Where armed insurgents roam about freely

ARMED TO THE TEETH:“Insurgent groups that sign ceasefires with the state, based on which their cadres get remunerations, need to be disarmed in a phased manner.” Picture shows cadres of the NSCN (IM) in Nagaland in 2012.— PHOTO: RITU RAJ KONWAR  

Why is it that insurgent groups in the Northeast that have signed ceasefires with the Union government openly carry their weapons in civilian areas? This applies, but is not limited, to the National Socialist Council of Nagalim led by Isak Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah (NSCN-IM), the National Socialist Council of Nagaland led by S.S. Khaplang (NSCN-K) and the Dima Halam Daogah (DHD), to name but a few. If you consider the ceasefire ground rules with the NSCN (K) for instance, one of the clauses states that “in the interest of promoting the peace process, there will be no movement in uniform and/or with arms outside designated camps.” The ceasefire ground rules also state that “the NSCN will refrain from acquiring any additional arms/ammunition military equipment”; that “the NSCN will refrain from extortions, forcible collection of money and supplies and intimidation of individuals including Government officials.” Similar clauses are repeated in the revised ceasefire between the NSCN (IM) and the Union government.

Ground reality

Yet, the ground reality totally controverts what is stated on paper. Any visit to Naga areas makes it clear that the Union government, responsible for enforcing ceasefire ground rules, has miserably failed to do so. Cadres of the NSCN (IM) routinely move out of designated camps in uniform armed with weapons to civilian areas, often without providing the mandatory information about their movements to the security forces and the Cease-fire Supervisory Board (CFSB). The NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) cadres carry weapons with them while blocking national highways for purposes of extortions, which are in sheer violation of what they agreed to, while signing ceasefires in 1997 and 2001 respectively. The consequence of armed insurgent cadres moving about so freely creates an atmosphere of fear amongst the civilian population who are thereafter easily coerced into shelling out money and other support to the armed groups. For instance, in areas where the NSCN (IM) or NSCN (K) has a presence, people have to pay so-called taxes, which include house tax, business tax, road tax, etc. Government servants regularly shell out ‘rebel taxes,’ cut at source from salary, primarily due to fear of being targeted by the insurgent groups if they don’t pay up. The situation is identical in the Kuki areas where the Kuki armed groups are under Suspension of Operations with the security forces, or the insurgency-affected areas in Assam like those of the Bodos or the Dimasas with armed groups under ceasefires or Manipur where some of the Manipur insurgent groups like the Kangleipak Communist Party-Nongdreinkhomba, Kuki National Liberation Front and the Kuki Revolutionary Party have signed Memoranda of Understanding with the State government to give up arms.

Given this situation, it is rather pointless for the Union government now to devise a new Northeast policy where it is debating on the efficacy of offers to talk to any militant group due to the problem of factions later, and/or revise the policy of remuneration to surrendered armed rebel cadres. These are actually second or third priority problems.

The first priority problem is to ensure that those insurgent groups that sign ceasefires with the state, based on which their cadres get remunerations, are disarmed in a phased manner. Because, if the opposite is true — that insurgent groups, after signing ceasefires, increase their armed procurements, extort common people, while paying off powerful local groups — then signing ceasefires ensures only one thing: that there will be no state operations against these armed groups despite their illegal activities of extortions, arms and drug smuggling and so forth. This situation reduces common people to helplessness and they become susceptible to the dire need for physical safety and security and lose faith in a democratic system that does not offer basic dignity and security for daily lives.

Policy interventions needed

Instead, what insurgency-affected areas in the Northeast require are three important policy interventions: first, raise a common Northeast law enforcement force, which is well paid and effective, for the purpose of monitoring internal cross border (internal to Northeast) ‘ceasefire signatory’ insurgencies. The movement of the NSCN (IM) or the DHD across Northeast borders have rendered these internal borders susceptible to violence as was seen in the recent flare-up of violence in the Assam-Nagaland border. Second, monitoring and supervision of the designated ‘cease-fire’ camps should be carried out on a monthly basis. This should include updated data of those living in the camps, the weapons they possess and their illegal activities such as rampant extortions. Third, increase state administrative capabilities in remote districts with better pay structures and oversight in order to check corruption so that common people benefit from the several development schemes offered to them, but somehow never seem to benefit them.

The usual answer offered to me whenever I have raised the issue of lack of development in remote villages to state agencies in Northeast is the clichéd one: “Insurgencies do not allow development; development funds are siphoned off.” What this pattern of answers reflects is actually not helplessness but an acceptance that the state is so weak in Northeast India that it has given up the monopoly of organised violence to non-state actors, especially to those that have signed ceasefires. To repeat again for emphasis, the first step therefore is to carry out the disarmament and rehabilitation of armed cadres following which the vision of Northeast India as a springboard for India’s ‘Look East’ policy may see the light of the day. If ‘ceasefire signatory’ insurgencies carry on as they do today, extorting, blocking roads, intimidating innocent people, the “Act East via Northeast” may remain a pipe dream.

(Namrata Goswami is research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. E-mail: namygoswami@gmail.com )

Visits to Naga areas make it clear that the Union government, responsible for enforcing ceasefire ground rules, has miserably failed to do so