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Press Release
June 27, 2001

NEW DELHI, 27 June, 2001: Mr. G. M. Srivastava, ADG (Training & Armed Police), Assam Police, said that with the strength of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) having decreased, there is considerable pressure on Paresh Baruah, ‘commander-in-chief’ of the outfit, to come to a negotiated settlement. He indicated that the main obstacle in a negotiated settlement is the personality of Paresh Baruah and his perceptions of himself. Mr. Srivastava added however, that " over a period of time, his peer group and those whose opinion matter have started exercising pressure on him to move towards a negotiated solution".

Mr. Srivastava was speaking at the penultimate session of the three-day Seminar on "Addressing Conflicts in India’s Northeast" organised by Mr. K PS Gill’s Institute for Conflict Management.

Mr. Srivastava emphasised the need to work for a principled settlement rather than any settlement that can address transient and immediate problems, but which leaves the bases of conflict intact or, indeed, even worsens the situation for the future. He pointed out that every negotiation is aimed at a settlement, but such a settlement is often secured at a cost that is not acceptable. Citing past examples, he opined that the Assam and Punjab Accords, although very impressive on paper, had certain clauses, which were unimplementable, and hence only deferred the problem.

In his view, the success or failure of negotiations in the ultimate analysis is absolutely dependent on the public posture of the government of the day and the political climate. He cited the case of the Rubaiya Saeed abduction in J&K, and the concessions to terrorists, as a result of which the bargaining power of the terrorists was seen to have increased dramatically. Furthermore, in the Kandahar case, the situation was so mismanaged that the government lost sight of the possibilities that could have produced a better solution.

Mr. Srivastava while emphasising the importance of the location of negotiations observed that Paresh Baruah does not want to come to India or even Bhutan, where the ULFA camps are reportedly located, for talks, and insists on negotiating through a mediator in another country. Commenting on the role of the media in conflict situations, Mr. Srivastava said that the press personnel must come out of the ‘scoop’ mind-set and exercise a fair measure of restraint.

Speaking at the same forum, Mr. Wasbir Hussain, a Guwahati-based Consulting Editor of the India Today Group, while providing a view from the Assam theatre on the positive and negative aspects of Multi-Force Operations in Counter Terrorism, said that the terms insurgency and counter-insurgency have been imprinted prominently in the popular lexicon of Assam today. Mr. Hussain was of the opinion that Assam, like the other six states in the region, is caught in a vicious cycle - lack of opportunity breeding insurgency, and insurgency impeding economic growth.

In his perspective, counter-insurgency operations launched in 1997 by the then AGP regime of Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, under the Unified Headquarters, viewed statistically, has achieved dramatic results. But, Mr. Hussain also observed that, the reality is a more complex case. Allowing the Army to head all counter-insurgency operations under a Unified Headquarters has led the separatists to steel their resolve to keep fighting the Indian state. This is primarily because, the Army is seen as the ultimate might of the government. Consequently, Mr. Hussain pointed out, this helps the rebels to garner support from sections in the normal civilian population and to carry out a propaganda offensive, citing instances of real or exaggerated excesses by the troops in course of their operations. Therefore, he opined that "whenever the Army has been deployed in Assam for internal security duties to take control of an emergent law and order situation, the government ends up fighting an equally blistering propaganda war."

Commenting on the disadvantages of utilising the Army to intervene in insurgency-hit areas, he said that the police, and not the Army, know the areas and the people where they are deployed. The Army, therefore, is considered as ‘outsiders’ out to dominate the people. He also added that the Army’s style of operation, in sharp contrast to that of the police is to use maximum force and look at its adversaries as ‘enemies’. As a consequence, it makes things highly complex, especially when they are fighting a band of elusive guerrillas who are otherwise men and women drawn from the very people in the area of intervention. The Army, in his view, is not meant for routine policing or counter-insurgency duties among civilian population and in his observations on the current situation, Mr.Hussain indicated that the Army has lost its psychological edge due to its prolonged use in internal security duties, because the people see the troops everywhere, in the towns and cities, guarding bridges on the national highways, patrolling rivers, checking vehicles and so on.

