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Post-ambush, focus shifts to North-East but for how long?

By Devanik Saha
June 08, 2015 13:43 IST
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The Centre should focus on achieving peace either through long-term ceasefire agreements or sustained military operations. Military operations which are just intermittent responses to particular incidents won’t lead anywhere, says Devanik Saha.

Throughout history, the North-East region has had a complicated relationship with the Centre as well as the media. While the chasm between government policies and action has increased over the years, lack of focus on sustained reporting in the region by mainstream media has worsened the situation.

The recent ambushes on army in the North-East region have left everyone shocked. With 20 soldiers killed and dozens injured, the unfortunate ambush in Manipur’s Chandel district was the deadliest in past 33 years, which probably was the reason that it got front page coverage in many national dailies. Last month, eight security personnel in Nagaland were killed during an ambush by an insurgent group, but there was hardly any outrage.

As proven with the Manipur incident, there is barely any coverage on issues concerning the North-East until the issue involves at least a dozen killings or demands serious attention (for example: The Bodo violence in Assam late last year), whereas in Delhi, reporters reach the incident place at the drop of a hat. Trivial news such as Salman Khan getting bail gets more coverage than women dying in Madhya Pradesh due to forced sterilisations.

In the past couple of months, three important developments took place which will change the insurgency politics of the North-East region, but unfortunately there weren’t any debates or discussions on these issues.

Formation of United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFW): In order to fight the IndianState more effectively, insurgent groups formed the UNFLW, a common forum to fight for sovereignty. The anti-talks faction of United Liberation Front of Asom, Kamtapur Liberation Organisation, National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang faction  and National Democratic Front of Bodoland-Songbjit faction formed the coalition in April. The emergence of the UNFLW should have been taken much more seriously by India, but it wasn’t so. The UNLFW has claimed responsibility for the Manipur attack, which is being seen as a move to make its presence felt. 

Peace talks with ULFA (Rajkhowa faction): ULFA has been divided into two factions -- one led by its founding leader and chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa that aspires for peace, and the other led by its commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah, who still believes in an independent Assam. On May 15, 2015, a meeting was held between the Assam government and ULFA, presided over by the home ministry. ULFA leaders who are keen to secure peace requested an early completion of the peace process considering their demands, which included some immediate steps on the issue of illegal migrants in Assam, update of the National Register of Citizens 1951 to be prioritized, and effective guarding of Indo-Bangladesh border to check illegal infiltration from across the border.

Rejection of ceasefire with NSCN-K: In April 2015, the Centre released a statement which mentioned that they didn’t want to engage in any ceasefire arrangement with the NSCN-K and the initial agreement signed in 2001 was no longer valid. However, it continued with its ceasefire agreements with other factions of the same outfit namely NSCN-Reformation and NSCN-Khole-Kitovi.

Though such important developments took place which will significantly affect the geopolitics of North-East, there was no buzz about them.  In response to the ambush, the Army has launched search operations in Manipur to hunt down insurgents, but the government must realise that sporadic operations won’t lead to a long-term solution. Even after the horrific massacre of tribals by Bodo militants in December 2014, the Army launched “Operation All Out” to flush out the militants but the operation lost steam after a few weeks.

The Centre should focus on achieving peace either through long-term ceasefire agreements or sustained military operations. Military operations which are just intermittent responses to particular incidents won’t lead anywhere.

Till then, only one issue seems to attract the government and media’s attention to insurgency-related problems in the North-East -- soldier deaths.

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