1.A guide to resolving the Assam-Mizoram issue
Historical knowledge, sensitivity and an accommodative spirit need to accompany any dialogue and negotiation
The violent stand-off between the Assam and Mizoram armed policemen at Vairengte in Mizoram, on July 26, about six kilometres from Lailapur, Assam which took six lives and left over 50 injured is the culmination of a long-standing border dispute.
History and a boundary
Almost one and a half centuries ago and 17 years before the Lushai hills was annexed to British Assam in 1892, the ‘inner line’ boundary of the Lushai hills was ‘fixed’ in 1875 on the southern border of Assam’s Cachar district. In line with the colonial practice of ‘fixing’ borders, this boundary was however not ‘precise’ as it was drawn largely using natural markers such as rivers and hills. In post-independent India, the Mizoram government has accepted this boundary in preference over the subsequent revisions made by the colonial government when the Inner Line Permit under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 was extended to the Lushai hills district in 1930 and 1933.
Unlike the 1875 boundary, which involved a proxy of Suakpuilala, one of the Lushai chiefs, the Mizoram government perceives that the boundary instituted by these revisions sidestepped them and amounted to unilateral superimposition — driven as it were by ‘administrative convenience’. These revisions are also seen to conspicuously fail to recognise the Mizo’s long-standing historical rights to use the un-demarcated southern border of Cachar as their hunting ground, for jhum cultivation, and as sites of their resource extraction including rubber and timber. The enclosure of about 509 square miles of the Lushai hills under the Inner Line Reserve Forest area via the Assam Forest Regulation, 1877, is being cited as one of the glaring exemplars of ‘encroachment’ by the Assam government into the Lushai hills (now Mizoram). However, considering that borders cannot be driven by perception but by institutionalised rules and laws, Assam’s government continues to refuse to accept Mizoram’s standpoint.
Seen from this standpoint, the Assam government considers Mizo plantation and settlements in the Inner Line Reserve Forest areas as an ‘encroachment’. Such a standpoint is oblivious to the fact that Seipuia, a Lushai chief, established a village, Seidpur, on a hill nearly 10 miles from Silchar, the capital of Cachar. The Jalenga tea estate located in Tlangpui village and Paloi tea estate near Vairengte — both in Cachar — took their names after Zalenga and Palawia, two Lushai chiefs. Given that the Lushai (also known as old Kukis — Hrangkhawl, Biete, Ralte, etc.) are among the earliest settlers of Cachar, many villages in Cachar (and Karimganj) have Lushai settlements. Sporadic incidents of evictions or arrests by the Assam officials were reported in the 1970s and 2000s. A recent allegation of ‘encroachment’ happened in October 2020 when Assamese officials burnt down Mizo huts and other settlements in the Singla Reserve Forest which led to border clashes and a 12-day blockade of National Highway 306.
Although Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is partially right in claiming that the dispute is about ‘reserve forest’ and not ‘land’, what is at the heart of this dispute is the contending approaches of the Assam and Mizoram governments to ‘borders’, namely ‘state-centric’ and ‘people-centric’ approaches.
Mr. Sarma and the Assam government represent a continuum of the colonial ‘state-centric’ approach to borders which gives premium to legal, juridical and administrative recognition and protection of the border. Colonial state-making and state-expansion entail a ‘fixing’ of borders. The discovery of oil, tea, rubber and coal around the middle of the 19th century in the ‘outer limits’ of Assam proper and the concomitant attempt to commercialise these commodities impel the regulation of trade and commerce between the British and their competitors. The enclosure of land in these ‘outer limits’ by declaring them either as ‘forest reserve areas’ or imposing an inner line permit raj system stem from this.
This development leverages a new land-use regime which is principally driven by efforts to augment State revenues. Forest conservation and the protection of tribal/indigenous land interests are peripheral concerns. One of the unintended consequences was the large-scale migration of labour from various parts of British India into Cachar, Hailakandi, and Karimganj. The ‘encroachment’ and ‘enclosure’ of their land and forest ‘commons’ reinforced the steely resolve of the tribal groups such as the Lushais to ‘protect’ their land. The series of raids since the mid-1840s, which culminated in the famous raid of Alexandrapore tea garden in Cachar in early January 1871, stems from this. In this raid, James Winchester, a British tea planter, was killed, and Mary Winchester, his daughter, captured. The British launched the Lushai Expedition (1871-72) partly to secure Mary’s release.
