Internal Security Issues 104 – The Northeast Insurgency | Part 3

In the third part of the series, we analyse Government’s response to the NE insurgency and the way ahead . (The part one of the series is here part two is here)

Government’s response    

The Central Government is pursuing a policy for talks/negotiation with such groups which categorically abjure violence, lay down arms and seek solutions for their problems peacefully within the framework of the Constitution of India. As a result, number of outfits have come forward for talks with Government and have entered into Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement, and some of them have signed Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) and yet others have dissolved themselves.

Those who are not in talks are being dealt with by the Central Armed Police Forces and the State Police through Counter-Insurgency Operations.

The Central Government is supplementing efforts of the State Governments in dealing with the insurgency through various measures. These include:

  • Deployment of Central Armed Police Forces to aid the State authorities for carrying out counter insurgency operations and providing security for vulnerable institutions and installations
  • Reimbursement of security related expenditure to the State Governments under SRE Scheme. The scheme is being implemented in all States of the region except Mizoram and Sikkim.
  • Central assistance to the State Governments for modernization of State Police Forces
  • Sanction of India Reserve Battalions for augmenting and upgrading the states’ police forces to deal with insurgency /militancy
  • Banning the Unlawful Associations operating in NE Region under UAPA (Unlawful Activities(Prevention) Act, 1967)
  • Declaring specific areas/states as ‘disturbed areas’ for the purpose of AFSPA and issuing notifications for Unified command Structure etc.
  • Scheme for Surrender-cum Rehabilitation of militants in North East to wean away the mis-guided youth and hard-core militants who have strayed into the fold of militancy and later find themselves trapped into that net.
  • Civic Action Programme in the North Eastern States in order to take the local populace in confidence and boost the image of armed forces amongst the common people. Under this Programme, various welfare/developmental activities are undertaken like holding of medical camps, sanitation drives, sports meets, distribution of study material to children, minor repairs of school buildings, roads, bridges, etc. and running adult education centres etc.
  • Advertisement and publicity to highlight the activities being undertaken by the Government for peace in the region and also with a view to convey that “Peace pays”.

Recent Initiatives by the Government for development of the North-East

 1. From Look East Policy(LEP) to Act East Policy(AEP):

A greater focus on:

  • External Angle : Essentially, concerning relations of India as a whole with ASEAN & East Asia
  • Internal Angle : Development of North East India that makes it a viable gate way for the rest of India to ASEAN & East Asia

2. The Kaladan Multi Modal Transit project:

The project will connect Sittwe Port in Myanmar to the India-Myanmar border via roadway. It will provide alternative cost effective shortcut to landlocked north eastern states. Originally, the project was scheduled to be completed by 2014, but work on it is still underway.

Once operational, it will provide an alternate access route to India’s north east region and contribute towards the regional economic development and reduce pressure on the Siliguri Corridor.

3. The India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway

The India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) trilateral highway is expected to become operational by 2018-19. Also, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is planning to extend the proposed India-Myanmar-Thailand highway to the CLMV (Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam) countries in the second phase. This will then give India direct access to the South-East and East Asian markets

4. Development of Moreh (Manipur) as a smart city:

Manipur is the most critical state in India’s connectivity to Myanmar and South East Asia. 99% of overland formal trade goes through Moreh.

5. North East in Hydrocarbon Vision 2030 aims to double oil and gas output in the next 15 years.

6. North East Rural Livelihood Project

It is being implemented in 2 districts in each of 4 North Eastern States of Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. The objective is to create sustainable community institutions around women Self Help Groups (SHG), Community development groups (CDG) and the youth of the select districts. It was launched in 2013 for a period of 5 years and is aided by the World Bank.

[Related reading: Can Northeast become economic hub of India? What factors promote or prevent from that happening?]

The way ahead: “Acting East through North East”

Although varying in their demands and methods, there is a common thread running through the insurgency infested north-east, that is of identity and development. Hence, some solutions that are common need to be explored with specifics derived from them for specific regions and groups. Following are some suggestions:

1. Decentralisation with alertness: Meeting the political aspirations of groups by giving them autonomy. Implementing sixth schedule provisions in these areas will help them to preserve their identity and culture while giving them greater autonomy.

2. Need to pursue a developmental approach: If institutions of development are created in the region, the problems of politics, society, ethnic strife, militant assertion and of integration will get minimised. E.g.

  • Improving road and railway connectivity within the North-East
  • Modernization of the primary sector and a vigorous programme of rural development
  • Stress on processing industries connected with agriculture, animal husbandry, horticulture and forestry and also service industries related to the rural infrastructure like irrigation, rural electrification, transport and communication, marketing etc.
  • Modernization of border trading framework
  • Improving infrastructure

Also, the developmental approach must ensure the participation of the masses of all groups in the development process with reasonable equity in the distribution of costs and benefits. Another point to be stressed is that development in the North East must be ecologically sustainable and must not be eco-degrading.

3. Improving Governance and delivery mechanisms of the government and administration.

4. The pre-condition of complete abjuring of violence for holding peace talks is a flawed notion. If violence is discarded and peace is established then the need of peace talks become futile. Dialogue should be an ongoing process to reach concrete solutions by involving all the stakeholders and not a single group.

5. Coordinating operations with the neighboring countries and use of force only when needed.

6. The report by 2nd ARC recommends that even in dealing with the purely ‘law and order aspects’ of insurgency and violence in the region, much greater reliance needs to be placed on the local police than has been the case so far. While deployment of the Armed Forces of the Union may be required, there is a strong case for minimising their use for operational purposes in a region which still continues to harbour a sense of alienation.

7. State police and central forces should cooperate on intelligence sharing, investigation and operations against militants. It has been alleged by the army that the June 2015 ambush of the army became possible because state police did not share the intelligence about the attack with it. It is unfortunate and counter-productive.

8. Also, there is important spill-over effect of insurgency in one State on the contiguous States. Therefore, the problem has to be viewed and tackled in an integrated manner considering its regional external effects, uniformity in its basic nature and also the linkage between the insurgent outfits of different States.

9. Civil-military relations are a critical ingredient for a successful political strategy to counter insurgencies in areas like the North East. Better civil-military relations in states like Mizoram ensured that a twenty year old Mizo insurgency (1961-1986) was rooted out through joint civil-military strategies like the grouping of villages, which had relocated nearly 80 per cent of Mizoram’s population to 102 new villages known as ‘protected and progressive’ villages.

10. Speedy implementation of the North East Vision 2020 and speedy completion of the projects already underway like The Kaladan Multi Modal Transit project, The India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway etc.

11. The need for Sub-State diplomacy: States in border areas have a natural cultural and economic interest in our foreign policy orientation towards our neighbours. There is a need for all the States in North East to be more involved in diplomacy with neighbouring countries. Inclusion of Chief Ministers of Border States of North East in Prime Ministerial visits to neighbouring countries is a welcome step.

[Related Reading: Role of border states in India’s Foreign policy]

12. There is a need to promote a ‘pan-India fraternity’ that bridges the psychological and emotional gap between the North-East and the rest of India.

13. A recognition that the security and territorial integrity of India in the North East can be best fortified by the combined economic strength of the States in the North East and their economic integration with ASEAN , BIMSTEC and East Asia.

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