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Delhi's Naga peace policy reduces solution prospects

POSTED ON 2 MAY 2015

wasbir hussain
executive director, cdps & visiting fellow, ipcs

To put it mildly, New Delhi’s Naga peace policy is beyond comprehension. Nearly a month ago, the Khaplang faction of the NSCN (NSCK-K) called off its 14-year-long ceasefire with the Government and split because two of its senior leaders had apparently ‘compromised’ with the stand of the insurgent faction. The two leaders were expelled and they formed a new NSCN faction called NSCN (Reformation). The Government did nothing to either save the truce or prevent a split.

Now, the nascent NSCN (R) on April 27 signed a ceasefire agreement with the Centre for a year to start with. New Delhi followed this up by cancelling the ceasefire agreement that it had with the NSCN (K), making the ground clear for a direct confrontation with the Myanmar-headquartered insurgent faction. The ease with which the authorities let the NSCN (K) call off the truce and split and the haste with which it signed a truce deal with the NSCN (R) and announced the abrogation of the ceasefire with the NSCN (K) has led to speculation whether the Government was working to a plan to sideline the Khaplang faction that is based in Myanmar and is believed to be close to the Myanmar regime.

There are several other significant developments. First, although the truce with the NSCN (R) is confined to the state of Nagaland, like that with the NSCN (IM), leaders of the new faction have claimed the Government has ‘verbally assured’ them that the ceasefire is being extended up to Arunachal Pradesh. These leaders have also claimed that the Government has agreed to let the NSCN (R) set up a designated camp in Arunachal Pradesh.

If true, this will have serious ramifications because the NSCN factions are having a free run in several parts of Arunachal Pradesh and have recently engaged in a shootout with the Army that led to the death of a few soldiers. Besides, the route that the rebels take to Myanmar is through Arunachal Pradesh and any extension of the truce to Arunachal Pradesh will prevent the Army and other security forces to engage with these rebels. Moreover, in a jungle warfare scenario, it is next to impossible to ascertain which group or faction a rebel contingent might belong to unless there is a liaison with the security forces.

In the wake of the claims made by the NSCN (R) leaders, the Centre must clarify as to the exact facts of the matter. If the ceasefire with the NSCN (R) is extended beyond Nagaland, the same must apply to the NSCN (IM) as well with whom New Delhi is engaged in peace talks since 1997. There cannot be different yardsticks for different factions of a same militant group, but unfortunately that is happening and derailing the peace processes.

The NSCN (K) was considering calling off the truce for quite sometime because New Delhi had not begun formal negotiations with the outfit although a ceasefire agreement was signed in 2001. The picture is hazy, but the haste with which Wangtin Konyak and T. Tithak, who have since been expelled from the NSCN (K), have formed a new rebel group and entered into a truce with the Government indicates that they had earlier arrived at some sort of an understanding with New Delhi.

This, certainly, is not a welcome development in so far as the Naga insurgent politics is concerned and it will make things more difficult for the Government of India in its bid to resolve the Naga problem. Formed in 1980, NSCN suffered its first split in 1988 into the NSCN (Isac-Muivah) and NSCN (Khaplang). Then in 2010, the NSCN (K) split into a faction led by Khole Konyak and Kitovi Zhimoni, and now, a new faction under the leadership of Wangtin Konyak and T. Tithak.

Eighteen years of dialogue with the NSCN (IM), both within and outside India, have not yielded the desired results. Both New Delhi and the NSCN (IM) leadership are either ambiguous or have been deliberately trying to keep the people in the dark about the progress or otherwise of these deliberations. Besides, while grappling with the NSCN (IM), New Delhi has not really bothered to engage with other Naga rebel groups and factions, particularly the NSCN (K). This gave an impression that New Delhi was regarding the NSCN (IM) as the sole or principal rebel group representing the Nagas. That is certainly not the case, because the Khaplang-led NSCN faction also has a considerable influence in several Naga areas, particularly those bordering Myanmar. If New Delhi has decided to ignore the NSCN (K) because it had entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar Government, then it would only expose the Government’s lack of foresight.

The questions one would like New Delhi to answer now are these: you did not talk formally to the NSCN (K) all these years, would you start formal talks with the brand new NSCN (R) now? If not, is this your old and unproductive strategy of postponing peace yet again? Is the NSCN (R), unlike the NSCN (K), willing to accept the NSCN (IM) as the big brother and accept a possible agreement with the NSCN (IM)? Have you encouraged the formation of the NSCN (R) to sideline the NSCN (K)? Well, I am not expecting answers from the Government on these questions!

If the turn of events are any indication, New Delhi is fast entering into an extremely tricky Naga insurgent minefield. The NSCN (K) put out a small trailer in March when it attacked an army patrol in Manipur’s Tamenglong district where four soldiers were injured. The battle lines are drawn and the relative calm in the Naga Hills may soon disappear.

(Courtesy: The Sentinel )