The recent overtures by Mr. Sarma to approach the Supreme Court of India, and raise a 4,000-strong commando battalion to ‘protect’ the ‘forest reserve’ areas need to be seen against this backdrop. Parading a bullet-proof armoured vehicle is intended to drive home this message. The muscular display of power also becomes fully evident in the way in which a contingent of about 200 Assam armed policemen along with Karimganj forest officials overran the central paramilitary outpost, marched and ‘encroached’ deep into Mizoram’s border at Vairengte a day after the dispute had already flared up.
Critics squarely blamed Mr. Sarma for this misadventure and political upmanship which cost the lives of five of of Assam’s armed policemen and a civilian and left over 50 people injured. It remains to be seen if the immediate valorisation, ex gratia payment of ₹50 lakh and securing jobs to each family of the ‘martyrs’, and ₹1 lakh relief to the injured edify his image as a ‘decisive’ Chief Minister or expose him as a regional bully. The last image has gained traction given that Assam has a long-standing border dispute with Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland.
In contrast to the above, Chief Minister Zoramthanga and the Mizoram government advocate a ‘people-centric’ approach which seeks to give a premium to the historical and traditional rights of the local indigenous people on the one hand and to the principle of uti possidetis juris (‘as you possess under law’, including customary law) on the other hand. Mr. Zoramthanga and his predecessors have made concerted attempts to forge a consensus around this approach. The two-member boundary committee report of 1973 and the memorandum prepared by the Joint Action Committee, non-governmental organisations and all-political parties in Mizoram in 2018, which has been submitted to the Prime Minister of India, are pointers to this.
At the negotiating table
Given that ‘borders’ are contested social constructs, ‘mental maps’ which are given subjective meanings and interpretations, the endeavours by Mr. Sarma and Mr. Zoramthanga to ‘fix’ the Assam-Mizoram border and resolve the dispute need to be sensitive to the historical context in which local land owners and protectors have transformed overtime as ‘encroachers’ of land across the two States. Such a resolution should be sensitive to the possibility of fluid and overlapping sovereignty, where forest ‘commons’ are seen not simply as sites of revenue-extraction but as powerful symbols of identity and sustainable livelihood resources for the local people.
Deep historical knowledge, sensitivity and an accommodative spirit need to inform Mr. Sarma and Mr. Zoramthanga even as they sit down peacefully to enter into dialogue and negotiation under the neutral supervision of the Centre. It is about time that the Centre sets up a permanent inter-governmental forum to involve important stakeholders in order to effectively manage border and territorial conflicts. Any quick-fix solution driven by temporal electoral considerations should be avoided if we were to resuscitate and sustain interdependent Assam-Mizoram borders and beyond.
Why in News
Recently, several IED (Improvised Explosive Device) blasts were carried out inside Cachar district of Assam allegedly by miscreants from Mizoram. These blasts signal the re-emergence of long-unresolved Assam-Mizoram Border Dispute.
- The boundary issue between Assam and Mizoram has existed since the formation of Mizoram — first as a union territory in 1972, and then as a full-fledged state in 1987.
- In India, Inter-state disputes are multifaceted, besides disputes over boundaries, there are disputes over sharing of water (rivers) and migration also impacts the federal polity of India.
- 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.
- The boundary issue between present-day Assam and Mizoram dates back to the colonial era when inner lines were demarcated according to the administrative needs of British Raj.
- The Assam-Mizoram dispute stems from two notifications passed under British era.
- First, notification of 1875, that differentiated Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar.
- Second, notification of 1933, that demarcates a boundary between 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 are against the demarcation notified in 1933, according to them, the Mizo society was not consulted.
- On the other hand, the Assam government follows the 1933 demarcation.
- As a result both states continue to have a differing perception of the border and that is the point of conflict.
- There is a 164.6-km inter-state border that separates Assam and Mizoram, with the three Assam districts of Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj sharing a border with Kolasib, Mamit and Aizawl districts of Mizoram.
- Further, the boundary between Mizoram and Assam follows naturally occurring barriers of hills, valleys, rivers and forests, and both sides have attributed border skirmishes to perceptional differences over an imaginary line.
- In the Northeast’s complex boundary equations, clashes between Assam and Mizoram residents are less frequent than they are between other neighbouring states of Assam, like with Nagaland.
