Violence and conflict situation: Need for political engagement

It was indeed a tragedy that a Colonel of the Assam Rifles, his innocent wife and a minor son were killed in an ambush laid by militants on November 13 along with four other Assam Rifles personnel. Killings or violence of any form is not desirable. Everybody will agree that nothing is more precious than life. The killings and bloodsheds seen in Manipur are not unidirectional. Whether you belong to the military or the militants, we all belong to the common species called mankind. Then why are we witnessing so much violence and bloodshed? Any keen observer will realise that it is the ‘political divide’ which has been fuelling all these violence and bloodsheds. Over the decades so many precious lives have been lost on account of this political divide. In another word, militancy in Manipur is not a law and order problem but a political issue as indicated by the political objectives laid down by the militant groups. As such, there is a need to engage the militants politically. Before initiating any political engagement with the militants, it is crucial to recognise that there is armed conflict in Manipur.  This has been the voice of the people in every walk of life for ages – be it the civil society bodies, human rights groups, or academics. But what is of significance is that until and unless the existence of armed conflict is recognised by the political class and the core issues identified, the conflict situation witnessed in the State since decades back is unlikely to die out on its own.  As an initial step the core issues need to be identified both by the militant groups and the Government, and bargaining or negotiation has to be started based on the commonly identified and accepted terms.
No doubt, both the Central Government and the State Government have shown their concerns on the persistent insurgency problem of Manipur. But unfortunately the peace process initiated so far by the Government appears to be basically a counter-insurgency measure rather than a genuine peace initiative as testified by the stagnant political dialogue held between the Government and militant groups who had entered into Suspension of Operation (SoO) pact.  There are certain compulsory measures or processes which need to be worked out before a peace talk or negotiation takes place. Even after more than 60 years of armed conflict in Manipur, the Government and the militant groups are moving in parallel directions in terms of defining the problem or identifying the root cause(s). The Government has not accepted the position of the militant groups. At the same time, in spite of engaging international cooperation (military or otherwise), particularly with Myanmar and Bangladesh, to suppress militancy in the State, the Government continues to claim that it is a law and order problem, and most recently, terrorism. It will be impossible to start a conflict resolution or transformation process without defining a common ground. So, if at all the Government is interested to resolve the conflict in Manipur through peaceful and democratic means, then the first and the foremost step is initiation of a process for identifying a common ground, which is acceptable to both the conflicting groups, through an inclusive mechanism. Mere appeals for peace talks from time to time along with military engagements cannot bring about any tangible solution and least of all, addressing the problem. The Government may start by constituting an independent commissions for conflict resolution in the State and drawing up a framework on pre-negotiation, negotiation and post negotiation with special monitoring mechanisms and due representation from civil society, NGOs and all stakeholders. A political issue must be resolved politically.