Ending The Armed Conflict In India (Assam)

Ending The Armed Conflict In India (Assam)

Year(s): 1990 – present.

Location: Assam, India.

UN Regional Group: Asia- Pacific.

Type of Conflict: Vertical (state-based) Intrastate Conflict with Foreign Involvement.

Type of Initiative: Mediation of a peace agreement, local action, diplomacy, and stabilising international borders.

Main Implementing Organisation(s): The governments of Bangladesh, Bhutan, and India.

Impact: Limited.

Summary: A gradual peace process has reduced the scale of the armed conflict in Assam while negotiations involving local people and organisations, several layers of the Indian government, and Assamese armed groups are being held.

Description of Case 

Northeast India is a diverse region geographically isolated from the rest of the country. Under British rule, states such as Assam became centres for the production of tea, leading to high levels of migration from other parts of India. Further demographic changes were driven when considerable numbers of people fled East Pakistan during the war which led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. This situation came to a head during the 1970s and 1980s, when a range of Assamese groups began blockading oil pipelines, damaging state property, and harassing and killing people who they deemed foreign. A horrific massacre of civilians in 1983 spurred the Indian government into action, and in 1985 the Assam Accord was negotiated.[1] This agreement focused on the issue of migration into Assam, but also guaranteed the Assamese population with certain protections and established the Assam People’s Council to provide them with an additional layer of political representation. Although the Assam Accord ended the immediate crisis and established a framework for increased Assamese representation, it was rejected armed groups such as the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), who continued to pursue the stated goal of achieving complete independence for Assam through armed struggle during the 1980s.[2] In 1991, talks with the Indian government resulted in the surrender of approximately 4,000 ULFA personnel, however some hardliners remained committed to insurgency and the conflict continued at a relatively low intensity throughout the 1990s.[3]

Progress towards a negotiated settlement to this conflict in Assam began in 2004, when a tentative dialogue preceded talks between ULFA, the Indian government, and representatives of Assamese civil society. A ceasefire held during the talks, but ultimately the negotiations reached a stalemate.[4] ULFA was dealt a blow (along with other armed opposition groups) when the governments of Bhutan and Bangladesh conducted military operations in the late 2000s to put an end to the organisation’s use of rear bases on their territory. After several senior ULFA leaders surrendered to Bangladeshi security forces in 2009, the organisation split into two factions.[5] In 2011, the largest faction began unconditional talks with the Indian government. Negotiations continued for over a decade with the faction known as the Surrendered ULFA in a peaceful climate but failed to reach a final settlement. Hopes for peace were given a boost in May 2021, when the hard-line ULFA faction declared a unilateral ceasefire and joined the peace process. At the time of writing, these ceasefires remain in place while negotiations between both ULFA factions, the Indian government, the state administration of Assam, and Assamese civil society representatives are taking place.[6]

[1] Assam Accord, 1985. Available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/india-assam-accord85 (Accessed 11/01/2022)

[2] Swarna Rajagopalan. “Peace Accords in Northeast India: Journey over Milestones.” East-West Center Policy Studies, No. 46. (2008) pp.18-19

[3] UCDP. India: Assam. (UCDP, 2022) Available at: https://ucdp.uu.se/conflict/365 (Accessed 11/01/2022)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Anuradha M. Chenoy & Kamal A. Mitra Chenoy. Maoist and Other Armed Conflicts. (Haryana: Penguin, 2010) p.41

[6] Rajib Dutta. “Assam: Ulfa-I extends unilateral ceasefire again by 3 months.” The Times of India. (15 November 2021) Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/assam-ulfa-i-extends-unilateral-ceasefire-again-by-3-months/articleshow/87713177.cms (Accessed 11/01/2022)