Nineteen armed groups belonging to the Kuki National Organisation and the United Peoples' Front mutually agreed to extend Suspension of Operation in their quest of settling their political agendas.
A year after the Suspension of Operation ended between the government of India [ Images ], the government of Manipur, KNO and UPF, it has been extended for another year again.
On August 18, 2009 all the parties involved in the peace process reviewed the progress on the implementation of the "Agreed Ground Rules" and extended the SoO for a year with effect from August 22, 2009. SoO will continue to be defined by the earlier "Ground Rules", which remains the same. The extension is suffused with peace rhetoric, but it is still short on the prospect for political dialogue.
Although the prospect for political talk does not seem to be showing immediate signs, the peace talks has been making good progress for the nineteen armed groups 11 groups under KNO and 8 groups under UPF .
Seilen Haokip, spokesman of KNO, otherwise said, "The main purpose of SoO is to engage in political dialogue to find a political settlement for the Kukis within the Constitution of India. Extension of SoO signals a positive stand on the part of all the parties concerned."
KNO spokesman strongly opines that the prospect for political dialogue is as "positive, real and relevant within the Constitution of India" as promised by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [ Images ].
So far there are no critical differences amongst the involved parties during the one-year of operation suspension. However, some of the armed groups were at loggerheads at times, which, however, did not narrow the peace process. Otherwise, with the extension of the ceasefire the armed groups will be, once again, expected to freeze operation not only with the Government forces but also amongst themselves. The agreed "Ground Rules" demands all the parties to stick to the conditions that admit them into the SoO group.
Exercising any sort of military might, particularly by the armed groups, is bound to be seen as violation of the contract that they have mutually entered into. On the part of the armed groups, it appears that none would immediately choose to stand in the way of the peace process in their quest to walk the talk towards securing "political solution".
TL Jacob Thadou, UPF's Convenor of the Joint Monitoring Group stated that the armed groups are adhering to the agreed conditions of the "Ground Rules" in good spirit. He said that the armed groups have been pragmatically engaged in a learning process that requires them to make peace, build confidence and resolve differences.
"SoO has generated a strong sense of common purpose among the various armed groups and encouraged unity building among the various Kuki clans", Seilen Haokip said. The KNO spokesman also added that KNO would unstintingly endeavor to increase mutual trust and respect among the Kukis and strive for a political settlement for the Kuki people and seek to peacefully co-exist with all its neighbours.
The suspension of operation has been weaving a space for the armed groups to condense their differences for a collective political goal. It looks like the attainment of collectiveness on the part of the armed groups would inevitably launch the political process in the desired direction. In the absence of that collectivity the political process could freeze for itself. TL Jacob Thadou said that preparations, thus far, have been held in a positive atmosphere with certain progress, though without definitive agreements for the political talks.
Although setting the stage for political talks may seem to be too early, leaders of the armed groups collectively agreed on the importance of initiating a meaningful dialogue and working towards a comprehensive settlement. Defining the political charters for that settlement would be like wading across muddy water in the already fractured state of Manipur. For the various armed groups, even though the present contract itself is a milestone, it cannot end here.
While the state actors as well as the non-state actors would both try to strike for a win-win situation, political dialogue would only balance the sticking issues, which is yet to surface.
On the other hand, despite the SoO, the government of Manipur has been doggedly trying to further militarise the hill districts by stationing the IRB and the police commando. Various armed groups that signed the SoO as well as civil society organisations collectively raised their voices against the move made by the government of Manipur.
TL Jacob Thadou says that the armed groups are strongly against the move, besides terming it as "unnecessary". On the other hand Seilen Haokip said, "Signing of SoO has brought about an unprecedented state of peace in the hills. The state of affairs prior to SoO was rather grave. Given this background, the government's plan to deploy IRB and police commandos in the hills raised a degree of suspicion in the minds of the public. In this regard, the government's plan appears to contradict, rather than strengthen the positive effects of SoO. It is amply evident that rather than generate a sense of security and comfort, it has caused a wave of alarm among the public."
For the state actors as well as the armed groups, it would not be in their favour to bring down the curtain over the hard earned peace process. The peace process is not only expensive, but it is also important to channel the voices of the diverse "revolutionary" groups to address and redress their plights, which otherwise has been taxing the climate of peace, security, welfare, development and even human lives.
The governments, although late, but better than never, took the right step in initiating the peace process. However, the direction for the progressing step is yet to be charted out without which sticking to the process will hold no water especially for the armed groups. It may sound like ringing the bell early, but there is a need to make headway not only to bring the boys back home, but to also set the house in order with the inevitable political dialogue.
Image: File photo of the cadres of United Kuki Liberation Front