Not only Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Union Home Minister Amit Shah but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given an assurance that the Centre is working towards complete removal of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) from the entire Northeast region. Addressing a rally in Karbi Anglong district of Assam, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that a dip in violence had enabled the withdrawal of AFSPA from parts of the Northeast in March.
The government had earlier in 2018 removed AFSPA entirely from Meghalaya and from eight police station areas bordering Assam in Arunachal Pradesh. A year later, this was further reduced to just four police stations. Arunachal currently has three districts with AFSPA apart from these four police stations. In Assam, AFSPA was withdrawn from 60 pc of Assam last month.
In the case of Manipur, AFSPA had been lifted from only 15 police stations, including the six within the Greater Imphal area, as withdrawn during the previous Congress regime. Now, nine more police stations, including Sekmai, Lamsang, Bishnupur, Patsoi, Lamlai, Irilbung, Thoubal, Kakching and Jiribam all in the valley districts has been excluded from AFSPA operations.
However, the Act remains in force in all the hill districts irrespective of whether it adjoins the international boundary.
In fact, it was an election promise made by BJP to Manipur. The December massacre of innocent villagers by elite Army commandos in Nagaland’s Oting area in fact became a trigger for renewed upheaval in the NE region for total recall of the controversial Act. In Nagaland, Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio was unhappy with the partial removal and called for total removal while the CSOs in Manipur are still demanding repeal of the Act. We had also opined that, partial withdrawal of AFSPA and leaving out the hill districts is discriminatory.
Having said that, we must also say that it is a big step forward for the Narendra Modi-led government from the security perspective and a promise before elections partially fulfilled. The defence lobby had all along been objecting to its withdrawal, citing operational difficulties without the Act. Prime Minister Modi had said on Thursday that, the government had been able to take such a step in view of the peace which had prevailed in the last eight years.
In fact, the recent move could also be seen as a confidence building measure (CBM) on the part of the Modi government. Before the Manipur assembly elections, Rajnath Singh and Amit Shah was talking about holding deliberations with all rebel groups and bring peace to the hills. However, the valley based groups are not on their radar as these groups have consistently rejected the peace offer in the past.
At one point, the government at the Centre was fixated on bringing the NSCN-IM to the negotiating table as the group was considered as the ‘mother of all insurgencies’ in the Northeast and top ranking intelligence officials believed that once the NSCN-IM is brought into the loop of negotiations, the other groups would follow suit. It is partly true in the case of Northeast as the NSCN-IM was responsible for spawning many ethnic-based insurgent groups in its effort to broaden its reach and control. But it was not so in the case of valley based groups of Manipur valley whose ideals are in direct contrast to the designs of the NSCN-IM and the dream of Naga integration.
In Manipur, most of the Kuki militant groups were brought under SoO though they operate at will from their designated camps and meddling in the state assembly elections. On the other hand, most of the valley-based groups except for a few rag-tag factions are against any kind of talks. Why is it so? It seems they are keenly watching the process of negotiations going on with the Naga and Kuki groups. While the NSCN-IM had time and again had been questioning the sincerity of GOI, no serious talks are going on with the Kuki groups. Perhaps, this could be why the valley-based groups are reluctant to enter into any kind of peace process with the Centre.
Well, withdrawal of AFSPA from the valley is a step which could help in confidence building. But, there are so many disparate issues in the valley which needs to be addressed also before making peace overtures.
First published:28 Apr 2022, 6:52 pm
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