Karbi Anglong Peace Accord: Cordoning Security to Enhancing Connectivity

 By Vaibhav Kullashri
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Introduction

On 04 September, a tripartite agreement was signed between the Centre, the Assam government, and the five insurgent groups’ active in the Karbi Anglong region of Assam. According to the Memorandum of Settlement -as the accord is stated- “will ensure greater devolution of autonomy to the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council, protection of identity, language, culture, etc. of Karbi people and focused development of the Council area, without affecting the territorial and administrative integrity of Assam”[1].

Under the agreement, more power-legislative, executive, administrative, and financial- will be devolved to the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC). The Assam government will set up a Karbi welfare council for the focused development of Karbi people living outside the KAAC area, and the center will create a Special Development Package of Rs 1,000 crores for the state to fund specific projects for the development of Karbi areas. In return, the armed group will shun violence and join the democratic process while the government will facilitate the rehabilitation of their cadres.

The accord aims to end the decade’s old crisis comes after 1040 militants of five Karbi Anglong militant groups – Karbi People’s Liberation Tiger (KPLT), People’s Democratic Council of Karbi Longri (PDCK), Karbi Longri NC Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), Kuki Liberation Front (KLF) and United People’s Liberation Army (UPLA) – has surrendered with the weapons in a ceremonial event at Guwahati in February this year [2].

History Involving Creation of Karbi Anglong 

Historically, Mikir Hills tract (now Karbi Anglong) was never under Assam domination and was coerced into Assam by Britishers for their Administrative convenience [3]. Further, the people of Mikir hill tracts find less affinity with people of the plains. Throughout history, they have been harmless and non-vocal, leading to neglect of their identity and subjugation of their rights.

Post independence, a new district was created, namely – United Mikir and North Chachar, on 17 November 1951[4]. Its bifurcation led to creation of two separate districts known as ‘Mikir Hills’ and North Chachar hill district in 1970. Finally, on 14 October 1976, the erstwhile Mikhir Hill district was rechristened as Karbi Anglong and district council as Karbi Anglong District Council (KADC).On 01 April, 1995, following Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and necessary constitutional amendments, KADC was upgraded to Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC).

Located in Central Assam, the Karbi Anglong is the state’s largest district and was declared autonomous in 1976 under the provision of the sixth schedule of the Indian constitution. It consists of three sub divisions- Diphu, Bakajan, and Hamren. The Karbi Anglong is surrounded by Golaghat district in the east, Meghalaya state and Morigaon district in the west, Nagaon and Golaghat districts in the north and the North Cachar Hills district and the state of Nagaland in the south (Shown in Fig 01). The district is a melting pot of ethnicity, tribal groups and is also home to Karbi, Dimasa, Bodo, Kuki, Hmar, Tiwa, Garo, Man (Tai speakers), and Rengma Naga communities.

Fig 01 – Map showing Karbi Anglong district and its neighboring states and districts

(Source – https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Map-of-Karbi-Anglong-district-showing-area-of-the-present-study-Source-ABDs-School_fig1_308485225)

Ethnic Rifts and Reason for Conflict in Karbi Anglong

The composite culture of a pluralistic society in the northeast is subdued by an unethical national integration policy and vested political interest. It led to the emergence of armed groups claiming to protect ethnic, linguistic, and cultural identity. This mushrooming of armed groups created rivalry among themselves, and they started competing for territorial gains, political autonomy, and preferential treatment in employment.

Karbi is the largest tribe in Karbi Anglong, whereas Kukis are primarily in the Singhason hill area. Karbi feared that Kukis would outnumber them in their own land due to their influx in the region after Naga-Kuki clashes occurred in adjoining Nagaland and Manipur in 1992 [5]. This insecurity and trust deficit between the tribe led to a conflict that erupted in October 2003, causing many casualties and disruption. Similarly, the clash between the Karbis and Dimasas in 2005 jeopardized the coexistence of peace between the tribes involved in the political struggle for a joint state [6]. The Dimasa are the indigenous people of Assam and found their home in North Cachar Hills District. However, their political objective clashed with that of Karbi’s, leading to conflict. Further, the border dispute between Assam and Nagaland involving the Daldali Reserve Forest of Karbi Anglong district adds further tension to an already volatile environment.

These clashes and conflicts are not ordinary ethnic riots; the perpetrators are armed cadres of different ethnic groups which claim to be the protector of the rights of their respective tribes. Further, the peace deal and accord have been signed between the government, and different armed sections do not achieve the desired aim because- First, there is no common consensus among militant cadres and the leadership. Once the peace deal is signed, dissatisfied factions form another militant group nullifying the government’s objective of signing the peace deal in the first place. For example, the UPDS (United People’s Democratic Solidarity) was formed in 1999 after merging erstwhile Karbi People’s Front (KPF) and Karbi National Volunteer. However, following the ceasefire agreement between the Centre and the UPDS, the group opposing the peace talks formed the Karbi Longri National Liberation Front (KLNLF).