Another factor that is of immense importance in the context of the insurgency in Assam pointed out by Mr. Hussain was the fact that the 50,000 strong Assam Police force was demoralised as soon as the operational command of the Unified Headquarters was vested with the Army.

While suggesting that the Army should not be totally pulled out of counter-insurgency operations, he also added that a re-assessment of its role is called for. Under the present circumstances, the political weapon is also very much a force, through a proper application of which, insurgency or terrorism can be countered.

Imdad Hussain, Professor of History at the North Eastern Hill University, Shillong made a strong case against employing the Army in counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast. This has, among other things, "made the insurgents operationally more sophisticated" as exemplified by the types of weapons they are acquiring, and went to add that "there is always a tendency to upgrade insurgent army".

He contended that there was hardly any attempt to understand the specificity of the problem in the Northeast, and said it is "important to ensure that the means adopted to achieve the ends must relate to the factors that give rise to insurgency and take into consideration the social and political conditions underpinning tribal society."

He brought into sharp focus the various intra and inter-tribal schisms in the region, which had, on occasion, resulted in violence. He opined there is a need, much as there is the demand, to revive traditional institutions, which he believes would help in conflict management in the region.

In the concluding address, Mr. K P S Gill said, "What you need is an appropriate indigenous response. The response has to be developed by trial and error. Not by reading Colonel Templar or even K P S Gill, but by officers who work in the field, and learn from their own successes and failures. The kind of standardised responses that are being applied equally in Kashmir and the Northeast are at the heart of the problem. Field officers realize that the responses that are appropriate to Dibrugarh are not appropriate to Naogaon; responses that are appropriate to Ludhiana will not work in Amritsar. We are, at this point of history, a nation that is to the greatest degree afflicted by conflicts that are supported by enemy and neighbouring countries. Mr. Gill also pointed out that "In all human situations there is no cut and dried solution or methodology. You must address human problems with certain tentativeness. All three parties in the dispute over the extension of the cease-fire with the NSCN (IM) are, in some sense, correct." He said that as an outcome, there was police firing and arson in Imphal. In his view "That is partly the problem of the northeast. The issues are complex, and the problem is with the political and bureaucratic leadership of the region."

On the issues of development and corruption, Mr. Gill said, "Assam has had some very outstanding Chief Ministers and Chief Secretaries. Until the 1980s, there was not a single CM against whom there were allegations of corruption. There was no Chief Secretary against whom there have been such allegations. Yet, a relatively more honest administration has failed to secure the desired impact and the pace of development has been poor. It is the basic inefficiency of the system that is a problem. And the problem is not the flow of funds. It is with the system of utilization. If you give Rs. 10,000 crores for development of the NE, do you have the mechanism for its utilization and implementation of projects in place? The wrong models of development are being transferred from other parts of the country and applied without alteration to this immensely different reason."

Commenting on the importance of the local levels, Mr. Gill said, "It is because of the increasing neglect of the village in the North East that there are conflict situations." He also added that the developmental work initiated earlier has been suspended consequent to the violence and instability in the region. Mr. Gill in pointing out the role of planning said, "We are living from mirage to mirage. When the first Five-Year Plan was announced, there was a sense of hope. By the Fifth Plan, it was projected at that time, that the funding of the Plans would be generated by viable Public Sector projects. But the Public Sector has become the greatest drain on resources".

Indicating to a politics vs. development scenario in the Northeast, Mr. Gill said, "Good men are lost in the political maze. By giving transitory issues so much importance the long term issues are lost sight of." Furthermore, the money that reaches the Northeast is spent in a manner that leaves the state as it is, though a few private pockets are lined. On the responsibility for such failures he said, "Who is to blame? Everyone says the Centre has not done what is needed, but what have local governments done? What have the Chief Ministers and Ministers in successive regimes done? Not even the basic functions of government or the basic development activities are being carried out."

Working Paper

Press Release June 25

Press Release June 26





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