Why government should be wary of unresolved ceasefires getting dragged for decades in North East
The Centre must bear in mind that unresolved ceasefires could result in the emergence of an ‘overground movement’ with an anti-India agenda
Jaideep Saikia February 22, 2022 07:28:50 IST
Headquarters of the NSCN(IM) near Dimapur, Nagaland. Firstpost/Rajeev Bhattacharyya
Even as New Delhi readies for a crucial and perhaps the final dialogue process with NSCN (IM), an important aspect that it must bear in mind when it enters into a ceasefire agreement with insurgent groups is those unresolved ceasefires over long durations could witness the emergence of an “overground movement” with an anti-India agenda. This was witnessed in the case of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland when an important section of the organisation, led by its erstwhile chairman, Ranjan Daimary, set off a serial explosion in Assam on 30 October 2008.
It must, therefore, be understood that mere cessation of hostilities with the government does not necessarily mean a cessation of violence. Indeed, apart from taking to violent activities, insurgent groups under ceasefire indulge in anti-social activities. The NSCN (IM), for instance, a group that has been in ceasefire mode for close to 25 years, runs a parallel government. It flouts ground rules, collects tax and maintains camps in Bangladesh, where it regularly sends its cadres on long-range-patrols to keep them in fighting fitness. The organisation also trains and aids other insurgent groups in the region. The security forces have expressed helplessness in the face of such subterfuge by NSCN (IM).
Furthermore, if the policy that New Delhi wishes to advocate regarding insurgency in the North East is to enter into ceasefires after ceasefire without due process, create designated camps and wait for a time when the cadres “billeted” in such camps will peacefully disperse, then it must think again. The danger of establishing back-to-back designated camps across the North East, from Moreh in Manipur to Kokrajhar in Assam, could well witness the emergence of a “coalition of the willing,” and a calibrated anti-India exercise from within the region. In fact, the disillusioned insurgent groups (ceasefire instituted or non-instituted) in the region could, regardless of their intrinsic differences, construct an identity around the hostility they have towards New Delhi.
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The prolongation of ceasefires also leads insurgent groups to engineer cross-organisational linkages, and if the common target of ire continues to be New Delhi, then the coalition as aforesaid is a matter of time. This would be a particularly undemanding affair given that countries such as China-Pakistan are all set to aid the agenda.
But “Designated Camps” have to be established after a ceasefire. However, the establishment of such camps can be laced with certain fortifications. The author has studied the concept of Designated Camps post-ceasefire and has come up with a few suggestions, ones that he has proffered earlier as well. But these are being reiterated in the article:
· Inter-mixing of cadres: One of the most important strategies, which the state should evolve, is to ensure that the insurgents post-ceasefire do not get an opportunity to regroup — it is analysed that one of the primary objectives of any insurgent group would be to do this. To that end, the fact that should be borne in mind is that there should be multiple Designated Camps accommodating not more than 75-100 cadres per camp — the emphasis would be to not allow a togetherness of strength in any particular camp. Also, with the institution of ceasefire, the various battalions/companies of a particular insurgent group should be done away with, and a centralised manner of designation should be adopted. Whatever the strategy, the emphasis must be to keep the cadres that have grown up and trained together separately, as also under separate commands: Cadres should not be kept with commanders they have normally worked or trained under.
· Away from international borders: Groups such as NSCN (IM) continue to have camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar. New Delhi should insist on the declaration and closure of such camps (if possible under the gaze of international observation). The idea is to not allow a group coming into a ceasefire to have access to their earlier bases of operations, where they would have certainly left a part of their arsenal.
· Away from one another: The distance of one designated camp should be at least 200-500 kilometres from one another. The state should ensure that the camps are not in one another’s proximity — preventing easy communication, and that it is, at least, not possible for cadres to “march” from one camp to the other.
· Away from areas of economic influence: The designated camps and access from such camps must be far from commercial belts. This would drastically reduce extortion.
· Away from areas of socio-political influence: The designated camps should be either away from areas of socio-political influence or in places where these are not easily accessible. There should be minimal contact between the local populace and the cadres. Indeed, the non-Dimasa population of Jatinga in Dima Hasao had, some years ago, protested about the Red Cross Hospital being converted into a Designated Camp. One of the agenda of any insurgent group, for instance, when it comes into a ceasefire, would be to reach out to the people and interact with it in order to not only indoctrinate it, but de-doctrinate it from the influences of the Indian state.
· Accessibility to highways: The designated camps must be away from National Highways and roads that provide easy passageway to such highways. An aspect that is noticed in Nagaland is the “collection” of “taxes” from truckers/tankers and commercial vehicles. The establishment of designated camps away from the highways would not only prevent this, but also make their movement into the heartland difficult.
· Camps should be located in areas where they would have to perforce pass security force installations: A designated camp should be located in an area where all the approaches either pass via an army or a police camp or has the potential for properly monitoring it. It is important to keep a strict vigilance of the comings and goings of the designated camp inmates.
· Distinct ground rules and guidelines: New Delhi must understand that different insurgent groups should be dealt with differently. To that end, the ground rules should be group-specific and not carbon copies of the ones that were prepared for the NSCN.
· Monitoring of activities in the camps: It has been witnessed that cadres inside Designated Camps are not only in contact with their erstwhile or active comrades utilising mobile phones but are also making extortion demands. A mechanism must be evolved by which such activities are monitored.
· Inventory of arms and ammunition: A full inventory of the arms and ammunition that an insurgent group possesses should be made by comparing the intelligence data of the various agencies. Such an inventory should be given to the insurgent group coming in for a ceasefire and a condition should be made at the time of the ceasefire that the holdings should be displayed.
· Delink ammunition from arms: A clause should be inserted in the ceasefire guidelines that the arms and the ammunition (duly enumerated) would be kept separately. The Ministry of Home Affairs had instituted a good system, by way of the double-lock system.
· Delink other militant groups: Groups such as NSCN (IM) should be kept away from other groups entering into ceasefire agreements.
The writer is a well-known conflict analyst and author of several best-selling books on security and strategy. Views expressed are personal.