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
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
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
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
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
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
Press Release June 25
Press Release June 26