By Afsara Shaheen
On October 14, 2023, a ‘lance corporal’ of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), Namleuku Zeme, and an Over Ground Worker of the group, Langang Gangsa, were arrested in a joint operation launched by the Assam Rifles and Arunachal Pradesh Police at Chop village in the Longding District of Arunachal Pradesh.
On September 27, 2023, an NSCN-IM militant, ‘private’ Ashom Toham, surrendered before the Security Forces (SFs) in the Longding District of Arunachal Pradesh.
On September 24, 2023, a suspected Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF) militant, David Gaingamlung Gonmei, was killed and another sustained injuries in a gunfight with suspected NSCN-IM cadres at Phoibut Village in the Tupul area of Noney District in Manipur. ZUF is a splinter group of the NSCN-IM, formed in 2011.
On September 21, 2023, an NSCN-IM cadre was arrested, in possession of one 7.65 mm pistol and drugs, in a joint operation by the Assam Rifles and Nagaland Police at Half Nagarjan in the Dimapur District of Nagaland.
On September 13, 2023, a NSCN-IM militant was killed by Security Forces (SFs) during an exchange of fire that broke out after two armed militants shot at a SF patrol at Miao in the Changlang District of Arunachal Pradesh.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), there have been at least 28 NSCN-IM linked incidents in the current year (data till October 22, 2023), including five incidents of killing resulting in six fatalities (all terrorists). Of the killed terrorists, three belonged to NSCN-IM (one killed by SFs, two killed by ZUF), two belonged to ZUF (both killed by NSCN-IM) and one belonged to the NSCN/‘Government of the People’s Republic of Nagaland (GPRN)’ (killed by NSCN-IM). Of the remaining 23 incidents, one was an incident of abduction by NSCN-IM cadres, in which six persons were abducted ((all were later rescued the SFs); four were incidents of extortion, 16 incidents of arrest of NSCN-IM cadres by SFs in which 32 cadres were arrested, and two incidents of surrender in which two NSCN-IM cadres surrendered.
Some of the other prominent incidents of 2023 included:
July 20: A ZUF cadre, Obed Kamei, was killed by suspected NSCN-IM cadres at Dailong Village in the Tamenglong District of Manipur. Kamei had been kidnapped by suspected NSCN-IM cadres on July 19 from Noney District and he was found shot dead at Dailong Village the next day.
July 28: Two suspected NSCN-IM militants, ‘Major’ Alen Sekho (42) and ‘Captain’ Angam, were killed, and one civilian, Gaitaguang Gangmei, sustained injuries, in firing by suspected ZUF cadres at Rengpang Village under the jurisdiction of the Khongsang Police Station in the Noney District of Manipur. It was suspected that the killing of the two NSCN-IM cadres by ZUF was revenge for the killing of its cadre, Obed Kamei, by NSCN-IM, on July 20.
July 30: NSCN-IM cadres killed one cadre of NSCN/GPRN, ‘Deputy Kilonser’ Temzei Konyak, and kidnapped three others – Honchai Konyak aka Tatar, Talem Konyak aka Leacy and ‘Captain’ Wanglem Konyak – at Lapalampong Village in the Tizit Area of Mon District in Nagaland. NSCN-IM demanded a ransom of INR 100,000 from each individual for their safe release.
Since the signing of the Framework Agreement between the Government of India (GoI) and NSCN-IM on August 5, 2015, the NSCN-IM has been involved in at least 382 incidents, including 35 incidents of killing resulting in 63 deaths (18 civilians, four SF personnel and 41 terrorists). Of the killed terrorists, 21 belonged to NSCN-IM (14 killed by SFs, five killed by ZUF), seven belonged to ZUF, five belonged to People’s Liberation Army (PLA), three belonged to National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), two belonged to NSCN-Unification (NSCN-U), and one each belonged to NSCN/GPRN, United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF) and Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khole-Kitovi (NSCN-KK).
