Overview: Insurgency & Peace Efforts in Nagaland

Insurgency

he roots of Naga separatism precede the country’s Independence. Way back in 1929, when the Independence Movement of India gained momentum and it was becoming clear that the British would have to leave India, the Naga leaders urged the British not to attach the Naga territory with India. Under the banner of the “Naga Club”, the Nagas petitioned the Simon Commission that they should be left alone to determine their future as in the past and not forced to be ruled by Indians, who, they said, had never ‘conquered’ them. With recommendations of the Simon Commission, the Government of India Act 1935 declared the "Naga Hills District" to be treated as "Excluded Areas" on 3 March 1935. On 19 July 1947, a Naga delegation met Mahatma Gandhi at the Bhangi Colony in Delhi and told him that they were resolved to declare their independence a day before India would do so, on 14 August 1947. Gandhi assured the delegation that under no circumstances would force be used against the Nagas, who, according to him, were free to stay out of the Indian Union, if they desired so.

What started as the assertion of the Naga identity turned to be an insurrection after the formation of the Naga National Congress (NNC) in 1946. Under the leadership of NNC president Angami Zapu Phizo, known as the father of Naga insurgency, a plebiscite was conducted on a single point, Naga independence, on 16 May 1951 where more than 99 per cent of Nagas gave the verdict in favour of independence .

A massive crackdown on NNC took place in 1953 when troops in large numbers were moved by the Government of India into the Naga hills. Under the initiative of Phizo, on 22 March 1956, an underground government called the Naga Federal Government (NFG) and a Naga Federal Army (NFA) was created. In order to fight for the dream of an independent Naga homeland, Phizo left Nagaland in December 1956, and reached London in 1960 and kept pursuing his dream from London until his death in December 1990. His daughter Adinno Phizo, the now NNC president, is still pursuing that dream from her home in London.

The Government of India banned the NNC in 1972 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967 and launched a massive counter-insurgency operation. On 11 November 1975, the Shillong Accord was signed between the Government of India and Naga “underground organization” where the signatories accepted “without condition, the Constitution of India”. But this peace accord could not calm the Naga problem. There was rebellion against the accord, which led to the formation of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980. Split in the rebel group happened due to tribal differences and in 1988 a new Naga insurgent outfit came to existence. The NSCN ripped apart into two factions—the Isak-Muivah faction (NSCN-IM) and the SS Khaplang faction (NSCN-K). Both these outfits continued their movement with an avowed objective of establishing a Nagalim (greater Nagaland) comprising Naga inhabited areas of Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and neighbouring Myanmar.

On August 1, 1997, the NSCN-IM and the Union government entered into a ceasefire agreement and have since held more than 80 rounds of dialogue (till November 2013) to resolve the conflict. A similar ceasefire agreement was signed between the NSCN-K and the government in April 2001, though both sides are yet to start a process of dialogue. The ceasefire agreements with both the outfits have been periodically extended.

While the NSCN-IM’s influence is visible over vast stretches of seven districts of Nagaland, the NSCN-K has managed to hold on to its areas of influence, primarily in districts like Mokokchung, Tuensang and pockets in Dimapur. The NNC, on the other hand, remains a poor shadow of the erstwhile outfit that initiated the Naga insurgency.

A new outfit, the NSCN-Unification, was formed in November 2007 as a result of a ‘truce agreement’ signed between senior functionaries of both IM and K factions on 23 November 2007. Factional clashes became a regular affair between the NSCN-U and the NSCN-IM. A clear ally of NSCN-K, the unification faction of NSCN has not been much active since 2009. However, there was a sharp decline in fatalities in factional clash following the signing of the Covenant of Reconciliation (CoR) by top leaders of the NSCN-IM, NSCN-K, and ‘Federal Government of Nagaland’–Naga National Council (FGN/NNC) on 13 June 2009.

In Nagaland, the militant groups have been continuously collecting ‘tax’ from all sources, including Government departments and the extortion network spreads over almost all the 1317 villages of the State. Ceasefire rules have been violated and the militants move freely with their arms out in open. The Central and the State Governments’ role have been reduced to mute spectator. Instead, on 27 November 2009, the Nagaland legislative assembly decided to give legitimacy to the six-decade-long insurgency going on in the state for their “selfless sacrifices for the common cause of the Nagas”. The resolution, moved by Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, was endorsed by the entire 60-member house, including 19 opposition Congress party legislators.

