Reconciliation is the Way Forward for Durable Conflict Resolution in the Northeast
Brig Narender Kumar, SM, VSM (retd.)
Introduction

Conflict settlement is a significant achievement for a state to put an end to a violent protracted armed engagement. In fact, Johan Galtung gave new idea of concept of peace as negative peace that is absence of violence but it is not enduring hence states must endeavour to achieve positive peace through communication, behavioural changes, making institutions accountable and responsive. Peace can be sustained by building capacity for peace by incorporating civil society and political leadership as stakeholders. However, there is a need for transformation of relationship between various parties to the conflict. Northeast India is facing peace building dilemma due to societal fractures and historical claim over land and cultural diversity. In a changing society these factors are under strain due to sharing of resources and sense of deprivation. New realities may not be in consonance with pre-existing value structure and belief. Thus conflict resolution would require going beyond cultural partnership and integrating tribal identities for common good.

Negation of others viewpoint and cultural identity is not the way forward because that creates sense of victimhood. Abandoning some elements of cultural and political identity should be reciprocal by parties to the conflict. One would realise that most of the conflicts in the Northeast states is due to negation of viewpoint, claim over their unique cultural identity, land and natural resources. The immediate objective of such conflict resolution is to mend broken or damaged relationships, rectify wrongs, restore justice and ensure the full integration of parties into their societies again, and to adopt the mood of co-operation.1 Parties to the conflict in the Northeast are required to be reintegrated with main stream so as to include them in economic development and economic empowerment of the people. The Government of India should not look at Northeast as territorial issue but it should be looked at through the prism of political, social and economic empowerment.

In view of the foregoing, there is no panacea for peace building or conflict resolution, ultimately best option for conflict resolution is communication, consultation, and reconciliation, and empowerment, pro-active initiative of civil society and strengthening of institutions of governance.

Can Peace Treaties Bring Peace and Stability?

Peace treaties and accords may end the cycle of violence, but it is unlikely to bridge the community fault-lines. Ultimately, it is the bond between communities that can hold them together and prevent recurrence of conflict. In Rwanda where approximately 800,000 people were killed in conflict, created a movement of one nation one nationality that was able to remove social and political injustices done intentionally or unintentionally. Similarly, in Columbia an estimated 220,000 people were killed and the conflict ended by a national endeavour of reconciliation. In both cases political and government initiative was the driving force behind reaching the agreements acceptable to all parties to the conflict. Good thing about the Northeast is that the scale of mass dislocation of population and killings in inter-tribal tribal/community clashes is nowhere as high as Rwanda or Columbia. But what is significant is that in spite of such mass killings and destruction of homes and properties both nations were able to build a national narrative of inclusiveness to mitigate grievances of all communities through truth commission and robust justice system that looked into major excesses.
Truth Commission gave voice and platform to victims and survivors. It helped in restoring fundamental rights and redressal of grievances. Significance of peace treaties under such circumstances is paramount to break the cycle of violence. At the same time accords also act as a common guideline for all stakeholders to abide by. But to take peace initiative to logical conclusion it is ultimately society and people that can prevent recurrence or relapse of conflict.

The rebels, political parties and civil society will compete to gain greater political, social and economic space. The areas of contest and competition should be identified before disarmament and demobilisation of cadres so that adequate measures are taken to prevent relapse of conflict. In Colombia, the violence returned to the rural areas due to security vacuum post demobilisation of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) units. Such a situation can be averted by visualising post accord scenario, because many unforeseen eventualities will emerge to gain economic, political and social space. In the instant case though an accord/ peace agreement is being worked out with Naga tribes, but the big question is what about other communities/ tribes who were or are inhabitants in Naga dominated tribal areas? Will they also enjoy similar benefits as will be extended to them? These are some issues that must be given due thought before a peace accord is finalised.

Due to clashes between communities there was displacement of Kuki, Rengma and even Karbi tribes. Will the accord make specific provision for return of Kuki to their villages that are now under occupation by Naga tribes especially in Southern Ukhrul where approximately 10000 Kuki villagers were displaced during Naga Kuki clashes from 1993 to 1997? Similarly, Rengma Naga and Karbi tribals were displaced during Clashes between Rengma-Karbi. Will the displaced Rengma and Karbi return to their respective villages? Therefore, such conflicts can be resolved not through accords but through reconciliation and mutual agreement. These are certain flash points that do not require accords but an initiative by the state governments and the civil society consisting of conflicting tribes.

Conflict Resolution Should be Durable

Northeast India has seen few accords and agreements that have stood the social, political and economic stress and yet succeeded. What matters is changing the relationship and shaping of societal behaviour towards other communities and ethnicity to end hostilities towards each other. There is no sacrosanct designer model to achieve durable peace, it may require common acceptance of will to resolve conflict, settlement of sticking points and reconciliation against the perceived atrocities in the past. Reconciliation is continuous process to build relationship between rebel groups, communities, societies, or states to prevent development of new fault-lines. Selective consultation with communities and rebel groups is not the right approach; it will lead to greater alienation. Peace through coercion or use of force is unlikely to work and will dampen the chances of durable peace in future. The way forward towards a total end to the recurrence of violent conflict is through responsible governance.2

Incentivisation of Violence must be Curtailed

The proliferation of armed groups in Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Assam representing various ethnic communities is the result of the demonstration effect of the ‘success’ of other such groups in the past.3 Most of these groups have been raised for financial gains. Creation of new insurgent group, cease fire and suspension of operations is a cycle adopted by most groups for financial gains as well as for political influence. As long as there is economic and political incentive, the pipeline of recruits will not dry up. Incentivisation of insurgency can only be denied by transparent governance and enforcement of law. Amnesty though is a panacea for conflict resolution but the criminal gangs should not be allowed to take advantage of this largesse of the government.

