By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
On December 6, 2018, the Khango Konyak-led faction of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K-Konyak) announced the decision to revoke the 2015 pronouncement of unilateral abrogation of the cease-fire agreement (CFA) with immediate effect.
‘President’ and ‘Chairman’ Khango Konyak and ‘general secretary’ Isak Sumi, in a joint statement, called upon Union Government to respond,
…keeping in view the appeal by these organisations [civil society organization like Naga Mother Association, NMA] and positive response by the GoI [Government of India] to the initiative, NSCN/GPRN [Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland/Government of the Peoples Republic of Nagaland] has resolved to revoke the earlier decision of unilateral abrogation of ceasefire with immediate effect, Therefore, we expect GoI to respond positively by honouring our decision to revive ceasefire in the interest of peace in Nagaland and Naga people in general…
The undivided NSCN-K, on March 31, 2015, had unilaterally abrogated the April 28, 2001, CFA stating, “it was no use extending the ceasefire without discussing the issue of Naga sovereignty.”
Later, on April 28, 2015, the Union Government of India too announced the suspension of the CFA and followed up by banning NSCN-K for five years, on September 16, 2015, under the Unlawful Activities [Prevention] Act (UAPA), 1967. Subsequently, on November 16, 2015, the Central Government declared NSCN-K a terrorist organization.
On June 20, 2017, in the aftermath of the death of its founding ‘chairman’ S. S. Khaplang on June 9, 2017, Khango Konyak was made ‘chairman’. However, in August 2018, a vertical spilt occurred within group, leading to the formation of two splinters. A ‘party emergency meeting’ held on August 17, 2018, at the ‘council headquarters’ in Myanmar’s Sagaing region, ‘elected’ Yung Aung, a Myanmarese national, as the new ‘acting chairman’.
Khango Konyak left Myanmar along with his supporters and reached Yongkhao village under Tobu sub-division in the Mon District of Nagaland on October 16, 2018. Konyak became the leader of this faction.
The announcement of the resumption of the ceasefire was not sudden, as reports indicated that both Nagaland Gaon Burha Federation (NGBF) [Federation of Traditional Village Headman] and the Naga Mother’s Association were involved in back-channel peace parleys with the NSCN-K-Konyak. NGBF in a statement on November 14, 2018, disclosed,
The Khango-led group officially endorsed the NGBF to act as a mediator with the government of India for resuming the ceasefire during a meeting at Yankhao village in Mon district of Nagaland on October 25, at the earliest…
NGBF also disclosed that NSCN-K-Konyak had placed a four-point demand before the Union Government for consideration. It includes lifting of the ‘ban’ imposed on the NSCN and removal of the “terrorist” tag; rescinding the ‘bounties’ placed on NSCN leaders; repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and Disturbed Areas Act in “Naga areas”; and unconditional release of NSCN cadres who were arrested after abrogation of the ceasefire and were undergoing trial or serving sentences in prisons
NGBF reportedly handed over a letter by the Khango faction to R.N. Ravi, the Deputy National Security Advisor (Internal Affairs) and the Centre’s Interlocutor for Naga talk’s. On November 14, 2018, NGBF claimed that, during a meeting between NGBF and the interlocutor, Ravi reportedly accepted ‘many’ of the demands. Ravi, however, at the same time clarified, “India has a commitment to solve the Naga issue with one comprehensive solution and, therefore, cannot have many agreements and is not in a position to take up 3rd party with fresh negotiation.”
Significantly, since the abrogation of the CFA on March 31, 2015, and till Khaplang’s death on June 9, 2017, the ‘undivided’ NSCN-K emerged as the most violent group in the entire Northeast. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), out of a total of 431 fatalities (121 civilians, 65 Security Force, SF, personnel and 245 militants ) recorded in the entire Northeast region during this period in which the identity of the involved group was established, NSCN-K was linked to 39 fatalities (seven civilians and 32 SF personnel). The Saoraigwra faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-S) was a distant second with 18 fatalities (17 civilians and one trooper). Moreover, in another sign of NSCN-K’s heightened activities on ground, it lost a total of 40 of its cadres during this period, second only to NDFB-S which lost 44 militants.
However, the effectiveness of NSCN-K was greatly reduced during Khango Konyak ‘chairmanship’ (June 20, 2017-August 16, 2018). According to SATP data, only five NSCN-K linked fatalities (one civilian, one trooper, and three NSCN-K militants) were recorded across Northeast during this period.
After the August 2018 split, the Konyak-led group had shown interest in talks, while the Aung Yung faction sought to continue its ‘fight’ against the Indian state.
Indeed, the Aung Yung faction (NSCN-K-Yung) has decided to continue with violence and, in a release to media on October 20, 2018, declared,
|NSCN/GPRN and the Naga Army will continue to support, defend and fight alongside other oppressed and colonized people till their long cherished goal is achieved…|
On December 3, 2018, the Indian Army’s 12 Para Special Force (SF) commandos killed three militants in an area between the Wangla and Oting villages in the Mon District along the Indo-Myanmar border. According to reports, the commandos laid an ambush after receiving specific inputs about movements of around six militants along with a civilian, reportedly a guide. Though dead bodies of the two slain militants were recovered after the ensuing encounter; their identity is yet to be ascertained. The body of a third slain militant could not be retrieved. The militants reportedly belonged to NSCN-K-Yung and the Independent faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-I), had entered India from Myanmar. Significantly, the last major incident (resulting in three or more fatalities) involving the undivided NSCN-K was recorded on June 17, 2018. On that day, undivided NSCN-K militants laid an ambush near the Tenyak River on the outskirts of Aboi Town in the Mon District, killing two Security Force (SF) personnel. Another six troopers were injured in the ambush. One of the injured troopers died later, on June 18. ULFA-I had claimed that it was also part of the ‘operation’.
Further, according to SATP data, there was not a single incident of NSCN-K-linked killing since the August 2018 split, till the December 3 incident.
Worryingly, there are signs of emergence of strong bonding between ULFA-I ‘commander-in-chief’ Paresh Baruah and Aung Yung. Baruah, in a recent interview published on November 24, 2018, endorsed Yung’s succession declared, “We will grow with a new leadership”.
It now remains to be seen whether the Government is able to accommodate NSCN-K-Khango in the framework of the lingering talks to resolve the Naga issue, or stands on its ‘decision’ not to accommodate any 3rd party. The decision to accommodate may further widen the scope of the Naga peace process beyond the Isak Muivah faction of NSCN (NSCN-IM) and the Naga National Political Groups (NNPG), but would, at the same time, threaten further delay in any ‘final outcome’.
Whatever the Government decides, counter insurgency (CI) operations based on specific intelligence, especially in the ‘last remaining hub in Northeast’ along the Indo-Myanmar border, will continue, with improving coordination amongst the State Police and Central Forces operating, in order to block any renewed militant consolidation.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management