With the initial euphoria yet to settle down over the memorandum of settlement signed between the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) and the government recently, experts have cautioned that while a peace accord is important, it is not a sufficient harbinger of a peace process.
“While accords have brought down violence in the northeast, they are only bookmarks in the larger peace process in a region that has a heterogeneous population. The moment an agreement is reached with one group, another group raises its head,” said Ajai Sahni who heads the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management.
The UPDS, a militant group of Karbi tribal fighters, has been demanding a separate state since 1999. Two other Karbi groups, Karbi Longri N C Hill Liberation Front and Karbi People’s Liberation Tiger, continue to remain outside the pale of negotiations.
“While such accords bring temporary peace, it is time to go beyond accord politics. For instance, there are Kukis or Dimasas living in the area demanded by the Karbis. Just involving the Karbis in the accord and ensuring only their representation in governance would lead to long-term problems. Unfortunately, the same logic applies to the entire northeast region,” said Noni Gopal Mahanta who heads the Peace and Conflict Studies Center Gauhati University.
Since 1947, the government has singned over 15 pacts with various northeast groups. But till now, the only pact that has brought about sustained peace is the Mizoram accord (1986).
“The exclusivist space-centric homeland movements in the northeast have posed a serious challenge to the socio-political landscape of the multi-ethnic region. While it is important to address the concerns of the smaller groups, an inclusive policy sensitive to the concerns of other coexisting groups is a must to secure lasting peace,” said Chandan Sarma, sociology professor, Tezpur Central University.
Stressing that agreements with militant groups should be mileposts, security expert Brahma Chellaney said: “It is difficult to bring in lasting peace when there are splinter groups and other smaller groups.”