Smuggling of arms has always been an issue and the NSCN-IM is the biggest arms supplier in the Northeast. In 2013 itself, 25 arms dealers were arrested in 11 incidents. The arrest of Wuthikorn Naruenartwanich alias Willy Narue by Bangkok police on 30 August 2013 for supply of Chinese arms to the NSCN-IM has been a significant breakthrough. Narue, a Thai national, was reportedly picked up at India’s request and revealed "key information" about the supply chain for smuggling arms from China to the Northeast through Bangladesh. It was reported that Narue was the main interlocutor of Anthony Shimray, a senior NSCN-IM leader and the chief arms procurer of the outfit, who was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) from Patna in Bihar on 2 October 2010. Shimray is currently lodged at the Tihar jail in Delhi.

Turf wars between Naga groups have resulted in further split of both the NSCN-IM and the NSCN-K. The NSCN-KK (Khole Kitovi ), a splinter group of NSCN-K, was formed on 7 June 2011; and the Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF), a Manipur based Naga group, split from the NSCN-IM on 25 February 2011.

The NSCN-K signed a ceasefire agreement with the Government of Myanmar on 9 April 2012. The agreement granted autonomy to NSCN-K in three districts in the country: Lahe, Leshi and Nanyun, which fall in Sagaing – a north-western administrative region of Myanmar, bordering Nagaland and Manipur to its north. It also provides NSCN-K members with the freedom to move 'unarmed' across the country.

On 5 December 2011, the ‘Naga Concordant’ was formed. It is a joint declaration signed by all the six leaders—Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah of NSCN-IM; 'General' Khole Konyak and N. Kitovi Zhimomi of NSCN-Khole-Kitovi; and 'Brigadier' S. Singnya and Zhopra Vero of NNC after they resolved "in principle" on 26 August 2011, to work towards the formation of one ‘Naga National Government’.

As efforts for reconciliation amongst the Nagas continued, fresh conflict erupted between Rengma Nagas and Kukis living in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam bordering Nagaland. On 28 December 2013, Naga Rengma Hills Protection Force (NRHPF) executed the cold-blooded murder of ten Karbis, nine of them near Nagaland’s commercial hub Dimapur. This was, however, a retaliatory action against the killing of nine Rengma Nagas by the KPLT (Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers), an Assam based outfit, in the Chokihola area in Karbi Anglong on 27 December 2013. The stage was set for intra-tribal feuding. The RNHPF was reportedly floated by the NSCN(IM) for protection of the Rengma Nagas.

Complicating issues further, the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organization renewed its demand for ‘Frontier Nagaland’—a separate state—but both the Centre and the State turned down the demand. In a meeting organized by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR was formed in May 2008) on 27 February 2014 in Dimapur, altogether 42 community groups extended full support to the Naga reconciliation process.

In spite of the 17-year-old ceasefire with the NSCN-IM and the 13-year-old ceasefire with the rival Khaplang faction (NSCN-K), the situation in Nagaland is still volatile. Between 1992 and 2014 (till 2 March), at least 2456 insurgency related fatalities have been recorded in Nagaland. The number of fatalities in insurgency-related activities fell from 61 in 2012 to 11 in 2014 .

Peace Efforts

Peace initiatives in Nagaland could be tracked back to September 1964 with the formation of the Peace Mission with Jayaprakash Narayan , Bimala Prasad Chaliha and Rev. Michael Scott as its members. The Peace Mission was formed in the aftermath of the violent attempts made by insurgents to bring about a political settlement following the formation of the state of Nagaland on 1 December 1963. This peace effort resulted in the signing of an Agreement for Suspension of Operation with the insurgents on 6 September 1964. But violence continued and six rounds of talks between the Centre and the insurgents failed. The ‘Peace Mission’ broke in 1967.

