflict and that its resolution is strictly contingent upon the resolution of the vertical conflict. Once the core conflict is resolved or transformed, all the marginal conflicts will get automatically transformed and disappear. However, until and unless the vertical conflict is satisfactorily resolved or transformed, the horizontal conflict, being the by-product of the former, can never be resolved.

In brief, an attempt to secure unconditional surrender or physical liquidation of the insurgents through application of brute military forces is not advisable for various reasons. One, the conflict in Manipur is basically not a military issue but a political one which has its root in the contested merger of Manipur with India. Two, military solution will prove to be short-lived since conflict will certainly re-emerge if the basic incompatibility underlying the conflict is not satisfactorily resolved.

So, military solution is totally ruled out. Third, since the armed conflict in Manipur is a political issue, there ought to be a political solution through sustained political engagement. Last, for restoration of peace between ethnic communities, the resolution of the conflict between the state and the non-state actors is an essential pre-requisite.

Should political dialogue be conditional or unconditional?

Political dialogue is highly indispensable for any project of finding a political solution to the prevailing conflict in Manipur. One of the most significant factors responsible for the failure of conflict transformation in Manipur has been the stiff political stance adopted by the armed opposition groups not to hold talks with the Government of India except on the issue of sovereignty. The armed groups have been demanding the recognition of the sovereign status of Manipur.

On the contrary, the Government of India has all along refused to recognise the sovereignty of Manipur by claiming that Manipur is an integral part of India. The Government of India has stated that it is ready to hold talk on anything within the framework of the constitution, but firmly ruled out discussing the issue of sovereignty. The issue of sovereignty, thus, constitutes the bone of contention (core issue) between the Government of India and the armed opposition groups of Manipur.

In other words, the Government of India wants to hold unconditional political dialogue with the insurgent groups while the insurgent groups have categorically stated in more than one occasion that any political dialogue must always be conditional. A meeting point must, however, be chalked out if conflict has to be resolved and democracy restored in its true sense. In this regard, it is worthwhile to examine the deeper implications inherent in adopting extreme political stances on the modality of holding political dialogue.

A genuine concern to find a satisfactory solution to the conflict points to the fact that undue stress on holding unconditional political dialogue is tantamount to setting a pre-condition. Talking about unconditional dialogue is one way of setting a pre-condition. There is nothing such as unconditional talk except in the case of capitulation. But capitulation is not solution or conflict resolution. Even the so called unconditional peace talk between the Government of India and the NSCN-IM are based on three conditions.

Another point that needs further introspection is that the unconditional political dialogue has an inherent tendency to drag on the peace process for an indefinite period without actually resolving or transforming the basic incompatibility underlying the conflict. Moreover, unconditional talk is devoid of any directionality since it is based solely on political expediency. Emphasis on unconditional talk is nothing more than seeking the surrender of the other party to the conflict, which is not a political solution.

Similarly, harping on conditional political dialogue seems to be against the spirit of finding a political solution to the conflict. If one is sincerely committed towards seeking a political solution, the issue of conditionality is not a matter of primary concern. There can be no pre-condition for any political dialogue except the recognition of the fact that the conflict between the Government of India and the armed opposition groups of Manipur is a 'political issue' which requires political solution.

Adopting uncompromising stances and setting conditions are not conducive for seeking a political solution. If the conflicting parties are really committed to transform the conflict in Manipur, a reasonable relaxation in their original positions remains highly indispensable.

Therefore, any proposed political dialogue should neither be conditional nor unconditional. Rather it should be pragmatic and guided by a genuine concern to resolve the conflict through a political process. A pragmatic approach to conflict transformation entails the need to reach a consensus on two basic premises. The first question that the conflicting parties should deliberate is "why to talk?"

The parties to the conflict are required to agree on the basic reason that has necessitated for the commencement of such a political dialogue. It is not certain about what the government or the insurgents may have in their minds. But the ground reality indicates that the need to engage in a political dialogue has arisen primarily because of the prevalence of an armed conflict in Manipur, which is basically a political issue requiring political solution. If the conflicting parties do not admit about the prevalence of an armed conflict in Manipur, there is no need to seek for a political dialogue.

The second question logically linked with the first one is "what to talk about?" The conflicting parties must be able to identify the core issue underlying the conflict in Manipur. Some informed quarters hold the view that the issue or issues to be discussed in any proposed political dialogue can be formulated after sitting together. Such a proposition, however, seems highly problematic. The issue does not need to be formulated; it is already there since the inception of the conflict as the conflict is all about the issue.

The only thing that needs to be done is to identify and recognise the issue at hand. Proposing a political dialogue without recognising the issue of the conflict is nothing but akin to calling a meeting without setting the agenda, which is not the norm. In this regard, it is pertinent to point out that the core issue to be addressed is all about the political status of Manipur irrespective of whether one defines it in terms of sovereignty or autonomy.

It is imperative to state that in order to break the political deadlock, the issue of sovereignty may be included in the political talk between the Government of India and the armed opposition groups of Manipur. Listing the issue of sovereignty as the agenda for any political dialogue does not necessarily imply that sovereignty should or should not be granted to the other conflicting party. Open dialogue on the issue of sovereignty should at least be open up for generating healthy debates towards conflict transformation.

To be continued...

* Sanatomba Kangujam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on March 04, 2012.

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