Even governments have no option sometimes but to give away the truth or part of it. When the Union home minister, Shivraj Patil, says that the security situation in several states in the Northeast is grim, there is no reason to doubt the truth of his statement. Both the people and the local authorities in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland would have been rather surprised if Mr Patil had sought to tell a different story. The sense of insecurity is so intense in Manipur that dozens of government officials are forced to flee their homes for the safety of the state government’s guesthouses in far-off New Delhi. In Assam, the collapse of the government’s peace talks with the United Liberation Front of Asom has led to the militants resuming their strikes. In Nagaland, the law and order situation continues to be a matter of concern despite the Centre’s ceasefire agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, led by Thuingaleng Muivah and Isaak Chishi Swu. Given the inability of the state administrations to uphold the rule of law, there is little hope of the security situation getting any better in the region. On the contrary, the breakdown of law and order in one of these states seems to embolden the insurgents in all the others.
However, Mr Patil’s remark, at last week’s conference of the state police chiefs, stops short of capturing the whole truth. It says little of the failure of the government’s security strategy for the region. And this is not a failure for which New Delhi can blame the state governments alone. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has long been in force in Manipur, Nagaland and parts of Assam. The governments, at the Centre and in the states, seem to be in a constant dilemma about how to use the army and other forces in the fight against insurgency. The army’s hands are often tied by the politicians who would periodically try to negotiate with the rebels. The result in most cases is a show of indecision and inaction that demoralizes the army and helps the militants re-group and re-arm themselves. It is time New Delhi settled for more decisive strategies. A beginning could be made in Assam, where the army reportedly wants a free hand in the battle against the Ulfa. The outfit’s rejection of the peace talks should leave Dispur with no illusion about its true intentions. Half-measures do not help, either in war or in peace.