Civil society movements in Nagaland have been traditionally effective. The Church has been an important player in peace making among the insurgents, almost all of whom are Christian, since the beginning of the conflict. In Nagaland, the Church played an important role in peace making among the insurgents, almost all of whom are Christian, since the beginning of the conflict. In July 1997, the Baptist Church organized the Atlanta Peace meet where the NSCN leadership accepted initiatives to start an unconditional dialogue process. On 1 August 1997, the NSCN-IM and the Union government entered into a ceasefire agreement and have since held more than 80 rounds of dialogue (till November 2013) to resolve the conflict. A similar ceasefire agreement was signed between the NSCN-K and the Government in April 2001, though both sides are yet to start a process of dialogue.

It took four years for the NSCN-IM and the Centre’s interlocutors to decide upon the jurisdiction of the cease-fire. When the insurgent leaders wanted it extended to Naga-inhabited areas outside Nagaland, the Centre expressed its reluctance to do so. Finally, after shuttling between New Delhi, Bangkok and Amsterdam umpteen times since 1997, New Delhi’s interlocutor for peace talks K. Padmanabhaiah announced in the Thai capital that the cease-fire had been extended for one more year, commencing 1 August 2001, and that, henceforth, the truce would have no ‘territorial limits.’ The announcement was made on 14 June 2001 — after a two-day meeting with NSCN-IM representatives headed by General Secretary Muivah.

The issue of extension of the ceasefire to areas outside Nagaland, however, posed as a threat to the peace process as people in Manipur took it as an incursion on their territorial integrity. Following street violence in Manipur in which 19 people were killed, the Government revoked the decision on 8 July 2001. The NSCN(IM), though earlier threatened to resume violence if the extension in the territorial jurisdiction of the ceasefire is withdrawn, eventually accepted the decision and continued to participate in the negotiations. But the ceasefire could not put a halt to arms acquisition by the NSCN(IM).

The collective leadership of the NSCN(IM) came to New Delhi for talks in January 2003, ground work for which was laid in the three rounds of negotiations which were held between the Union Government’s interlocutors and the NSCN-IM leadership.

  • 18-20 February 2003, Malaysia: Union Government’s special interlocutor K Padmanabhaiah and NSCN-IM leaders - Isak Swu and Muivah - met in a bid to further the peace process.
  • 9-11 July 2003, Amsterdam: A Joint communiqué was signed in which the Indian Government recognized the unique history and situation of the Nagas. Both parties agreed to extend the cease-fire for another year with effect from 1 August 2002.
  • 21-23 September 2003, Bangkok: Both the parties discussed a broad range of ‘substantive issues’ and agreed on measures to ensure a continuation of negotiations. The NSCN-IM leadership put forward issues like lifting of ban on the outfit, the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Power Act and the arrest warrants against them.

In March 2002, the outfit had put three conditions on its leadership’s visit to India:

  • Lifting the ban on the NSCN-IM;
  • Withdrawal of arrest warrants against its leaders; and
  • Repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act

The Union Government accepted the first two and the Nagaland Government had withdrawn all pending cases against the NSCN-IM leadership in order to facilitate the peace process. On 16 October 2003, the Cease-fire Monitoring Group (CFMG) and Cease-fire Supervisory Board (CSB) Chairman, Lt. Gen. (Retd) R.V. Kulkarni, declared seven designated camps in Nagaland, for each of the two NSCN outfits.

In addition to the official level peace process, endeavours for peace by non-governmental and civil society organizations and the Church have been remarkable in Nagaland. Organizations like the Naga Hoho, the apex tribal council of the Nagas, and the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA) have worked towards reconciliation among the warring factions. Tribal councils belonging to the different tribes in the State including the Ao Senden and the Sumi Hoho have tried to establish unity among the NSCN-IM and NSCN-K. In the two consultative meetings with 73-member Naga delegation from different sections of the society, convened by the NSCN-IM at Bangkok, a four-point declaration was adopted to “strengthen the peace strategy” that:

  1. Supported the ongoing political negotiations between the Government of India and the NSCN
  2. Endorsed the Naga Hoho, Churches and the mass based organizations to continue their leadership of the ongoing reconciliation process to achieve understanding and unity among Nagas to strengthen the peace process
  3. Made a clarion call to all Nagas to come forward to support and participate in the peace process so that the Indo-Naga political problem may be solved.
  4. Entrusted the Naga Churches to hold a National Prayer Day for the above objectives

