Northeast India appears to be limping towards peace. The previous year has seen the lowest rate of civilian casualties in a decade in the region; from a high of 404 civilian fatalities in 2008, the number has dipped to 34 fatalities in 2017. The number of SF casualties has also registered a declining trend, over the last decade. 2008 saw 40 SF casualties which has come down to 13 fatalities in 2017. Most of these inci-dents of violence and fatalities have emanated from Assam and Manipur.
Violence in Assam is largely a product of ethnic issues and the influx of illegal immigrants. The security situation has vastly improved ever since the new gov-ernment came into power following the 2016 elections in the state. The year 2017 was by and large peaceful, with just three civilian fatalities and four SF fatalities in the year. This is a result of deft political handling by the new government and is a significant drop from the triple figure casualties of civilians in 2008 and in 2009.
The security situation in Manipur still remains a matter of concern. The state of violence, when measured in terms of civil-ian and SF fatalities has remained relative-ly constant over the last five years, with an average of 19 civilian fatalities and 12 SF fatalities per year. However, again due to a change in government post the March 2017 elections, the overall security climate has taken a turn for the better, with inci-dents of general strikes, which were a com-mon feature, no longer attracting public support and incidences of extortion, which too were a regular feature, register-ing a sharp decline. What impact this will have on militant inspired violence will remain to be seen in 2018, but it is likely that the state will turn around under the new dispensation.
While the peace accord with the NSCN (IM) in Nagaland holds, the elections due in February 2018 could also perhaps be angame changer in the state and lead to nor-malcy. As of now, the Khaplang group, NSCN (K) has not accepted a ceasefire, but being based in Myanmar, it is being mar-ginalised and within the public of Nagaland itself, there is a yearning for peace, especially amongst the influential women’s groups.
The overall portents for peace and sta-bility in the Northeast hence appears bright. This has been accentuated by the focus of the Central Government in giving a fillip to development activities through its Act East Policy, and in the government’s outreach to ASEAN, which will make the Northeastern states, the connecting bridge between India and ASEAN. The invitation to all Heads of State of ASEAN countries to this years Republic Day parade as Chief Guests is a deft political signal which will have a beneficial impact on the security milieu in all the northeastern states of India.
The security challenges however remain and will have to be addressed. Some of the militant groups coalesced in 2015 to form the United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNFLW), a conglomerate of ULFA, NSCN (K), KLO and some other groups of the region, which claimed the attack on a military convoy in 2015, killing 20 soldiers. Such groups will have to be dealt with firmly. But there is an air of positivism and hope in the air and a concerted push must be given to bring peace to the region. The challenge also lies in reforming a recalcitrant bureau-cracy, improving the criminal justice deliv-ery mechanisms and having the political will and resolve to bring peace to the region. The Northeast is not just India’s gateway to the ASEAN countries and to East Asia. It is the very heart of India and in its progress lies the hope for India to emerge as a leader in the comity of nations.