NSCN Pact: A pact shrouded in mystery

In the atmosphere of acrimony and dissension that prevails on the political firmament today, the sudden signing of an accord between the Centre and the dominant insurgent group in Nagaland, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland- I-M is bound to raise hackles.

While the two contending parties have signed the accord, marking a historic break from 60 years of insurgency, strangely, the provisions of the accord are being kept totally under wraps. This is indeed a big gamble for the Narendra Modi government which is facing huge roadblocks from the Congress in taking the nation forward especially in regard to economic matters.

In her super-aggressive avatar, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi have sounded the war bugle by lashing out at Prime Minister Modi for not taking into confidence the chief ministers of the states bordering Nagaland — Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. Modi, however, defends himself by saying that he would first place the accord on the table of Parliament before making its provisions public. Significantly, besides the state governments, the Army and the Ministry of Home Affairs too are still not privy to the terms of the agreement and an atmosphere of uncertainty prevails which must be dispelled sooner than later. Already, rumour-mongers are having a field day.

The NSCN-I-M’s main demand had been of a ‘Greater Nagalim’, which would include all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas in Manipur, Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Surely, that cannot but be unacceptable to the neighbouring states.Then how has the deal been clinched to the satisfaction of the NSCN-I-M and how is the Centre categorical that the interests of the neighbouring states would not be jeopardised? This is a mystery which only the unravelling of its details would resolve.

Is the Modi government skating on thin ice? Is there sound basis for its optimism that all will be well in the region and that the embers of insurgency will die down, restoring durable peace in the region after decades of strife?

Other Naga rebel outfits, NSCN (Khole-Kitovi), NSCN (Reformation), Naga National Council (NNC) and NSCN (Khaplang), remained tight-lipped as the clauses of the agreement were unclear. They were expected to react once the terms of the accord became clearer. For NSCN (Khaplang), which abrogated its ceasefire agreement with the Centre this year and launched attacks on security forces, the peace accord amounts to nothing. Other Naga factions like NSCN (Khole-Kitovi) and NSCN (Reformation), both in ceasefire agreements with the Centre, will of course bide time.

This is not to say that status quo should have been maintained and there was no need for proactive steps to end insurgency in the region. In the changed context of relative Sino-Indian bonhomie, there was a crying need to appeal to Chinese self-interest on greater economic mutuality of interests and to get Beijing to stop fanning insurgency on the north-eastern borders of India.

An official release issued on the occasion of the signing of the accord with the Naga party said this agreement will end the oldest insurgency in the country. It will restore peace and pave the way for prosperity in the northeast. It will advance a life of dignity, opportunity and equity for the Naga people, based on their genius and consistent with the uniqueness of the Naga people and their culture and traditions. That peace in the northeast will fuel opportunities for greater economic exchanges with southeast Asia is a happy possibility for the region. Remnants of insurgency will perhaps remain but it would be far easier to tackle it than now when so many Naga groups are up in arms, drawing their sustenance from outside support.

The accord comes almost two months after 18 army soldiers were killed in a major ambush carried out by Naga militants in Manipur’s Chandel district. Following this, India had carried out an operation in Myanmar.  It is well on the cards that the accord between the Centre and the NSCN-I-M may pave the way to an election where the latter or a successor political party will be facilitated to secure power through polls. If that happens, it could well bring the Nagas into the mainstream of the country’s politics.

That during the 2014 General Elections, Nagaland recorded 87.82% voter turnout, the highest among all the north-eastern states, was a reflection of the willingness of people to participate in parliamentary democracy. The time is indeed propitious for the seeming breakthrough with the NSCN-I-M to lead the region to durable peace. The cold reality is that while the Modi government was establishing backchannel talks with the NSCN (I-M) faction, another militant faction NSCN (K) led by SS Khaplang, a Burmese Naga, has chosen to adopt a hard line against the central government.

The Khaplang faction, operating out of the border region of Nagaland and Myanmar, has brought together various militant groups including the Paresh Barua-led ULFA faction, Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) — Songbijit faction, People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), People’s Liberation Army (PLA), United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and Kanglei Yawol Kunna Lup (KYKL) to join hands in fighting the Indian state. The group professes to create Western Southeast Asia (WESEA) as a larger separate state and comprising of all regions of the northeast.

This year, however, in order to re-assert his position as a militant leader, now old and ailing SS Khaplang expelled moderate leaders – P Tikhak and Wangtin Konyak; both of them were suspected to be in favour of continuing a ceasefire with the Centre—and abrogated the ceasefire agreement with the Indian government. On April 6, 2015, Wangtin and Tikhak formed the NSCN (Reformation) faction and on April 27, went ahead and signed a ceasefire agreement with the Centre.

All in all, there is hope on the horizon but whether that hope will translate into reality is yet unclear.

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