The moot question is, has the Armed Forces Special Powers Act been able to ensure peace in the North East region ? If this is so then why should BJP leaders go about crowing that the law and order situation has improved considerably after the BJP came to power at Imphal ? Cast the net wider and should it be a case of the law and order situation improving after the BJP came to power in New Delhi and in some States of the North East region, notably Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura ? Or is it because of the military or the Army being given a free hand under the said Army Act ? Tough to find a meeting point between these two viewpoints for here one is talking about a political approach to an issue and a military approach under the protective shield provided by the AFSPA but what cannot be denied is the fact that the number of militant outfits saw a quantum jump after the whole of Manipur came under the coverage of AFSPA in 1980. The decades of AFSPA could not break the backbone of the Naga armed movement, first started by the NNC, and then given more teeth and ‘substance’ by the NSCN and even after its first major split into the NSCN (IM) and the NSCN (K) in 1988 and many more later, perhaps best exemplified by the coming together of different outfits under the NNPGs to engage in a dialogue with the Government of India. It was not AFSPA which went a long way in silencing the guns at Nagaland or in Naga dominated districts of Manipur, but the political dialogue between the different armed groups and the Government of India. It is not the continuation of the Army Act which has silenced the guns in the Kuki dominated districts of Manipur, but the signing of the peace pact under the Suspension of Operation (SoO). Likewise it was not the guns and the draconian Army Act which brought peace and neutralised the bush war in Mizoram, but the Mizo Accord. This is the bare fact, but one is left wondering why peace should always be taken as the prerequisite for the Army Act to be denotified. This line seems to cut both ways, in that the Army top brass and the political leadership of the day continue to hark the line that the said Army Act will be withdrawn once peace prevails though it is more than clear that AFSPA does not in any way have a hand in charting out the path for a return to normalcy.
On the other hand it should be clear to the Army top brass that AFSPA has only helped in alienating the people further from all that the Government stands for. The list of atrocities, the excesses, the ‘disappearances’, the Th Manorama episode, Ngaprum Rose, RIMS massacre, Tonsen Lamkhai, Malom killings, Operation Bluestar of 1987 at Oinam village in Senapati, Heirangoithong killings are just some instances that come to mind and the significant point is, none of these instances helped in bettering the law and order situation. On the contrary it only helped in further alienating the people from the men in uniform and what the Government stood for. The instances recalled here concern only Manipur and the neighbouring States of Assam, Nagaland and to a lesser extent Arunachal Pradesh must have their own story to tell and it was only in December last year that Nagaland erupted in protest following the mass massacre at Oting village. Peace first for AFSPA to go while the fact remains that the Army Act has not helped one bit in bettering the law and order situation and harping on this line perhaps reflects the poverty of ideas in the higher echelons of the Army establishment. Laying down riders such as ‘let peace prevail first’ to withdraw the Army Act is like playing with the question, ‘Which came first the chicken or the egg ?’. In short such a line of thought comes nowhere near to bettering the law and order situation nor in addressing the gross violations of human rights. Why is human rights such a sensitive issue amongst the people of North East and Manipur in particular is a question that should have been raised a long time back.