- Overall Condition of Inter-State Disputes in India:
- Issue of Boundary: Boundary disputes between the states are one of major reasons for Inter-state disputes in India. For example,
- Karnataka and Maharashtra both lay claim to Belgaum, and every now and then the matter comes up.
- The North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act, 1971, changed the political map of northeast India, by establishment of the states like Manipur and Tripura and the formation of Meghalaya.
- However, this reorganisation has resulted in many boundary disputes in the northeastern region, like Assam-Nagaland, Assam-Meghalaya, etc.
- The North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act, 1971, changed the political map of northeast India, by establishment of the states like Manipur and Tripura and the formation of Meghalaya.
- Issue of Migration: There have been violent agitations in some states over migrants and job seekers from other states.
- This is because the existing resources and the employment opportunities are not enough to meet the needs of the growing population.
- The ‘sons of the soil’ concept for preference in employment in the states concerned tends to destroy the roots of a healthy federalism.
- has been the sharing of river waters.Disputes over Sharing Water Resources: The most long standing and contentious inter-state issue
- Most of the Indian rivers are inter-state, i.e., they flow through more than one state.
- Due to an increase in demand for water, a number of inter state disputes over sharing river waters have surfaced.
2.Jaishankar’s Tehran trip holds key amid Afghan developments
His visit also signals easing of bilateral tensions
The visit of External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar to Tehran to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Thursday marks a milestone in recent attempts by both sides to reset the ties that have been under strain for several reasons, including India cancelling oil imports due to U.S. sanctions, progress in Chabahar and Iranian comments on Kashmir over the past few years. They also signal that India will continue to balance its ties with Iran on one side, and Iran and the U.S., and West Asian adversaries, including Saudi Arabia and Israel, on the other.
“During his visit, EAM will call on the President, and on the sidelines, will also meet other leaders,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement ahead of the visit, Mr. Jaishankar’s second one to Tehran within the space of a month. In early July, then newly-elected Mr. Raisi made a break from protocol to meet Mr. Jaishankar and invited the government to attend.
India has attended the swearing-in ceremonies of Iranian leaders before. Former Vice-President Hamid Ansari and then former Petroleum Minister Nitin Gadkari led the Indian participation both times former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was sworn in (2013 and 2017), but the timing of Mr. Jaishankar’s visit is of particular note.
To begin with, his visits come amidst rapid developments in Afghanistan, with the U.S. completing the pull-out of troops and the Taliban increasing its attacks on Afghan cities.
“The rapid advance of Taliban concerns both India and Iran. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has called an [Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan] as a ‘security threat for Iran and India and an existential threat for Pakistan’. Given this context, and common interests, it is necessary for India and Iran to cooperate more closely, particularly on Afghanistan, and work to support the democratically-elected Ashraf Ghani-led government,” former Indian Ambassador to Iran (2011-2015) D.P. Srivastava told The Hindu, referring to remarks made by Mr. Zarif during the Raisina Dialogue in April last.
With the U.S.-Russia-China-Pakistan grouping on Afghanistan deciding to meet again in Doha next Wednesday, India and Iran also share a common bond as the two regional powers were left out of the “Troika plus”.
Secondly, the fact that Mr. Jaishankar is himself participating in the ceremony, without delegating it to another Minister, puts a spotlight on India’s desire to build ties with Mr. Raisi in particular, who as the Chief Judge of Iran prior to this was placed on the U.S.’s list of individuals sanctioned in November 2019.
Despite campaign promises to reverse the Donald Trump policy on Iran, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has yet to withdraw most of the additional sanctions placed in 2017-2018.
Walk a tightrope
That Mr. Jaishankar’s travels to Tehran book-ended a visit to Delhi by U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken indicates that India will continue to walk its tightrope between its traditional ties with Iran and the growing strategic partnership with Washington.
“The presence of Mr. Jaishankar at the swearing-in is itself a pointer to the view held by India at the highest level. We have common interests in the region, which cannot be a subset of other relations, even though those relations are important too,” said Mr. Srivastava, when asked if India’s ties with the U.S. and Israel would in any way be affected by the visit.
Finally, the flurry of meetings to Tehran and Mr. Zarif’s engagement with Delhi indicate a desire to move on from some of the tensions in ties during the Rouhani era.
