Are peace talks in the northeast destined to remain a process until finally the process itself becomes the goal? This is a question which cannot miss any serious observers of the region. The answer seems to be in the affirmative, not merely from watching the Naga peace talks, but also the entry of so many other groups in Manipur into this process, in their case without any clear cut route charted out, or even the blueprint of what might be the ultimate solution, known. In fact, for many of the groups entering the fray now, it was never very clear what they were fighting for when they were fighting, unlike say the Nagas who were never in any doubt what they wanted from the time the elite leadership amongst them from the then Naga Club met the Simon Commission when the latter visited Nagaland in 1929. It is also unimaginable these latter groups would be able to come up with any credible, tangible goals, justified by the history or the present, now that they have supposedly stopped fighting. And yet the juggernaut has been set rolling and the “peace process” would carry on, perhaps for a decade, or even several decades, by which time a generation or two would have changed guards, and whatever little tangible goals that can be said to have yoked these disparate groups together would have been lost sight of.
From the state’s point of view, maybe this is a solution in itself. If this indeed is the case, then it would be much more fitting to refer to these peace talks as “peace offensives” rather than “peace initiatives”. In an oxymoronic sense, such a “peace” would become a “war” strategy. We would say this is a legitimate strategy too – that is, legitimised by war. Ultimately, the object in a war, be it open or cold, tepid or by proxy, is to win. But even if it is legitimate under the sweeping war philosophy encapsulated by the terse and familiar phrase: “everything is fair in love and war”, another vital question would continue to haunt. It may be legitimate, but does this necessarily guarantee success? It is for this than for any other reasons that we have reservation about the present push. After a settlement has been reached, would the larger problem of insurgency be solved conclusively, considering also the fact that the “peace offensive” still fails to impress many quarters that matter. After seeing how the state government treated the few dozen militants who it managed to wean away from the rebel camp, the prospect of convincing more of the benefits they can reap from hanging up their jungle boots and saying farewell to arms would have receded even farther away. There is a little more to be said on the “peace offensive”. Probably the new initiatives, especially of enlisting some factions of a hopelessly splintered underground group operating in the valley area, was meant as bait to lure bigger fish. Those with some experience in angling (and many of us are as children with our improvised fishing devices), would know it fully well that when the bait becomes too obvious, particularly when the menacing hook is not covered entirely by the bait, no fish would bite. We are sure those who fashioned his new initiative would know this too. Our hunch is, nobody seriously waging the insurrection war would bite this bait. And like it or not, the chain is only as strong as the weakest link, and here are the obvious weak links of this strategy. Rather than a strategy, what we propose in its place is the offer of an open-minded and open-hearted parley that laid a premium on a solution honourable to all parties involved.
But this “process as end” story is a doubled-edged sword which can cut either way. If “peace talks” are doomed to be reduced to this, insurgency itself is trapped in this same syndrome. This juggernaut too is become a perennial self-sustaining process which follows its own unique logic. The constant fights over government contract jobs by these non state players through their proxies, the need for harsh diktats to ensure public compliance to their agendas rather than voluntary participation etc, are some symptoms of this decay corroding away the soul of the insurrection. Under the circumstance, if the “fish baiting” games are to be abandoned, the “one-up-man ship” war games too must end. What is called for is a one to one discourse, which can give way to more hard-headed dialogues to finally pave the way for a negotiated settlement.