Archives E-Mail this article

NE rebels unite again as holes in Delhi's peace policy widens

POSTED ON 13 MAY 2015

wasbir hussain
executive director, cdps & visiting fellow, ipcs

Belligerent insurgent groups in the North-east are out to prove the peaceniks and the Government wrong into proclaiming or believing that the insurgency graph in the region was on a downslide and that hardliners would not be able to create trouble following the peace blitzkrieg in the form of talks and more talks under Delhi’s patronage. The April 17 get-together in Myanmar’s Sagaing division of the heads of four frontline insurgent groups of the region and their decision to unite under a common banner to jointly carry on with their ‘struggle’ to ‘liberate’ their ‘ancestral lands’ from ‘occupation’ and achieve ‘sovereignty’ is aimed at sending out a clear message that their fight against the Indian state is not over yet.

The April 17 meeting, held perhaps at the headquarters of the NSCN (Khaplang) in Myanmar, came out with a joint declaration signed by NSCN-K chief S.S.Khaplang, ULFA (Independent) chairman Dr Abhizeet Asom, KLO chairman Jiban Singha Koch and president of the NDFB (S), B. Saoraigwra. The declaration announced the formation of the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFW) with Khaplang as the chairman. Before launching the new umbrella group, the meeting disbanded the earlier united platform called the Indo-Burma Revolutionary Front, floated in 1989 by the NSCN-K, United National Liberation Front (Manipur), ULFA, Kuki National Front (KNF) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

The timing of the launch of this new rebel front is significant because it comes close on the heels of the abrogation of the 14-year-long ceasefire with New Delhi by the NSCN-K. That the rebel groups who are outside the peace process with the Government of India meant to demonstrate their strike potential to prove their strength became apparent almost immediately. The NSCN-K, a constituent of the UNLFW, begun hitting at security forces in quick succession, the first attack being on March 26 (a day before the NSCN-K called off its truce) on the outskirts of Kohima where four Assam Rifles troopers were injured. Armed gunmen on that occasion hit the Company Operating Base and outpost located at the Indira Gandhi Stadium. The second attack was in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tirap district on April 2 in which three Army troopers were killed. The rebels followed this up with an attack on April 25 in the heart of capital Kohima where an on-duty soldier was shot dead.

That the NSCN-K and its allies have the wherewithal to strike it real hard was proved on May 3 when rebels attacked a Assam Rifles team in two vehicles in Nagaland’s Mon district as the soldiers were out to fetch water. Eight of the troopers were killed, six others wounded and four were reported ‘missing.’ This is the first significant incident in which Naga rebels had inflicted three or more casualties on security forces since April 7, 1998 when eight Army troopers were killed and another 15 wounded in an ambush by NSCN-IM in Nagaland’s Zunheboto District. Again, it must also be noted that the Mon attack on May 3 has been the first major attack carried by NSCN-K rebels on security forces since February 19, 1997. On that occasion, the NSCN-K had killed seven men of the Army Development Group and had injured another four in an ambush at Thingtin village, about 75 kilometers from Kohima.

The developments have the potential to keep the Naga insurgency alive despite the 18 years of peace dialogue that New Delhi has been engaging in with one of the major rebel groups, the NSCN-IM. The abrogation of the truce by the NSCN-K has also proved that the Centre’s Naga peace policy has been flawed because it has been giving credence only to the NSCN-IM. Take a look at the press statement issued by NSCN-K chairman SS Khaplang on calling off the ceasefire on March 27, 2015: “Clamouring for peace without even an inclination to discuss sovereignty issue or resolution of sovereignty is only farce and any settlement or solution short of sovereignty would only be a betrayal of Nagas historical and political legacy.”

By not making any effort to save the truce with the NSCN-K, signed on April 28, 2001, and the haste with which New Delhi reached a ceasefire deal with the break-away NSCN (Reformation), the Government of India has given scope for speculation on whether it was engaged in a divide-and-rule policy to weaken the Naga insurgent groups. That may not be the case, but the Centre ought to take care so as not to let things go back to square one and once again having to fall back on the security forces to bring the situation under control.

If the recent attacks are any indication, the NSCN-K will try to keep demonstrating its strike potential in the days ahead with security forces being the main target. The group wants to include parts of Myanmar’s Sagaing Division, where it is based, in its scheme of a united Nagaland, an independent entity with Indian and Myanmar territories. The group’s strength is estimated at 1500 fighters. Its men are mostly based in northern Lahe and Nanyun townships in Sagaing and thrive on funds collected through kidnapping, extortion and other activities like training other anti-India insurgent groups. At the end of the day, the Naga peace process has shown clear signs of having gone off track.

(Courtesy: The Sentinel )