QUESTION : Critically analyse the recent Assam-Mizoram border dispute and discuss the other important issues in North-East India.
The Hindu Editorial Topic : DANGEROUS CONFLAGRATION
Assam-Mizoram Boundary Dispute
WHY IN NEWS ?
Recently, at least five Assam Police personnel were killed after the old boundary dispute between Assam and Mizoram exploded in violent clashes at a contested border point.
- In October last year, residents of Assam and Mizoram has clashed twice in the space of a week over territory, in which at least eight people were injured.
- The violence spotlights the long-standing inter-state boundary issues in the Northeast, particularly between Assam and the states that were carved out of it.
BACKGROUND OF ASSAM-MIZORAM BOUNDARY DISPUTE :
- The boundary between present-day Assam and Mizoram, 165 km long today, dates back to the colonial era, when Mizoram was known as Lushai Hills, a district of Assam.
- The dispute stems from a notification of 1875 that differentiated the Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar, and another of 1933, that demarcates a boundary between the Lushai Hills and Manipur.
- Mizoram believes the boundary should be demarcated on the basis of the 1875 notification, which is derived from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) Act, 1873.
- Mizo leaders have argued in the past against the demarcation notified in 1933 because Mizo society was not consulted.
- Assam government follows the 1933 demarcation, and that was the point of conflict.
- According to an agreement between Mizoram and Assam, status quo was to be maintained in the no man’s land in the border area.
RECENT CLASHES :
- In February 2018, there was violence when students’ union MZP (Mizo Zirlai Pawl) built a wooden rest house for farmers on land that was claimed by Assam and which was demolished by Assam Police.
- Again, in October 2020, clashes erupted twice in a week over construction of huts in Lailapur (Assam) on land claimed by Mizoram.
OTHER BOUNDARY DISPUTES IN THE NORTH-EAST INDIA :
Assam has had boundary problems with all its north-eastern neighbours, except Manipur and Tripura that had existed as separate entities.
- State Reorganisation Post Independence: The primary reason is that the other States, which were all part of Assam during the British rule, have contested the boundaries since they separated from Assam and became full-fledged States over a period of time (Nagaland Statehood in 1963; Meghalaya, Tripura & Manipur Statehood in 1971; Arunachal Pradesh & Mizoram Statehood in 1987)
- Constitutional Solution Vs Historical grounds: Assam has accepted several recommendations of border commissions set up by the Supreme Court, but other States have been sticking to “historical boundaries” that go back to the period before 1826, when the British annexed undivided Assam and included the hills as its provinces.
- Issue of Nagaland: The Nagaland government has been insisting that a 16-point agreement of 1960, which led to the creation of Nagaland, also included “restoration” of all Naga territories that had been transferred out of the Naga Hills after the British annexed Assam in 1826.
- Issue of Meghalaya: Meghalaya has challenged the Assam Reorganisation Act of 1971, claiming that two blocks in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district belonged to the erstwhile United Khasi and Jaintia Hills created in 1835.
- Assam’s point of view: Assam says its neighbours have encroached upon more than 75,000 hectares of land. Revenue records of the Assam government say Nagaland has encroached upon 19,819.62 hectares, Arunachal Pradesh 5,756.02 hectares and Meghalaya 65.62 hectares since 2001.
- During colonial times, Mizoram was known as Lushai Hills, a district of Assam.
- Mizoram was granted statehood in 1987 by the State of Mizoram Act, 1986.
- Assam became a constituent state of India in 1950 and lost much of its territory to new states that emerged from within its borders between the early 1960s and the early 1970s.
WAY FORWARD :
- Burden borne by common man: The border residents will continue to bear the brunt of the unrest unless an acceptable solution is arrived at.
- Joint patrolling by police personnel of both the States with Central forces along the inter-State border.
- Maintaining Peace & Order: Apart from drawing up the standard operating procedure for guarding the contentious boundary, state governments need to strengthen coordination between the Superintendents of Police of the border districts for prompt action against criminals and anti-social activities that add to the border tension.
- Boundary disputes between the states can be settled by using satellite mapping of the actual border locations.
- Zonal Councils need to be revived to discuss the matters of common concern to states in each zone—matters relating to social and economic planning, border disputes, inter-state transport, etc.
- India is the epitome of unity in diversity. However, in order to strengthen this unity furthermore, both the centre and state governments, need to imbibe the ethos of Cooperative federalism.
The Home Ministry must ensure that the AssamMizoram border situation is first subject to deescalation and steps taken to return to the status quo that prevailed before the skirmishes began in October 2020with the cooperation of the respective States
QUESTION : Strategic significance of Afghanistan for India . Comment
The Hindu Editorial Topic : NEEDED, A MORE UNIFIED ASIAN VOICE FOR AFGHANISTAN
India And Afghanistan
WHY IN NEWS ?