The Naga peace process entered into a logjam even after the issue of sovereignty was dropped by the NSCN-IM. The next best solution which the Nagas think feasible, i.e., the integration of all Naga-inhabited areas in the Northeast with the existing State of Nagaland to constitute a single politico-administrative unit, is not acceptable to both the state Governments and the people in the states of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. The Centre is now caught in a position where it neither can tell the NSCN-IM leadership that their demand for integration of the Naga-inhabited areas in the region could not be conceded, nor can it attempt to resolve one nagging problem only to open up several new fronts in the already turbulent region.

Citizens of Nagaland too have taken initiatives for bringing peace in the State. To secure ‘peace without any pre-conditions’, a statewide cease-fire among all the Naga outfits was declared at a meeting organized by the Gaon Buras’ (village chiefs) Federation of Nagaland and Dobashis (communicators between various tribes) Association of Nagaland on 24 July 2007. The meeting was participated by the Naga Hoho (the apex council of the Naga tribes), Nagaland Baptist Churches Council (NBCC) and others including five representatives of the NSCN-IM. The NSCN-K and NNC did not attend the meet.

Organizations like the Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) that periodically highlights the alleged abuses by the security forces, are seen as placating the interests of the NSCN-IM and have no influence on either the NSCN-K or the NNC. Some leaders of the NSCN-IM and the NSCN-K met in Niuland, near Dimapur on 23 November 2007 to declare the cessation of hostility between the outfits. However, the agreement was soon repudiated by both the outfits and the clashes have continued. Issues like the unification of the Naga inhabited areas in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh remained an obstacle in all the three rounds of peace talks held in 2007.

In the first week of November 2007, a group of Church workers from the United Kingdom arrived in Nagaland to push for “reconciliation” between the NSCN-IM and the NSCN-K. A team from the North American Baptist Church too is involved in brokering peace between both the factions.

Certain quarters in the State deeply believe that the key to bring peace in Nagaland is to stop factional clashes and establish unity among the militant groups. With this idea, an inter-factional ‘truce agreement’ was signed by ‘Kilonser’ (Cabinet Minister) C. Singson of the NSCN-K and ‘Kilo-Kilonser’ (Home Minister) Azheto Chophy of the NSCN-IM in Dimapur on 23 November 2007 . But with the NSCN-IM’s statement that the joint declaration was drafted without the knowledge of the group’s ‘higher authority’ put an end to the much sought after ‘unification’. In June 2008, a reconciliation meeting of the Naga factions, mass-based Naga organizations and tribal Hohos was organized by the Naga Reconciliation Forum headed by Baptist clergyman Wati Aier, Baptist World Alliance and a UK-based Quaker group, at Chiang Mai in Thailand. The move failed as the NSCN-K rejected the offer made by the rival NSCN-IM for a dialogue outside the country.

Extending the existing ceasefire with both the outfits remains central to the government’s conflict management policy in Nagaland. Representatives of the NSCN-IM and the government continue to meet periodically to carry forward the negotiations. By far, however, little success has been achieved to break the deadlock over the outfit’s demand of integrating the ‘Naga-inhabited’ areas of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh with Nagaland. Both the government and the NSCN-IM, however, on 31 July 2007, following a round of dialogue in Dimapur, took a decision to extend the ceasefire indefinitely. A few more round of talks have taken place since then in Delhi, but there were no concrete outcome of the talks. This was seen as a sign that the peace talks were on track and that the two sides—the Indian Government and the NSCN-IM—were narrowing down their differences.

In August 2009, the Central Government wound up the term of K Padmanabhaiah as interlocutor for talks with NSCN-IM. Centre then appointed RS Pandey as the new interlocutor on 12 February 2010. The new interlocutor held talks with the NSCN-IM leadership on March 2010 in New Delhi, in which the NSCN (IM) delegation put forward 30 demands, which included sovereignty for Nagaland, and unification of all Naga-dominated areas of neighbouring states. However, the demand for sovereignty for Nagaland and its territorial claims over portions of neighbouring states was categorically rejected. With resignation of RS Panday from his position as interlocutor following his joining a political party, the Government at present has no interlocutor for NSCN-IM.

