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“The quality of a peace agreement is only equal to the quality of its implementation. While the handshake symbolises the conclusion of a process, it simultaneously opens a new one, the need to forge a quality implementation” ~~ Felix Colchester, Laura Henao Izquierdo and Philipp Lustenberger
Government of India is committed to bringing enduring peace to the prolonged Naga conflict. There is no silver bullet to resolve the six-decade-old conflict but an era of peace can be herald by making all stakeholders owner of the peace process. The negotiation to find a solution is going on for the last 23 years. Now the people of Nagaland and the Naga insurgent groups are weary and want the settlement of this issue once for all.
While NSCN (Isak-Muivah) continues to insist for Naga Flag and Naga Constitution, the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), consisting of seven major insurgent groups, want talks to conclude. This time around, even the civil society, church, and social activists from Nagaland are on board and want the government to wind up talks and roll out an implementable peace accord.
The major stumbling block is while the NNPGs want a solution for Nagas within Nagaland, the NSCN-IM seeks integration of Naga-inhabited areas beyond the geographical boundary of Nagaland. In addition, NSCN (IM) want a separate flag and constitution of Nagalim. But Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh are not willing to accept Greater Nagalim as envisioned by NSCN (IM). Notwithstanding the above, the Government is determined to go ahead with the accord with or without NSCN (IM). In fact, the accord is just a step forward to pursue the peace process and not the end state.
Implementation of Accord a Nuanced Process
While the signing of a peace agreement between parties to the conflict is an important step towards peace, the critical factor for peace is whether the agreement can be successfully implemented.
More often, the peace accords are misconstrued as the arrival of enduring peace. Key to thrash out implementable peace accord is the ability of the stakeholders to identify the fast-changing landscape that will emerge post accord. Jostling for political space by opposing groups is expected during negotiation and implementation stage. The transition from the negotiations to implementation is crucial, as the immediate post-agreement phase is prone to instability, with a disconnect between the high expectations raised by a peace agreement and the slow start to implementation of the accord.
After signing of a peace agreement, many people expect to see immediate and tangible results. However, the immediate benefits of peace often do not occur. There will be a high expectation of economic windfall, development of tribal areas, job opportunities, provision of civil amenities and public aspirations for effective governance.
If high expectations and euphoria fail to create a positive impact, population tend to become cynical and that has the potential to create relapse of conflict. Such an environment will make it more challenging for authorities to implement the peace accord. Thus, the accord should be drafted with due care to ensure political rhetoric does not unnecessarily raise unexpected aspirations.
Accord could take time, but there should be no ambiguity in finding a solution to the sticking point. The government will have to spell out how do they meet the aspirations of Naga Tribes within and outside Nagaland. The Naga tribes outside the geographical boundary of Nagaland must enjoy similar advantages as being contemplated for Naga Tribes of Nagaland. It must be explained to the stakeholders that all eventualities and ambiguities cannot be covered in the accord, therefore, the capacity to deal with uncertainties that may arise in future needs to be worked out. The accord should have the provisions to review the progress periodically. The provisions of the accord should not be rigid or fixed that does not allow any flexibility during the implementation stage. The government should nominate oversite committee where people can project their viewpoints instead of having only politico-bureaucratic oversite committee.
Conflict in society takes place when institutions of governance fail to redress the grievances of the people. Therefore, institution building is of utmost importance for the implementation of a peace accord in a transparent manner. Today, people see law enforcement institutions as a tool of injustice in the hands of the government. This perception can only be exterminated when institutions are build and accountability fixed.
According to the Kroc Institute’s Peace Accord Matrix, 30 per cent of peace agreements face renewed violence in the first two years after signing. Disarmament and demobilisation of cadres are often problematic since the government is not able to accommodate every insurgent due to their lack of skills, education and criminal records. Those who will not be accommodated in rehabilitation package may be left out, such cadres can be poached by the drug cartels or by non-state actors especially by those rogue organisations that are against the peace process. This is one of the biggest dangers that the government should be worried about post accord fallout. Renewed violence makes the implementation of peace accord challenging and under such circumstances, people tend to lose faith in the intent of the government.
