With Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiating the ‘Act East Policy’, the government should review the imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the northeast as it could be a barrier in connecting the region to the South-East neighbours, experts feel.
“If by our own definition the Northeast is a ‘disturbed area’ under AFSPA, then how can you ask everyone to look at east under the ‘Act East’ policy? How will you improve connectivity?” questions Sanjoy Hazarika, Director of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi.
Earlier in the year, the central government had extended AFSPA for another year in the entire state of Assam and along a 20-km-long belt in Assam’s border with Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, he said in Kolkata recently at a conference on improving connectivity in Asia.
Northeast expert Hazarika, who was also a member of the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee to Review AFSPA, said the conflicts in the region had decreased drastically over the last few years.
“The Indian government should see this as its success and restrict AFSPA. If you restrict the Disturbed Areas Act, you end up restricting AFSPA,” he said.
In Manipur, civil rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila has been on a fast-unto-death for the last 14 years demanding repeal of AFSPA in the region. Douglas Hill, south Asia researcher at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said the focus of India’s ‘Act East’ policy should be more on fulfilling the needs of the people living in the northeast region rather than targeting the domination of powers like China.
“In the spheres of connectivity, security, counter-terrorism, trade and environmental affairs, there are a number of issues affecting east Asian countries,” he said.
According higher importance to east Asian neighbours, the new Modi government has renamed India’s erstwhile “Look East” policy into a more pro-active “Act East” policy.
To build more connectivity among east Asian nations, a 3200-km-long India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway is planned, which will run from Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand via Mandalay in Myanmar.
Kelly D Alley from Auburn University stressed on political willpower to solve problems in the region.