By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
On March 10, 2019, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, while disclosing the fact that “we were hoping against hope that the solution will come before the election”, warned that “if it (the Naga political solution) does not come…it will be problem for our Naga society to carry on”. Rio was referring to the long delay in finding the ‘solution’ for the ‘Naga problem’ despite the much publicized signing of the August 3, 2015, Framework Agreement between the Government of India (GoI) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM). Meanwhile, on March 10, 2019, the Election Commission of India announced that a seven-phase General Elections would be held from April 11 to May 19 across India. Elections in Nagaland are scheduled to be held on April 11, 2019.
Interestingly, Rio’s statement is much more forthright than the mistaken claim made by the GoI’s interlocutor for Naga talks, R.N. Ravi who stated, on March 1, 2019,
|Naga Peace Talks is at the concluding stage. Political principles of settlement, substantive issue of competencies and structural issues of governance have all been mutually agreed. The peace process has become truly inclusive with the seven Naga groups coming onboard. We have mutual understanding with NSCN-IM that they would not oppose the NNPGs [Naga National Political Groups] constructive cooperation in the peace process and their participation in the final agreement. The peace process can conclude any day.|
He could not, however, provide any deadline.
Interestingly, Ravi also admitted,
|…few issues, mainly a flag and a constitution are sticky. On these issues, the two sides have differing positions. We will sign the agreement as soon as these are resolved…|
Ravi’s statements appear contradictory and divorced from reality. The issues of flag and constitution are the trickiest, and are the ones on which NSCN-IM has long had the strongest reservations.
‘Ato Kilonser (Prime Minister)’, Thuingaleng Muivah, in an interview to Northeast Live on February 16, 2019, declared, “there will be one Nagalim, only one government our flag and our constitution must be there. This is the stand we have given…”
That the peace process is not on track is also evident from the fact that prominent civil society bodies of the State refused to meet Ravi during his stay at State capital Kohima on February 26-27, 2019.
Naga Hoho (the apex body of all Naga tribes of Nagaland) ‘president’ Chuba Ozukum, according to a report dated February 28, 2019, noted,
|…In our previous meetings, he (Ravi) had always told us that the peace talks covered all points and that there will be a comprehensive solution. He had also said that the talks were in a very advanced stage. However, the much-desired solution continues to elude the Nagas. Their (Centre’s) behaviour speaks volumes of their insincerity and the lack of political will towards solving the problem. So, we didn’t find any reason to meet him…|
Meanwhile, the two most prominent Naga insurgent outfits – NSCN-IM and National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) – saw changes in terms of their leadership structures.
On February 11, 2019, NSCN-IM elected Qhehezu Tuccu as the new ‘chairman’ and Tongmeth Wangnao as ‘vice-chairman’. The process was conducted at camp Hebron in Dimapur and the leadership has been elected for a tenure of six years. On August 17, 2018, NSCN-K had split into two factions, led by Yung Aung, a Myanmarese national, and Khango Konyak, respectively. The Khango Konyak led NSCN-K faction subsequently joined the peace talks on January 29, 2019, as part of the six-member Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), further widening the talks.
The impact of change in leadership in these two major players and the NNPGs joining the talks is still to be seen. Muivah in hisFebruary 16, 2019 interview demanded, “…these six-seven groups, NNPGs, what is that, what is the policy behind them and why government of India is talking with them?” Muivah, added, further, that when NSCN-IM raised the issue of the involvement of NNPGs in the talks and threatened to move out of the process with GoI, since GoI had earlier stated that only NSCN-IM represented the Naga people; the GoI assured them that the discussions with NNPGs were ‘informal in nature’.
Significantly, while signing the Framework Agreement on August 3, 2015, the GoI had projected the impression that the resolution of the vexed Naga issue was imminent. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his remarks after the signing of the Agreement, declared,
|…Today, we mark not merely the end of a problem, but the beginning of a new future. We will not only try to heal wounds and resolve problems, but also be your partner as you restore your pride and prestige…|
Subsequently, on March 3, 2018, Neiphiu Rio had declared that the Naga Accord would be signed on August 10, 2018.