For the first time on 1 June 2010, the Centre and the NSCN (IM) held peace talks at Kohima in Nagaland, where the issue of integration of Naga-inhabited areas, as demanded by the outfit, was discussed. However, the Centre ruled out change in boundaries of states without the consensus of political parties. On 4 June 2010, Muivah moved to Pfutsero in Phek district on a “Goodwill mission”. In the same month, he visited Jotsoma village near Kohima, Pughoboto in Zunheboto district, Tuensang and Peren as a part of his peace mission where he held consultations with civil society leaders on the Naga talks issue.

One NSCN-IM delegation, lead by its Chairman Isak Chisi Swu and general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister P Chidambaram in New Delhi on 2 March 2010. The Naga leaders also held a series of meetings with the then interlocutor for Naga peace talks, R.S. Pandey during their stay in New Delhi. The visiting NSCN (IM) delegation put forward 30 demands, which included sovereignty for Nagaland, and unification of all Naga-dominated areas of neighbouring states. However, the demand for sovereignty for Nagaland and its territorial claims over portions of neighbouring states was categorically rejected. With resignation of RS Panday from his position as interlocutor following his joining a political party, the Government at present has no interlocutor for NSCN-IM.

Hope in peace talks between the NSCN-IM and the Government of India continues though amidst confusions. At a top level NSCN-IM meet on 25 October 2012 at Dimapur it was decided to consult the Naga people before inking any peace accord with New Delhi.

In a hitherto unprecedented turn of events in Nagaland, on 2 April 2012, thousands of peace-loving Naga youths voluntarily came out on the streets of Kohima, Nagaland’s capital, demanding the Government to take action against the militants. Youth organizations in Kohima had appealed to all the insurgent groups on 21 March 2012 to shun violence. This was followed by the rally on 2 April, which was organized by the Angami Youth Organization (AYO) and supported by several other Naga organizations. On the other hand, in May 2013, several Naga civil society groups, frontal organizations, student and youth organizations and business associations under the aegis of Naga Council formed an Action Committee for Unabated Taxation (ACAUT) with a resolution to oppose rampant and multiple tax collection by Naga insurgent groups. Thousands of people from all sections of society supported the campaign spearheaded by ACAUT at a rally on 31 October 2013. The NSCN later declared that ACAUT had no authority to 'dictate the people', and as a people-mandated revolutionary group, the NSCN had the 'right to tax' people.

The internecine clash between the Naga outfits has become subject of a political ball game and it remains the biggest obstacle in establishing peace in the state. When the Central Government insists that the clashes between the insurgent outfits are a law and order problem for the state Government, the state government has always played a marginal role in contributing to the peace process. The civil society organizations in Nagaland such as the Forum for Naga Reconciliation, the Naga Hoho and many other women’s and students’ organizations have played an important role in laying the groundwork for the emergence of lasting peace in the region. These are the actors who are working as a bridge between the various regions which comprise Nagalim, in Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur and parts of Myanmar; and without any substantial political overtones. They have been successful in reaching out to communities, both Naga and other ethnic tribes, and promoting dialogue and understanding at the civil society level between contesting aspirations of communities in the region, which the political outfits engaged in talks have not been able to do. They have joined efforts to talk to top rebel leaders to stop fratricidal killings among Naga insurgent factions and extortions and threats, and to include more women in the peace talks.

The NSCN-K signed a ceasefire agreement with the Government of Myanmar on 9 April 2012. The agreement granted autonomy to NSCN-K in three districts in the country: Lahe, Leshi and Nanyun, which fall in Sagaing – a north-western administrative region of Myanmar, bordering Nagaland and Manipur to its north. It also provides NSCN-K members with the freedom to move 'unarmed' across the country.

While talks between the Government of India and the NSCN-IM have been carried on without any visible success, the negotiation process received a further jolt with the resignation of R.S. Panday on 16 December 2013.

A possible solution to the Naga insurgency problem has remained uncertain. With more factions coming to fore, thus making way to more clashes, the united Naga rebels’ voice is nowhere to be heard.
(Updated till 2 May 2014)