3.‘Britain will not recognise a Taliban govt. that takes power by force’
U.K.’s Permanent Representative to the UN says Britain is working alongside partners to make sure that Afghanistan returns to a pathway towards security, prosperity
The U.K’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Barbara Woodward, says Britain is not prepared to recognise a Taliban government that uses force to come to power. Ms. Woodward discussed U.K.-India cooperation at the UN, multilateralism, China, and climate action, in an interview. Edited excerpts:
On counterterrorism, the U.K. Defence Minister, Ben Wallace, said the British government will work with whoever comes to power in Kabul, providing they adhere to international norms. The Taliban have already broken these norms with its ongoing brutal campaign. Will the U.K. recognise a Taliban government that takes Kabul by force, overpowering the Afghan security forces and overthrowing the civilian government?
…We’re delighted to be working so closely with India during their Security Council presidency but actually during their tenure on the Security Council. And as you say, really strong support for counterterrorism, maritime security, and peacekeeping, which are the three big themes of the Indian presidency… On the particular question around Afghanistan, we have, of course, been following events in Afghanistan and the growing advances of the Taliban, their attacks on cities, their violence, the breaches of international humanitarian law. So there’s a real concern there for the UK, for India, for other countries, particularly the neighbouring countries. And I think the answer is no, we would not be prepared to recognise a Taliban government that took power by force [and] that was committed to terrorism. So, we are working alongside partners at the moment, to try and make sure that we can return Afghanistan to a pathway towards security and prosperity [and] that we don’t lose the progress of the last 20 years, particularly with respect to women’s rights — so a real focus for us at the moment.
In the U.K.’s Integrative Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, released earlier this year, there was a strong Indo-Pacific ‘tilt’. Is Britain willing to join the Quad?
We were delighted to articulate our Indo-Pacific tilt in the Integrated Review. I think it’s been captured again in the U.K. India 2030 Roadmap, India awarding Britain the status of ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ , and the recognition overall. Of course, 41% of global GDP is going to come from the Indo-Pacific, so that’s what’s behind our look at the Indo-Pacific tilt. We have been talking to ASEAN about ‘dialogue partner ’ status. We have, of course, really strengthened, I think, our relationship between the U.K. and India, starting at the very top with the Roadmap, and Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Johnson. So at the moment, we are very happy with the way things are going with our own Indo-Pacific tilt, but also with the architecture that is building up in the region. So, I think no immediate plans to join [the Quad], but very happy to stay closely engaged in how things are developing there.
The U.K. supports a permanent seat for India on the Security Council. But given that Security Council reform is a General Assembly issue, how specifically can the U.K. help with this, at the moment?
So, yes, the U.K. has been — and been proud to be — a sponsor of… supporter of India’s permanent membership of the Security Council for the last 20 years. We’ve been very consistent in that. But you’re right, Security Council reform is a challenging business and I think there are two aspects to that.
The first is the reform of how the Security Council works… And then the second question, of course, is the membership of the Security Council, on which there are competing views and various obstacles to reforming that. And yes, I know it’s a General Assembly issue and there are really, sort of, two competing groups… one where India is one of a few countries which are supported for permanent membership. And then there’s another group of countries which feel that there shouldn’t be such a thing as permanent membership. And that needs to be sorted out, discussed and resolved in a way that doesn’t lock us in to the current geopolitical scenario but, somehow, keeps us agile in the future. Because, part of the reason, as you know, that Security Council reform is such a touchstone question here at the UN, is that people feel that we were locked into a post-1949 world and here we are in 2021.
The U.K. is hosting this year’s UN climate change conference, COP26, in Glasgow. What can India and the U.K. do together specifically — but also realistically — to put the world on a better climate action path this year?
This is also a priority in the U.K.-India relationship. I know that Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Johnson have raised the level of ambition on climate change, and we are very excited by the potential that India has shown in leading on solar capacity, having quadrupled your own wind and solar capacity; and we partner with India in the Indian-led International Solar Alliance, which is really accelerating the uptake of solar. So that’s the adoption of new technology, where I think India is really at the forefront. Perhaps slightly slower progress on net zero emissions.
[We] very much welcome the net zero commitment on Indian Railways by 2030, but obviously, we need to see if we can broaden that out… That can be accelerated by sharing technology by capacity building, but also by ensuring that there is enough finance raised to support this and we in the U.K. are working hard to raise the £100 billion that was committed at Paris, but more importantly to raise additional private sector funding that would allow us to move more quickly with mitigation and adaptation. And then we’ll come to Glasgow. And again, very much hope that Prime Minister Modi will be able to make a commitment that will, I think, have a real impact on not only across India, but across large swathes of developing economies to help us get to net zero, and keep temperature rises below 1.5 degrees.