Build Trust Through Communication

In view of the above, what should be the approach of the government to find solution and breakthrough at this juncture when government is engaged with Naga tribes for establishment of enduring peace? Naga peace accord (as and when signed) will become a benchmark for future engagement with other tribes and communities in Assam and Manipur. If it succeeds it will encourage other tribes to come to the negotiating tables, but if it fails it will discourage rest of the parties to the conflict to negotiate with the government. There is no set precedence or sacrosanct process but the model must be seen as acceptable by all stakeholders. To ensure participation of all stakeholders’ interlocutors are required to communicate with all major and minor players to clear the apprehensions of the people and respective tribes. The communication is of intent and willingness to accommodate viewpoint of all stakeholders. In fact, delay in thrashing out Naga peace accord is due to selective engagement by the Government at the time of signing framework agreement. Communication should be open free and frank so that it does not send a signal of preferential treatment.

Peace through Reconciliation

Why should every solution to the conflict come from the government? The real conflict is between the people and the ethnic tribes, thus even citizens and civil society is also accountable to bring and maintain peace. Peace through reconciliation is primarily the domain of civil society to change the perception of people and not to remind the old grievances. Parties to conflict need to engage with each other to identify areas of cooperation and concession, issues that are non-negotiable and aspects that strengthen the core values to pave the way for harmony. Reconciliation is three-way process, willingness of the insurgent groups, ability of the civil society to exert influence for common good on all communities and initiative of the government to workout plausible and acceptable peace/ rehabilitation agreement.

Peace through Empowerment

Dr Clemens Spiess says that, “the politics of identity lie at the heart of the bigger part of the current conflict constellations in the Northeast”.4 The conflict in the Northeast thus would require multiple approaches to deal with social, cultural, economic and armed conflict. Empowerment of people economically will require combined efforts of the government and cooperative efforts of the people, communities and civil society are primary drivers to empower under privileged and political parties should empower tribes socially and politically. Negotiations alone are not sufficient thus it would require alternative economic means to prevent drug traffickers, arms smugglers and criminal syndicate to attract unemployed youths. Instead of giving doles it is better to empower people to sustain themselves economically.

Peace Building Initiatives Through Civil Society

Local peace building initiative is a robust method to end cycle of violence in the society. Tool to build local peace is through mediation and consultation among the various communities. One must remember that civil society in the Northeast is influential and has sufficient control over respective tribes/ communities. At the local level it is civil society that should acknowledge the responsibility for maintaining peace. Ultimately peace dividends are for the citizens to get benefited. All stakeholders must lay down common moral code for parties to conflict to follow and it must be reviewed by the people’s council. Thus they can control disorder in the society through regular consultation and mediation. Conflict prevention should assist in peace building and once adequate peace is achieved, process of conflict resolution should be put in motion. The bottom line is that police state cannot guarantee stable peace.

Establishment of Institutional Mechanism for Maintenance of Peace

Post conflict citizens do suffer from trauma and there is mistrust among the communities and the institutions of governance. Reintegration of disaffected citizens and tribes would require an agency that has their own people in it and seen by the people as impartial and independent. Thus an organisation with members from religious communities, prominent citizens with high integrity and credibility in public life, society elders and independent observers from outside the region must be included to oversee maintenance of peace. Institutional mechanism for overseeing peace must encourage communities to form peace groups that are in regular interaction with the other communities for immediate disengagement of conflicting parties/ groups.

Conclusion

Hearts and minds are ravaged by violence and removal of psychological trauma is important to rehabilitate people in their society. The accords facilitate face to face engagement and inter community interaction that ultimately helps in restoring intercommunity faith and trust. Biggest challenge in conflict resolution is sustaining peace and prevention of recurrence of conflict. What government needs to do at this stage is to set up institutional mechanism and peace groups consisting of all parties to conflict. Most treaties fall apart because of inadequate preparation for rehabilitation of rebels and disruption in intercommunity engagement. A plausible rehabilitation plan should not wait till accord is signed rather the plan for rehabilitation should be ready so that it does not take long to start the process of rehabilitation. Those who cannot be rehabilitated in government organisation they must be provided with skill training and stipend to kick start their small entrepreneurs. People are seldom happy living in a police state; they now need societies that are self-regulated, stable and peaceful.

Endnotes
  1. Brock-Utne B (2001) Indigenous conflict resolution in Africa. A drat presented to week-end seminar on Indigenous Solutions to Conflicts held at the University of Oslo, Institute of Educational Research: 23 –24.
  2. Oluwole Olusegun Akiyode, Responsible Governance: A Panacea to Conflict in Niger Delta, Peace and Conflict Monitor, February 02, 2010.
  3. Ajai Sahni, Survey of Conflicts & Resolution in India's Northeast, South Asia terrorism Portal, Institute for Conflict Management. Accessed from https://www.satp.org/satporgtp/publication/faultlines/volume12/article3.htm on January 14, 2021.
  4. Conflict in Northeast India: Issues, Causes and Concern, Accessed from https://in.boell.org/en/2009/02/28/conflict-northeast-india-issues-causes-and-concern on January 14, 2021.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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