Sunday, January 30, 2005

INDIA: ANALYSIS - Guwahati blasts and talks


IT is our view that both sides should indicate their willingness to
talk openly, on all issues (without specifying any one and thus
avoiding the bind of conditionality, “core issues” and
unconditionality). Ulfa would be surprised at how much goodwill it
could still generate from such a move; it would not be seen as a step
back or a “surrender” of its position but a display of political
maturity which has been noticeably lacking. It would also send the
right signal to potential investors and business and industry already
in the region that the paths to peace need not cancel out the road to
development and economic growth.

29/01/2005

NORTH by NORTH EAST
SANJOY HAZARIKA

Guwahati blasts and talks

THE bomb blasts at Guwahati — at Judges Field, the dusty exhibition
ground which is cleaned up and sanitised for the function every
January, and elsewhere in the city — were a signal from the banned
United Liberation front of Asom of their capacity to strike, but not
perhaps to inflict the kind of damage that it has in the past.
Memories of the bomb blast at Dhemaji, last year, when the main
victims were children are too strong.

At that time, it may be recalled, public opinion which took a strong
vocal expression against Ulfa instead protests in the streets of
cities such as Guwahati and smaller towns, an event which was
unprecedented in the history of the armed movement and which put Ulfa
on the back foot. Ulfa may be down but not out, the blasts seem to
indicate, and businesses and traders in various places are not taking
any chances and downing the shutters early, at least for the moment.
And although its recruitment drive is on, Ulfa’s ability to seize
the political high ground and debate as well as its combat power
still appears shaky, especially after the Dhemaji event and the Royal
Bhutan Army operations against their camps and those of the National
Democratic Front of Bodoland and the KLO. The latter still has a
small presence in north Bengal despite the devastation it suffered in
2003 December and the NDFB is apparently talking to the Centre. The
RBA impact on the armed movements in the region cannot be
underestimated, although it should also not be blown out of
proportion. Yet, it has essentially deprived such groups of a major
base and staging point for attacks.

The sudden vanishing of Paresh Baruah last month, a few weeks before
the Saarc summit (later postponed because of the tsunami) on account
of a “major illness” (according to his colleague Arabinda
Rajkhowa) and the repudiation by the Government of India of efforts
by writer Indira Raisam Goswami, on behalf of Ulfa, for talks which
would focus on “sovereignty” have also hit the organisation
politically and publicly. The Centre could not, given its background
of holding talks, agree to conditions.

It would have to stick to its mantra of unconditional talks, seen by
some as a condition in itself. There are many roads, straight or
winding, to peace processes; there are many steps to peace platforms;
there are many sizes of negotiating rooms and conference tables. It
is not necessary that one size or one road should fit all. What would
work for the Nagas may not work for Ulfa. What matters is that
conversations should begin and, if necessary, in a third country.

Talk openly, involve states

IT is our view that both sides should indicate their willingness to
talk openly, on all issues (without specifying any one and thus
avoiding the bind of conditionality, “core issues” and
unconditionality). Ulfa would be surprised at how much goodwill it
could still generate from such a move; it would not be seen as a step
back or a “surrender” of its position but a display of political
maturity which has been noticeably lacking. It would also send the
right signal to potential investors and business and industry already
in the region that the paths to peace need not cancel out the road to
development and economic growth. The impact of decades of state and
non-state violence in Assam and the North-east has taken a high toll
of lives — but also of image, business, growth, livelihoods and
incomes. People are worse off today than they were 10 years ago; we
are at the bottom of India’s economic heap despite the enormous
amount of funds pumped into the region. Surely those who govern the
state and those who rule from Delhi, as well as those who claim to
speak in the name of Assam and other parts of the region, do not want
the continuing suffering of the innocent, poor and marginalised while
battles for “great” political and security goals of nationhood
are played out.

A barometer could be the impact of the Republic Day blasts on those
planning to come from Mumbai and other economic hubs for the
Kaziranga festival. But it could not be positive, especially after
being told at Mumbai last week that militancy was down and out in
Assam.
Meanwhile, smaller groups, such as the Dimasas, have held talks with
New Delhi this month although it is our view that the Centre should
not be seen to be creating a new power zone and virtual authority
where it is the only to talk to the underground factions. We have
emphasised before that the Centre should come into such processes
with smaller groups at the beginning, retain a presence but leave the
basic negotiations to the state government, for it knows local
conditions, people and systems better than an external force. The
Centre may step in later or when negotiations get sticky as an umpire
rather than the opposing team on a cricket field.

********

Swu, Muivah should talk to neighbours

NSCN leaders Isak Chisi Swu and Th Muivah have stayed over a month at
a camp near Dimapur and received visitors from across the North-east,
including student leaders who told them that a Nagalim that takes
away territory of other states is not acceptable. But there have been
no negotiations with the Khaplang faction or the smaller group of the
Naga National Council that are opposed to the I-M. The gathering of
Nagas at Camp Hebron covered the same ground and sent a message to
the North-east and New Delhi that mixed intimidation with dialogue:
no compromise on the territorial demand while agreeing that peaceful
means were the way forward in the talks with New Delhi. Mr Swu and Mr
Muivah have to understand the realpolitik of India — it is not a
question of whether their “party” or group is virtually running
Nagaland. Without bridging gaps within society and holding talks with
neighbouring states, not in their own camp, the next stage of
dialogue cannot progress. Otherwise, a dangerous stalemate appears
looming with all other sides also digging into their political
bunkers, the “not one inch of land” to the Nagas slogan is
resounding from Guwahati, Imphal and Itanagar. New Delhi must
facilitate talks between the North-east leaders, especially of the
states concerned, with Mr Muivah and Mr Swu. After all, Mr Muivah is
a realist, a tough but open negotiator, who saw the opportunities for
peace in efforts by the Centre over eight years ago.

http://www.thestatesman.net/page.news.php?clid=4&theme=&usrsess=1&id=66987