Recently, the United Nations Secretariat held a meeting of the “6+2+1” group on regional efforts to support peace in Afghanistan. This group includes six neighbouring countries: China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan; two global players the United States and Russia, and Afghanistan itself.
However, India has not been invited to this peace process. The reason given for keeping India out of this regional discussions is that India holds no “boundary” with Afghanistan. However, the “6+2+1” grouping ignored India’s stand that its territory borders Afghanistan (along Wakhan Corridor) and is currently under Pakistan’s illegal occupation.
Despite all the development work taken up by India in Afghanistan over the past 18 years since the Taliban were ousted from Kabul in 2001, it finds itself on the margins of international diplomacy in Afghanistan.
India’s Voice in the Afghan’s Reconciliation Process
- In the past, due to terror activities of the Taliban, India has been very critical of the Taliban coming into power and shown resistance to publicly dealing with the Taliban.
- Under the US-Taliban peace deal, the Taliban will be in the centre of power in Afghanistan, as the US forces withdraw from Afghanistan.
- In the present scenario, India has never announced its support for the U.S.-Taliban peace deal. Rather, India supports the Ashraf Ghani government and backs the idea of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled process.
- Further, in order to provide legitimacy to recently held Afgan president elections, Ashraf Ghani entered into a power-sharing agreement with former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah.
- This agreement will inevitably further weaken Ashraf Ghani and subsequently undermines Indian interest in the region.
- Due to these factors, India’s voice in the reconciliation process has been limited.
India’s Interest in Afghanistan
- Economic and Strategic Interest: Afghanistan is a gateway to the oil and mineral-rich Central Asian republics.
- Afghanistan’s main advantage is its geography, as anyone who is in power in Afghanistan controls the land routes connecting India with Central Asia (via Afghanistan).
- Developmental Projects: The massive reconstruction plans for the country to offer a lot of opportunities for Indian companies.
- Three major projects: the Afghan Parliament, the Zaranj-Delaram Highway, and the Afghanistan-India Friendship Dam (Salma Dam), along with India’s assistance of more than $3 billion in projects, hundreds of small development projects (of schools, hospitals and water projects) have cemented India’s position in Afghanistan.
- Security Interest: India has been the victim of state-sponsored terrorism emanating from Pakistan supported terrorist group operating in the region (e,g. Haqqani network). Thus, India has two priorities in Afghanistan:
- to prevent Pakistan from setting up a friendly government in Afghanistan, and
- to avoid the return of jihadi groups, like al Qaeda, which could strike in India.
Due to the Taliban’s coming to power, India faces a dilemma, between:
- Should India reconsider its current policy that a lasting political settlement in Afghanistan must come through an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan controlled process” (considering that the elected Afghan Government is hardly in control of the peace process).
- Should India, consider the option of entering into direct talks with the Taliban. But, If India does so, it would constitute a major departure from its consistent policy of dealing only with recognised governments.
Dent in India’s Goodwill
- The building blocks of India’s goodwill are assistance in infrastructure projects, health care, education, trade and food security, and also in the easy access to Afghani citizens to study, train and work in India.
- Above all, it is India’s example as a pluralistic, inclusive democracy, inspires many in Afghanistan.
- However, there has been a dent in India’s goodwill, due to recent events in India, especially the controversy over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
Exclusion of India
- India has been excluded from the Afghanistan peace process many times including the recent meeting (6+2+1 grouping).
- This poses a challenge for India to secure its interest in deciding the fate of Afghanistan and its people.
Steps To Be Taken
- India must also pursue opportunities to fulfil its role in the peace efforts in Afghanistan, starting with efforts to bridge the Ghani-Abdullah divide, and bringing together other major leaders with whom India has built ties for decades.
- India should take the diplomatic route to press for its inclusion in “6+2+1” dialogue, to claim its legitimate role in the Afghan peace process.
- India should leverage the United Nations’s call for a pause in conflicts during the Covid-19 pandemic to restart dialogue with Pakistan, which in turn is necessary for lasting peace in Afghanistan.
- Also, India can learn from US-Taliban talks where two opposing parties came to the negotiating table for talks on Afghanistan’s future.
- For India, given its abiding interest in Afghanistan’s success and traditional warmth for its people, making that leap should be a bit easier. Thus, India can consider the appointment of a special envoy and start Track II diplomacy with the Taliban.