After much jostling and pushing the much awaited meeting of the ULFA appointed People’s Consultative Group (PCG) with PMO officials is set to begin in the Capital today. Though the ULFA leadership may not be formally taking part, the outfit appears to be finally preparing to sit and parley with the Centre. The meeting, more than anything else, should take steps to bring about clarity on some of the basic issues that must be addressed upfront before any formal talks begin. It would however be premature to expect too much so soon and in all probability today’s meeting would centre round exchanging pleasantries and getting to know each others hopes and expectation and also to pave the way for the ULFA leadership to begin direct talks with the authorities at a later stage. That itself should be a big step.
It will also be interesting to see the response of the government officials on the position the ULFA has taken that any discussion must centre on the issue of sovereignty, although it has to be said that New Delhi is unlikely to accept this as a pre-condition for future dialogue. Much would depend on how this contentious issue is resolved.
Peace talks on the lines of the dialogue with the NSCN (IM) without specifying on sovereignty as a pre-condition should be explored and the ULFA may not have much of a choice on this. If at all, pre-conditions like the one put forward by the NSCN Collective Leadership and accepted by the Centre, will be a more workable framework to start off with. Substantive issues can be taken up at a later stage when mutual trust and congenial atmosphere sets in. More than anything else, both sides should also work to put in place a Ceasefire Agreement.
The ULFA’s attempt to involve people by constituting the PCG has to be appreciated and this will allow for taking them into confidence and in carrying the opinion and suggestion along the way so that it becomes a truly people-centred movement towards a achieving a democratic peace settlement. On its part the ULFA should put an end to its terror activities, in order that a bilateral ceasefire in immediately implemented. The tough stand taken by the Indian Military leadership, which has ruled out any possibility of suspension of military offensive against the proscribed rebel outfit should serve as a reminder that unless the ULFA agrees for a truce to start peace-talks, and the security establishment in New Delhi is convinced, the very purpose of having the PCG itself will be self-defeating.
The start-up given by the PCG would hopefully result in formulating Confidence Building Measures that should in turn set up a framework for a dialogue route leading to a more secure environment and perhaps to peace. There can be no military solution and this latest opportunity should be used by both sides to a sustainable dialogue. The gun must be silenced and peace given a chance to succeed. The first priority for that should be putting in place a reasonable framework for the peace process to start in right earnest.