Maintaining peace and tranquillity along inter-state boundary is of paramount importance to North-eastern states for accelerating development projects in the entire region. It is also important for the region to position itself as a single unit in the centre stage of India's engagement with ASEAN countries under the "Act East" Policy and with Bhutan and Bangladesh under "Neighbourhood first" policy. The paradox of boundary dispute leading to hardening of the inter-state boundaries in the region when the region's international borders have been softened to facilitate more bilateral and multilateral trade and commerce and people to people engagement baffles those watching the geopolitics in this part of the globe. Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have decided to maintain status quo and hold inter-state coordination meetings on a regular basis to promptly address smaller skirmishes between the two states is a welcome move. A title suit filed by the Assam government over the boundary dispute is pending before the Supreme Court.
The two neighbouring states share 804.10 km long boundary. The delegations of the two states agreed to set up a structured coordination mechanism by constituting district-wise committees with deputy commissioners, superintendents of police, forest officials of the respective districts on both sides of the boundary. These committees will be mandated to take up issues of encroachment, firewood and sand and gravel collection from forest areas and inter-state rivers so that they do not escalate to disturb peace. The Chief Secretary-level meeting also decided to deploy Border Magistrates to sort out minor issues on the spot which will help prevent intermittent skirmishes escalating into a full-blown boundary conflict. Much depends on the sincerity on the part of both the states to keep their words on holding regular coordination meetings. Lessons must be drawn from failure of similar decision in the past to maintain peace along the disputed stretches of the boundary in putting an end to intermittent clashes escalating into serious law-and-order problem.
Involvement of the communities living on both sides of the boundary in the disputed sectors will be critical to ensure meaningful outcomes of the decision taken through the coordination mechanism. These communities have to bear the maximum brunt of the boundary dispute as development activities in these areas are adversely affected for long periods. Besides, it also affects the age-old interdependence between the communities of the two states for trade, commerce, and cultural practices. Decision to organise sports and cultural meet to strengthen the bond between the people living along the boundary is timely and can be expected to increase the bonhomie. Beyond such symbolism, emphasis should be laid more on increasing the economic and cultural interdependence of the communities on both sides. Rising popularity of ethnic cuisines and fusion wear can provide grounds for enhancing such interdependence. It can also help the communities to set up their own mechanism to mutually resolve minor disputes and help quick return to normalcy even if some vested forces manage to engineer clashes to create enmity. Drawing a simplistic conclusion that boundary dispute is easier to resolve when the states involved in the dispute have governments run by the same political party is often misleading as complexities of a long pending boundary dispute cannot be wished away. It is unfortunate that the Central government often passes the responsibility of resolving the boundary disputes to the states while the fact remains that Assam's boundary dispute with its neighbouring states arose after creation of the four states- Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram by the centre. The Central government must play a pro-active role and help the north-eastern states in resolving the long pending boundary disputes.
Tripartite meetings of the Central government and the two states involved in the dispute can help expedite the resolution of the boundary disputes. The Central government has to take the initiative for holding such meetings at short and regular intervals. Resolving the boundary dispute without any delay is also in India's interest of securing its borders with China along Arunachal Pradesh. Strengthening the connectivity in Arunachal Pradesh through construction of strategic roads and bridges requires maintenance of peace along Assam-Arunachal Pradesh boundary to ensure unhindered progress of these projects. The two neighbouring states must keep in the mind this larger interest of protecting the country's sovereignty and territories and must reach out to each other through the coordination mechanism to ensure that smaller skirmishes are amicably resolved and not allowed to escalate because of delay in response. The two states also step up vigil against insurgent and other disruptive elements and must thwart any attempt by them to exploit the long pending boundary dispute to incite the communities on both sides of the boundary. The two states will be able to achieve the desired level of coordination only when it is a constant activity round the year.