Megalith to Chorten Speak up for the Khas

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Mother of Insurgencies

Every state in the Indian Northeast, barring Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, has seen major armed insurrections against the Indian state. The response of the state has been, as usual, to call in the army and invoke sweeping powers of search and detention. Once, it even flung the Air Force against Mizo rebels.

The entire region is heavily militarised, from Tibet through the Indian Northeast and into Bangladesh and Northern Burma, Firstly, there is the military presence to guard the borders, particularly along the Indo-Tibetan frontier. And then there is the heavy military presence to maintain order over a sullen populace, as in the case of the People's Liberation Army in Tibet, or to pacify rebel groups, as with SLORC's forces in northern Burma and the Indian Army's extensive presence in the Northeast.

The role of the unfriendly neighbour, which Indians euphemis­tically call "the foreign hand", is also significant in sustaining militant organisations. The Shanti Bahini operates in the Chittagong hills with help from Indian agencies, and the rebels in northern Burma are said to receivesupportfromDhaka.Asfaras the Northeast is concerned, in the 1960s, it was Pakistan and China that were providing sustenance to the Naga and Mizo rebels. This support

ended with the 1971 Indo-Pak war. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Kachin Independent Army was providing support, training and weapons to the NSCN, the United Liberation Front of Asom {ULFA), and to various Manipuri groups. This backing faded after New Delhi threatened to oust Burmese refugees who had fled the repressive SLORC regime and were staying in India. Subsequently, the NSCN,basing itself along the Bangladeshi and Burmese bordeirs, has used its own skills to forge a leadership of the Northeast­ern rebellions. As faras the Northeast is concerned, says one intelligence specialist, the NSCN is "the mother of all insurgencies".

Another pattern that seems to characterise the regional rebellions is the breakdown of "accords", when agreements between rebel forces and governments go sour. The only successful agreement between militants and the Indian state seems to have been the Mizoram Accord of 1987, which enabled insurgents to surrender, receive an amnesty, and start life afresh.

Most of the other agreements have been fatally flawed, beginning with the Shillong Accord of 1975 between one group of Naga rebels and the Indian Government, which fell apart and led to the growth of the

NSCN. The pattern of breakdown of accords tends to be similar: acceptance of accommodation by moderates and subsequent rejection by hardliners. This has happened in Tripura and in Assam, especially with regard to the Bodo. The hard core of the ULFA leadership also rejected peace moves by their colleagues, and the organisation suffered a split from which it has yet to recover. When the Bodo struck a deal for greater autonomy with the Government of Assam in 1993, the package of promises began to unravel because the Bodo homeland's borders had been left undefined, as had been the all-important question of power-sharing. The extreme Bodo Security Force, which seeks full independence from India, struck at security forces and vulnerable targets such as unarmed Bengali settlers, in order to demonstrate its power and its rejection of the accord.

In Burma, the Rangoon govern­ment has followed a policy of punitive action against rebel groups combined with efforts to buy them out. This has worked with some groups, including a prominent Communist faction, and failed with others. One of the key factors about insurgencies and governmental response in Burma is that both have their fingers in the drug trade. Over the decades, Burma

HIMAL Mayllune J99S


has emerged as the single largest exporter of heroin to the West, and both government officials and insurgents depend on the trade for funds.

Into the Next Millennium

Am idst the crises overwhelm ing these fractured lands, it is difficult to env i sage w hat the future holds for the Nagaand theMizo, the Ahom and the Mishing, the Khampa and the Chakma.Migrationwillcontinue,for no walls, laws or police forces can stop people, like water, from seeking their own levels for survival. In a Subcontinent which will see nearly a billion Indians, 220 million Bangla­deshis and 30 million Nepalis (inNepal) by the year 2020, it is not feasible to hope that population flows will cease entirely.

Likewise, the nationalistic grip on the region by each of country capitals will continue,constricting the space for autonomy and seif-determination. The market forces, the

state and the local elites are bound to continue to be in league to exploit the natural resources in a manner that only a few will benefit, and not necessarily the tribals with closest links to the land. The rebellions that have become the defining attribute of the region are also likely to continue, although individ ual insurgencies may tire out and disappear.

At the same time, it is doubtful that greater autonomy to eco­nomically unviable, small commu­nities will benefit the people in the long run, except in temporarily raising hopes and creating new local aristocracies. Without outside personnel and central funds, these states and provinces will find it difficult to fulfil modern desires that have grown over the decades. Some of these might still be forest societies, but everyone wants to modernise.

The choice for the Far Eastern Himalaya is clear. It is either to throw up one's hands in despair at the

problems associated with divided geography, migration, reaction and military presence. Or it is to try to chart a path that involves joint planning for economic growth. If massive inflows of migrants and refugees are to be reduced, and the people of the region are to be saved from endless rebellions, the economies of the Far Eastern Himalaya, relegated to the periphery for too Jong, must expand, and expand on all sides.

Economic development, rooted in the sharing of water and other natural resources, multilateral trade, and assisting communities at the micro level—instead of imposing centrally sponsored schemes—seems to be the way out. A sense of inclusion and participation of local communities is critical in making programmes work. Paternalism only provokes bitterness. Locals need to be given effective control over resources, and development schemes must havetheir participation and not be devised and dictated by central authorities. An

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