The peace accord will throw up new areas of contest. In the instant case of Naga conflict, the contest could be for greater political space, contest to garner greater resources for the development of their areas and tribes and a greater share of jobs in the government sector. To maintain balance, the government will have to ensure greater transparency and coordination among the Naga civil societies. The insurgent groups that wielded power during the pre-accord period will be keen to ensure their cadres are given a greater share in political, economic and social space. Such a situation can best be handled by a tribal coordination committee if nominated by the government to oversee transparent implementation of the accord.
Social polarisation is a possibility if some sections of the population are given a raw deal. There is likely to be a race to garner maximum resources for their tribe or community. If such a situation is not handled carefully, this has the potential to cause a relapse of violence in society. There are external forces that are keen to ensure that the Naga accord is either stuck or if it is signed, in that case, it should not succeed.
Recommendations for Mediation and Implementation of Naga Peace Accord
The accord should take into consideration the long term view. If it is aimed at political grandstanding, in that case, the accord is likely to fail. Close to 8,000 treaties have been signed globally between 1500 BC and 1892 AD for resolving major disputes between warring nations and factions. If these treaties had succeeded, there would have been no wars. A study by Russian sociologist Jacques Novicow undertaken in 1894 concluded that the peace treaties remained in vogue for an average period of not more than two years. These treaties collapsed because they failed to meet the aspirations of warring factions. The implementation of the peace accord should be to bring generational sustainable peace in society. A large number of stakeholders and social groups will emerge as the negotiations move towards implementation stage. These groups may have remained dormant due to lack of social and political influence. Even these groups need to be assimilated and taken on board. Leaving them out and neglecting their aspirations may be unhealthy to implement the accord. A society cannot prosper if a section is left out to fend for themselves.
There is a need to prepare the existing institutions and people’s forum to implement the accord. Each provision of the peace accord and its implications needs to be explained to the people to avoid ambiguity and prevent exploitation by those who oppose this impending accord. Implementation mechanism should be put in place consisting of government and non-government organisations that are acceptable to all stakeholders. Low hanging fruits or the provisions that can be implemented immediately must be identified. Peace accord must not be open-ended, it must have implementable timelines so that citizens are aware that in what timeframe each phase of accord will get implemented.
During the process of implementation of the accord, disputes will emerge and some may be unanticipated. Thus, a mechanism for dispute settlement consisting of a government agency, tribal heads and civil society members should first endeavour to defuse the dispute and then resolve it by mediation and consultation.
As soon as violence diminishes, social conflict takes the centre stage. Ultimately, it is the people who should be encouraged to become the vanguard in conflict resolution. The accord is only a meeting point, it is not a guarantor of peace and development. Though it is the people who will make the peace accord a success, the implementation of the same should not be left to the local government only. In this case, the Central Government must depute a nodal agency that is able to intervene, coordinate and resolve ambiguous and sticking points.
Negotiating and making rival insurgent groups to sign a peace agreement will be a significant step to resolve Naga conflict. However, a peace agreement is only as good as its implementation. It is far from given that the conclusion of a peace agreement will herald quality implementation. Successful implementation of Naga peace accord as and when signed will require long-term commitment and planning by the government and Naga tribes because the peace accord can offer the way forward for peaceful resolution of long outstanding disputes and set at rest differing perceptions. But peacebuilding is the collective responsibility of the state and the people. Though it is rarely possible to implement a peace accord in letter and spirit, it can act as a stepping stone to herald an era of peace and stability.
Disgruntled elements of society will still find reasons to be unhappy. But what the government should ensure is that no one should be excluded from the peace dividends whether that tribe is a party to the accord or not.
About the Writer: Brig Narender Kumar is an Infantry Officer. He has an extensive experience in counter insurgency and anti-terrorism operations. He has authored two books- “Challenges in the Indian Ocean Regions and Response Options.” and “Rise of China: A Military Challenge to India.” He has authored more than 200 research papers/ Chapter’s for various books/ articles journals and web portals. A former Distinguished Fellow at USI of India and currently Visiting Fellow CLAWS.