In the backdrop of US pull out of troops from Afghanistan, three recent meetings are turning the spotlight on the Central Asia’s role in dealing with the situation in Afghanistan
- Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) contact group on Afghanistan
- SCO Defence Ministers in Tajikistan,
- Central and South Asia conference on regional connectivity in Uzbekistan
CONCERNS FOR INDIA IN CENTRAL ASIA :
- The same powers that invaded Afghanistan post 9/11, and declared the Taliban leadership as UNSC-designated terrorists, are now advocating talks with the Taliban
- India’s original hesitation in opening talks with the Taliban has cut India out of the current reconciliation process.
- The end of any formal dialogue between India and Pakistan since 2016 and trade since 2019, have resulted in Pakistan blocking India’s over-land access to Afghanistan.
- India’s alternative route through Chabahar, though operational, cannot be viable or cost-effective also long as U.S. sanctions on Iran are in place.
- India’s boycott of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) make another route to Afghanistan off-limits.
- U.S. has announced a new, surprise formation of a “Quad” on regional connectivity — U.S.-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan that does not include India
- All the above portends to India’s narrowing window of engagement in Central Asia.
CALCULATION OF CENTRAL ASIAN NEIGHBOURS :
- Necessity of Afghanistan for access to Ocean: First is that prosperity for these land-locked countries can only flow from access through Afghanistan to the closest ocean, i.e. the Indian Ocean.
- Need for Taliban’s Support: Second, all transit through Afghanistan depends on guarantees of safe passage from the Taliban, backed by the group’s mentors in Pakistan. Therefore, Central Asian countries have been at the forefront of mediation of talks with Taliban.
- Alignment with China: Third, all five Central Asian Countries are now a part of China’s BRI. Tying their connectivity initiatives with Beijing’s BRI will bring the double promise of investment and some modicum of control over Pakistan.
STRATEGIC SIGNIFICANCE OF AFGHANISTAN FOR INDIA :
- Natural resources: Afghanistan is known for its geo-strategic importance and abundance of natural resources. Afghanistan has an estimated 1 trillion USD of untapped resources according to a joint report of The Pentagon and US Geological Survey. Stable Afghanistan with better relations means more economic development in the region and of India.
- Security: A stable Afghanistan is crucial for regional and domestic security and stability for India. With Afghanistan becoming a centre of radical ideology and violence again, such a development would affect Pakistan and would inevitably reach India. Further, there is threat of drug trafficking through the Afghanistan route. Peaceful Afghanistan is thus a necessity to reduce the threat to internal security of india.
- Connectivity: Afghanistan is always considered as India’s gateway to Central Asia. It implies continental outreach. For instance, connectivity with Afghanistan and further with Central Asia have been primarily the reasons for India’s engagement with Iran to develop Chabahar port. Similarly, Delaram-Zaranj highway is an important route to connect Indian economy via Afghanistan.
- Strengthening regional foothold: Increasing strategic engagements with Afghanistan combination is beneficial for India in strengthening a foothold in the region. For example, India’s relations with Iran at present are dominated by oil. Diversification of engagements would strengthen India’s relations with Iran and other countries.
- Energy ambitions: To address its energy needs to sustain its economic growth, pipelines from Iran and Central Asia would be extremely important. India sees Afghanistan as an essential component of the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline. An unstable Afghanistan would hurt the construction of this pipeline and the subsequent flow of gas.
- Trade: In case of trade, Afghanistan can help India export its products to Europe, gaining foreign exchange. The railway line from Chabahar to Zahedan in Afghanistan envisages to connect New Delhi with Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Europe.
WAY FORWARD :
- Realizing Common Concerns: India and the Central Asian States share common concerns about an Afghanistan overrun by the Taliban and under Pakistan’s thumb: the worries of battles at their borders, safe havens for jihadist terror groups inside Afghanistan and the spill-over of radicalism into their own countries.
- Supporting Afghan Government: India to work with Central Asian states, and other neighbours to shore up finances for the Afghanistan government to ensure that the government structure does not collapse
- Fighting Terror: As part of the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), India must also step up its engagement with the Central Asian countries on fighting terror.
- Supporting Afghan Defence Forces: India can support the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) where it needs it most: in terms of air power.
- Engaging with Pakistan: India’s reluctant discussions with the Taliban leadership make little sense unless a less tactical and more strategic engagement with Pakistan is also envisaged.
In the absence of an alternative, even after the signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement, Pakistan is likely to continue using the Afghan Taliban as a counterweight against rising Indian and Iranian political influence in Afghanistan. India prefers to back the democratically-elected Afghan government rather than support the traditionally Pakistan-supported Taliban, which would not guarantee its interests in Afghanistan.
If India remains active and patient too, many opportunities could open up in the new Afghan phase.