Of the remaining 347 incidents, at least 12 were incidents of abduction by NSCN-IM in which 30 persons were abducted (14 of these were later confirmed released, three managed to escape; while no further detail is available about the remaining 13), 69 incidents of extortion, 253 incidents of arrest of NSCN-IM by the SFs in which 421 NSCN-IM cadres were arrested, and 13 incidents of surrender in which 20 NSCN-IM cadres surrendered.
Interestingly, while signing the Framework Agreement and on several occasions thereafter, GoI has reiterated that the Naga issue would be resolved ‘soon’. On February 20, 2023, Union Home Minister Amit Shah once again stated, “Our aim is to make peace talks successful and solve Naga political problem quickly.”
The talks, nevertheless, drag on as, on the one hand, the NSCN-IM remains fixed on its demand for a separate flag and constitution and, on the other, the Union Government remains non-committal on these two demands. Though the NSCN-IM has pointed this out on numerous occasions in the past, highlighting the issue again, on October 10, 2023, while addressing a meeting of the group, ‘Lt. Gen. (Retd)’ V. S. Atem, vice-chairperson and member of the collective leadership of the NSCN-IM, alleged that the Central government had tried to evade accepting these two crucial issues, and asserted that it could never be given up, as the flag and constitution are sovereign rights of the Nagas, having been recognized under the Framework Agreement
Significantly, during the last round of talks between the two sides which began in New Delhi on August 23, 2023, the issue of the Naga flag was the major topic of discussion. Later, on August 26, 2023, NSCN-IM disclosed that nothing has been finalized regarding a separate flag for Nagaland in the talks. No further talks have taken place.
Worryingly, the Naga peace talks seem to be getting complicated in the aftermath of the ongoing violent ethnic clashes between the Metei and Kuki-Zo tribes in Manipur, which erupted on May 3, 2023, and had, according to the last release of government data, resulted in 175 deaths till September 14, 2023. As the violence erupted, the Kukis started emphasising their demand for a separate administration in the Hill Districts. Significantly, two of the Hill Districts which are expected to go under the Kukis’ administration if such a demand is met, are Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal, both created in December 2016, and carved out of the predominantly Naga populated districts of Senapati and Chandel. The NSCN-IM, in the July-August edition of its mouthpiece Nagalim Voice, released on August 21, 2023, declared,
Pathetic is the unrealistic physical map of the proposed Kuki state that covers most parts of the Naga territories, even claiming some of the major Naga tribes as belonging to the Kuki family. Such bewildering concoction will not help the Kuki-Zo case in any manner as history is not established on concoction and falsehood.
Further, the United Naga Council (UNC), the apex Naga Civil Organization argued, on August 21, 2023, that the creation of the two districts “remains alive as an unfinished issue”, and so it has become all the more “inevitable for the Nagas to register our opposition… as it is posing a big threat to the very existence and inalienable rights of the Nagas, particularly in the state of Manipur.” Earlier, on August 9, 2023, the UNC had stated that the peace process made significant progress with the signing of the Framework Agreement, but “the inordinate delay in signing the final agreement is a cause of concern and has the potential to derail the peace negotiation.”
It is thus not surprising that NSCN-IM remains involved in terrorism-linked incidents, even after the signing of the Framework Agreement in 2015 after over 80 rounds of negotiations spanning 18 years. The first breakthrough was achieved in 1997, when a ceasefire agreement was sealed after decades of insurgency in Nagaland, which commenced soon after India’s attained Independence in 1947.
As the talks drag on, with no visible resolution of the contentious issues of flag and constitution, the risk of NSCN-IM’s increasing activities on ground is growing. At a time when insurgency in Manipur seems to have gained momentum in the aftermath of the eruption of the ethnic clashes, any increase in activities of the NSCN-IM would prove detrimental to the overall peace in India’s Northeast.
- Afsara Shaheen
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management