By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
The Myanmar-based Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-Khaplang) in a ‘party emergency meeting’ held on August 17, 2018, at its ‘council headquarters’ in Myanmar’s Sagaing region, ‘elected’ Yung Aung, a Myanmarese national, as the new ‘acting chairman’ of the outfit. The NSCN-K in a release announced, “The National Socialist Council unanimously elected Mr. Yung Aung as the new Acting Chairman of the party by a majority vote on this day of 17th August 2018… effective from today he shall exercise his powers, functions….”
Yung Aung replaced the incumbent ‘chairman’ ‘lieutenant general’ Khango Konyak (an Indian national) who was ‘impeached’ during the ’emergency meeting’, in absentia. A NSCN-K statement reportedly released to the media read,
He was found guilty of absolute control of powers and functions without collective leadership, non-distribution of powers and functions exposing a one-man government policy, incompatible traits…
The statement termed his impeachment a necessity to “save” the ‘party’ from further “breakdown and confusion”.
The statement reportedly added the outfit would reserve its respect for Khango as the senior-most party member and in recognition for his long service towards the cause of the ‘nation’, “he shall be unharmed and will be allowed a safe passage”.
On June 20, 2017, Khango Konyak had replaced the founding ‘chairman’ of NSCN-K, Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang, following the latter’s death on June 9, 2017, after a prolonged illness in a hospital at Taga in the Sagaing Division of Myanmar. Khango Konyak at that time was the ‘vice-chairman’ of the outfit. The new ‘acting chairman’ Aung is the nephew of Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang and was the ‘defence kilonser (minister)’ of the outfit prior to his elevation.
Though the NSCN-K release accused Khango Konyak of violating ‘party discipline’ and cited some reasons which led to his ‘impeachment’, this was, in all likelihood done with an aim to bring back a Myanmarese national to the helm of the outfit once again. If reports are to be believed, after the death of Khaplang, NSCN-K had appointed ‘commander-in-chief’ Khumchok Pangmi, a Myanmarese national, as ‘acting chairman’. This was resisted by Naga members from the Indian side on the ground that, being the ‘vice-chairman’, Khango Konyak was the rightful claimant to the supreme position. Though Konyak then became the ‘chairman’, the divide between Myanmarese and Indian Naga members in the group rose to surface. Konyak had been a Khaplang loyalist since 1988, when NSCN split into the NSCN-K and NSCN- Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) factions, and with his ‘impeachment’ the group has virtually no Naga from India in a position of power. Prior to Nagaland’s Assembly election in February, Union Minister of State (MoS) for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju emphasized that NSCN-K was “an insurgent group from Myanmar”, when asked if the Government foresaw a threat from the outfit during the polls.
Reports also indicate that the abrupt decision to ‘impeach’ Konyak was because the Myanmar-origin Nagas were inching closer to signing a peace accord with the Myanmar Government. NSCN-K has formally maintained a ceasefire with the Myanmar Government since April 2012.
The impact of the ‘impeachment’ remains uncertain. Yung Aung reportedly has deep links with China and maintains close ties with the United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) ‘commander-in-chief’ Paresh Baruah and the Manipuri militant leadership. If he chooses to emphasize the operational unity of militant formations across the Northeast – as did Khaplang under the aegis of the United National Liberation Front West South East Asia (UNLFWESA) – this may escalate violence in the region.
NSCN-K had emerged as the most active militant outfit under Khaplang after it walked out of the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) in 2015, particularly targeting Security Forces (SFs). NSCN-K violence spanned Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh, with the group linked to a total of at least 79 fatalities (seven civilians, 32 SF personnel, and 40 NSCN-K militants) in the three States between March 27, 2015 and June 10, 2017, before Khango Konyak assumed charge. However, in Konyak’s 14 month tenure, violence declined, and NSCN-K ‘central committee member’ U Kyaw Wan Sein observed on [report of August 20, 2018],
He [Khango] could not do anything that would develop our organization. We were disordered and our work suffered setbacks. There was no guidance to the ministries and no engagement with the public.
According to partial data collected by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), only five NSCN-K linked fatalities (one civilian, one trooper, and three NSCN-K militants) were recorded across Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur during Konyak’s tenure. No fatalities have been recorded in Assam from June 11, 2017, till date. Only one major incident (resulting in three or more fatalities) was attributed to NSCN-K in this period.
Konyak’s impeachment may also impact adversely on the India’s efforts to bring NSCN-K back to the negotiating table. Founder ‘chairman’ Khaplang was always under the control of Myanmarese Nagas, who remained extremely hostile to the Indian Government. Konyak’s appointment as ‘chairman’ had raised hopes of an early breakthrough. After Khaplang’s death MoS Rijiju had noted, on June 10, 2017,
Khaplang was the main person who was supporting and facilitating insurgency in the Northeast and had a clout. He was a Myanmarese citizen and hence there was a problem. His death will definitely have impact in the region.
With Konyak’s ‘impeachment’ the situation is likely to revert to the earlier status of amplified hostility.
Significantly, NSCN-K is the only Naga outfit which outside the ambit of the Naga talks, which have purportedly been at a ‘final stage’ since the signing of the ‘framework agreement’ with NSCN-IM on August 3, 2015.
On the other hand, the ‘impeachment’ may lead to the further weakening of the outfit. An unnamed source observed, “The move may lead to defection within the NSCN-K, as the Konyak tribe and the Indian-origin Nagas will certainly be angered by it…” Two earlier instances of splits in NSCN-K include the formation of Khole-Kitovi faction [NSCN-KK, subsequently rechristened as NSCN-Neopao Konyak/Kitovi (NK)] in 2011, and the Reformation faction (NSCN-R) in 2015. Khole Konyak and Kitovi Zhimomi, who formed NSCN-KK, were Indians. Two other Indian NSCN-K leaders, Y. Wangtin Konyak and P. Tikhak, who did not agree to Khaplang’s diktat on abrogation of ceasefire, had formed NSCN-R. The Government signed a ceasefire agreement with NSCN-NK on April 28, 2012; and with NSCN-R on April 27, 2015.
Further, the ‘impeachment’ is unlikely to weaken the militant conglomerate UNLFWESA, as the relationship between the participating formations remains deeply symbiotic in terms of money, arms and camps. However, with the removal of Indian Nagas, primarily of Konyak origin, the support for NSCN-K may shrink in the Konyak inhibited areas such as the Mon District of Nagaland. UNLFWESA was first headed by Khaplang and, after his death; Khango Konyak became the ‘chief’ of this alliance.
Meanwhile, Konyak is believed to have left the NSCN-K ‘domain’ along with other ‘Indian’ Naga leaders, including ‘lieutenant general’ Niki Sumi, the ‘military supervisor’ of the Indian side, and Isaac Sumi, its ‘publicity secretary’. Reports indicate that Khango Konyak remains undecided about his future and is said to be in touch with both the Isak Muivah and Khole-Neopak factions. According to sources, almost a hundred cadres are believed to be in Konyak’s group, as they return to the Indian side in batches. Reports suggest that Konyak may join the ‘peace talks’. Other reports indicate that NSCN-K’s Sumi tribal faction from Nagaland, led by Nikki Sumi, may soon reach a ceasefire designated camp in the State.
The coup within NSCN-K will certainly have an impact on the Naga insurgency, but the intensity and direction of its consequences remain uncertain.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management