Despite the growing restiveness over the delay in ‘solving the Naga problem’, insurgency-related violence in the State continues to record declines. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the State registered a total of seven insurgency-linked fatalities, including three Security Force (SF) personnel and four militants, in 2018. There were eight such fatalities, including four civilians, one SF trooper and three militants, in 2017. There was no civilian fatality in 2018, something that has happened only once before, in 2010. Not a single fatality has been recorded in the current year, so far (data till March 17, 2019). The last insurgency-linked fatalities were on December 3, 2018, when the 12 Para Special Force of the Indian Army killed three militants between Wangla and Oting villages in the Mon District. The militants reportedly belonged to a joint team of the Aung Yung led NSCN-Khaplang faction and United Liberation Front of Asom-Independence (ULFA-I).
At the peak of the insurgency, Nagaland recorded 360 fatalities (104 civilians, 38 SF personnel, and 218 militants) in 1997. The highest civilian fatalities, 144, were recorded in 1996. The maximum number of SFs, 48, were also killed in 1996.
Significantly, no incident of internecine clashes between the various insurgent factions was reported in the State through 2018, as in 2017. Turf wars between the factions were common in the past, but the last such clash was reported on July 2, 2015, when the body of Mannyei Konyak, an ex-NSCN-Khaplang (NSCN-K) militant who had joined NSCN-Reformation (NSCN-R), was recovered from Sheanghah Wamsa in Mon District.
There has, however, been a slight increase in incidents of internecine clashes between Naga militant groups outside Nagaland. Six instances of such clashes, resulting in seven fatalities (two civilians and five militants) were recorded in 2018 – one in Arunachal Pradesh and five in Manipur – as against two incidents reported in 2017, one each in Assam and Manipur. No fatality was reported in these two incidents. Most recently, on November 22, 2018, one suspected NSCN-IM cadre was killed in a shootout with cadres of the Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF) between Taosang and Lubanglong villages under the Khoupum Police Station in the Noney District of Manipur.
The geographic spread of violence has also been contained. In 2018, fatalities were recorded from two Districts in the State – Mon (6) and Paren (1). In 2017, fatalities were recorded from three Districts – Mon (5), Dimapur (2) and Kohima (1).
Only one incident of explosion was reported in 2018, with one person injured. Two incidents of explosion were recorded through 2017, leading to the death of one civilian and injuries to four. Further, the State recorded three incidents of abduction in 2018, in which five persons were abducted, as against four incidents, in which five persons were abducted, through 2017. Four instances of extortion were also recorded in 2018, as against 13 such incidents in 2017.
Both abduction and extortion tend to be grossly under-reported and the actual incidence is significantly higher. Indeed, there is widespread consensus that abduction and extortion constitute the backbone of a parallel economy in the State and the wider Northeast region. R.N. Ravi, in his March 1, 2019, interview, conceded,
|…We all know there is a thriving political economy of insurgency in Nagaland run by a network of underground and overground collaborators. Every household, rich and poor, is victim of this perverse economy…|
SFs arrested 148 militants in 92 incidents in 2018, in addition to 148 such arrests in 82 incidents through 2017. Those arrested in 2018 included 36 NSCN-K militants; 22 NSCN-IM militants; 14 NSCN-R militants; 12 of the Kitovi Neopak faction of NSCN (NSCN-KN); seven of the Unification faction (NSCN-U); six of the Non-Accordist faction of the Naga National Council (NNC-NA); five each from NNC and National Democratic Front of Bodoland-Saoraigwra (NDFB-S); and two militants from the Barak State Liberation Force (BSLF).
Elsewhere, in an encouraging development, the Myanmar based Yung faction of NSCN-K is facing action from Tatmadaw [the Myanmar Army]. NSCN-K camps in Myanmar have reportedly been taken over by the Myanmar Army.
The insurgency is clearly under control. For further improvement, effective cooperation between the security agencies of India and Myanmar is crucial, to deny safe havens to the insurgent groups operating in the State. The protective safeguards related to the Free Movement Regime (FMR) with Myanmar need be effectively implemented to check the abuse of these provisions by the militants operating along the Indo-Myanmar border. According to a October 25, 2018 report New Delhi and Naypyidaw have decided to facilitate trade along the 32-kilometres FMR belt (16 kilometers on either side of the border), to aid the villagers along the Indo-Myanmar border.
The environment of peace that has been created over the years by continuous SF action and simultaneous negotiations with major Naga militant formations provides an opportunity to resolve this long festering conflict. The growing sense of weariness among civil society groups as well as political and insurgent formations due to the perceived delays in reaching a final agreement undermine the possibilities of reaching a comprehensive accord.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management