Second, these armed groups do not adhere to the ceasefire guidelines and indulge in all sorts of anti-social activities [7].This beefed up the tension between militant factions and leaders of the democratic movement. It weakens the democratic voices and encourages armed groups to dictate the terms of peace.

Third, the developmental fund and packages allotted to the autonomous council are not utilized relatively and transparently. Further, vested interests often presume greater say in the autonomous council diverting public funds to the private party[8]. It leads to poor infrastructure build-up in the region, causing dissatisfaction toward the government policies.

Implications: Enhance security, Prosperous northeast leading to robust connectivity

The signing of a tripartite agreement is the step closer to fostering peace in the region. It is a significant development not only for Assam but for Nagaland and Northeast as whole. However, the credibility of the agreement will be tested by its implementation on the ground. Similar tripartite agreements were signed with Karbi-Anglong groups in 1995 and 2011 but could not establish peace in Karbi Anglong. Also, following the signing of the agreement, the umbrella body of 24 indigenous organizations of Karbi Anglong considered the agreement a gimmick and protested against it [9].

Similar accords – Bodoland Peace Accord (Assam), Bru Rehabilitation Agreement- signed over the last couple of years have proved that armed groups are now willing to shed violence and eager to join mainstream politics. However, insurgency in the northeast cannot be treated as a homogeneous problem [10]. The solution to each problem needs to be tailored separately while taking different stakeholders under consideration. There is an urgent need for rule-based order and the development of infrastructure in the region to give impetus to the living standard of the people. Northeast has vast potential in tourism, local business, handicraft, and agriculture, especially horticulture. To tap this massive potential of the Northeastern state, peace and infrastructure development is the prerequisite. Further, Northeastern state is at the fulcrum of India’s Act East policy. Greater peace and connectivity within the northeast will channelise into enhanced connectivity with the neighboring state.

Fig 02 – Number of Violent Incident in Northeast since 2009

Source – https://www.idsa.in/issuebrief/northeast-poised-for-lasting-peace-pdas-080720         and https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/NE_Insurgency.pdf

Conclusion

The collective effort of armed forces, government policies, and local people has brought down the violent incident in the Northeastern state (See Fig 02). However, policies need to be in place to sustain peace and utilize it for the upliftment of the region. In this context, the signing of the Karbi Anglong peace accord is the stepping stone for fostering peace, imparting development, and improving connectivity in the region.


Endnotes

  1. Ministry of Home Affairs, Press Information Bureau. Available at https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1752066, accessed on 08 September 2021.
  2. Abhishek Saha, “Explained: The significance of militants’ surrender in Assam, and history of Karbi insurgency”, The Indian Express, 25 February 2021. Available at https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-significance-of-militants-surrender-in-assam-and-history-of-karbi-insurgency-7203011/, accessed on 09 September 2021.
  3. Nithyananda Kalita, “A historical perspective of ethnic conflict in North East India with special reference to Karbi Anglong and North Cachar hills districts”,Shodhganga, 31 Dec 2012. Available at http://hdl.handle.net/10603/114354, accessed on 08 September 2021.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Praveen Kumar, “Karbi-Kuki Clashes in Assam” Strategic Analysis, Vol 22, Issue 3, IDSA, 2004. Available at https://www.idsa.in/strategicanalysis/KarbiKukiClashesinAssam_pkumar_0404, accessed on 10 September 2021.
  6. Sushil Kumar Sharma, “Karbi Insurgency in Assam: The Way Forward”, Policy Brief, IDSA, 20 June 2016. Available at https://idsa.in/policybrief/karbi-insurgency-in-assam_sksharma_200116, accessed on 10 September 2021.
  7. Sushanta Talukdar, “Violence in the Hills”, Frontline, 18 November 2005. Available at https://frontline.thehindu.com/other/article30207231.ece, accessed on 10 September 2021.
  8. Editorial, “Karbi Anglong peace deal points to importance of addressing smaller insurgencies that scar Northeast landscape”, The Indian Express, 07 September 2021. Available at https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/assam-government-karbi-anglong-insurgent-groups-7493013/, accessed on 07 September 2021.
  9. Kangkan Kalita, “Assam: Protests erupt in Karbi Anglong over accord”, The Times of India, 06 September 2021. Available at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/assam-protests-erupt-in-karbi-anglong-over-accord/articleshow/85952746.cms, accessed on 06 September 2021.
  10. Lt Gen Balbir Singh Sandhu, “Why Karbi Anglong Accord is Important for India’s Long Border with Resurgent China”, News18, 08 September 2021. Available at https://www.news18.com/news/opinion/karbi-anglong-accord-important-for-security-and-economic-development-of-northeast-region-4174937.html, accessed on 08 September 2021.