India: Interminable Talks In Nagaland – Analysis
By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
On March 21, 2022, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) ‘chairman’ Qhehezu Tuccu alleged that the Union Government was trying to impose a “solution” which deviated from the Framework Agreement signed on August 3, 2015.
Tuccu claimed, “The Government of India is trying to impose a Naga solution which is not based on the Framework Agreement… We should instill in ourselves the courage and determination to stand by the Framework Agreement which is the only acceptable basis for the Naga solution.”
Earlier, on March 1, 2022, NSCN-IM called Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) convener N. Kitovi Zhimomi a ‘traitor’ and alleged that he had ‘sold out’ to the Government of India (GoI).
NSCN-IM’s outburst came after Zhimomi’s statement on February 24, 2022, where he said, “We ought to have the rule of law. People have to have rules that apply equally to everyone. One cannot dream of Nagaland as a state where we pursue – my way or the highway. The NNPGs and former Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi [also interlocutor for talks] negotiated on the principle that politics is an art of possibilities, and so the focus was to resolve the Indo-Naga political problems. We should aim for a win-win situation for both sides in the first place.”
The NNPG was included in the talks with GoI on September 27, 2017, in an effort to widen the peace talks. The NNPG is a militant conglomerate that comprises of seven Naga groups: NSCN-Kitovi Neopak (NSCN-NK), NSCN-Reformation faction (NSCN-R), NSCN-Khango Konyak faction (NSCN-K2) and four factions of the Naga National Council (NNC) – Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN), NNC-Parent Body, Non-Accordist faction of NNC/National People’s Government of Nagaland (NPGN/NNC-NA), and the Government Democratic Republic of Nagaland/ NNC-NA (GDRN).
NSCN-IM views Zhimoni’s position as contradictory to its (NSCN-IM’s) own stand. NSCN-IM claims to be the sole party representing the Naga political cause and refuse to dilute from its principle demands, including a separate flag and constitution. Moreover, NSCN-IM’s preeminent position in the talks process is vindicated by the fact that the Government did not sign an agreement with NNPGs in 2019, even when they were ready, as NSCN-IM opposed the move. Further, R.N. Ravi was removed from both the positions of Governor and interlocutor to appease NSCN-IM, which had demanded his removal. On August 11, 2020, NSCN-IM asserted, “The issue is now in the court of Government of India that should come out with an undertaking that Framework Agreement is still alive in its original form and to be handled by somebody other than RN Ravi.”
On September 22, 2021, R.N. Ravi officially resigned from both the positions he held. Former Intelligence Bureau Special Director A.K. Mishra replaced him as the interlocutor. Since assuming charge, Mishra has met the NSCN-IM, the Working Committee of NNGPs (top decision-making body of the group) and NSCN-NS, all in the first week of October 2021. Since then, the talks have been stuck on the issues of the separate flag and constitution demanded by NSCN-IM. Earlier, for nearly two years, NSCN-IM and R. N. Ravi had not talked. The next round of talks is scheduled for the last week of March 2022.
Meanwhile, one of the NNPG constituents – NSCN-R – itself underwent a split on November 19, 2021, with the emergence of NSCN-R-Akato Chophy, a new faction led by Akato Chophy. Later on, November 21, the NNGP’s Working Committee endorsed NSCN-R’s decision to expel its ‘vice-president’ Akato Chophy from the fold for “anti-party activities.” On November 21, NSCN-R-Akato Chophy announced that it would sever all ties with the NNPGs.
Further, the Niki Sumi faction of the NSCN (NSCN-NS) has become the third entity to enter into the talks with GoI over the Naga issue, the other two being NSCN-IM and the NNPGs. On October 7, 2021, NSCN-NS met interlocutor A. K. Mishra to proclaim its commitment to peace. The group had previously maintained that it would not raise any separate demands as this ‘would create another problem.’ At the same time, NSCN-NS stated that it would first hear out the people’s opinion on the Framework Agreement signed by NSCM-IM and the agreement between NNPGs and GoI. It stated that only if the Naga people observe any shortcomings in these agreements, would it add demands based on the people’s voice, to achieve one inclusive solution. According to the agreement between the NNPGs and GoI,
The GOI recognised the political and historical rights of the Nagas to self-determine their future in consonance with their distinct identity. The two entities have agreed to work out the details of a relationship that is honourable, enduring and an inclusive peaceful co-existence with due regard to contemporary political realities.
Reacting to the NSCN-NS joining the talks in a statement on July 4, 2021, the NNPGs accused the GoI of “setting a wolf among sheep” and warned that “WC (Working Committee) will be forced to respond if its integrity and commitment to peace and solution is taken as a sign of weakness.” The Working Committee of NNPGs alleges that NSCN-NS was encouraging defection of its cadres with the lure of money and rank. GoI signed a ceasefire agreement with NSCN-NS on September 8, 2021. The NNPGs oppose the NSCN-NS, despite the group’s stated position that it was not against the Framework Agreement signed by the NSCN-IM or the agreement signed by the NNPGs.
Factionalism on tribal lines between Naga groups, which was one of the major reasons behind the past failure of efforts for a peaceful outcome of the vexed Naga issue, and that caused violence, had been declining since signing of the ‘Lenten Agreement’ on March 28, 2014, during a two-day reconciliation meeting of three Naga militant groups – NSCN-IM, NSCN-KK (now NSCN-KN) and Naga National Council/ Federal Government of Nagaland (NNC/FGN) – at Dimapur, under the banner of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR). The signatories to the agreement agreed “in principle to form the Naga National Government (NNG).” The situation further improved after the signing of the Framework Agreement in August 2015. The presently rising differences within the constituents of the peace process might impact adversely on the security situation in the State.
Significantly, in 2021, the lone militant fatality in the State was due to a fatal clash between NSCN-NK and NSCN-NS. On October 17, 2021, NSCN-NK militants killed Atoka Kinimi, ‘additional secretary’ of the NSCN-NS, near the Khehoi designated camp in the Niuland area of Dimapur District.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the State registered four insurgency-linked fatalities in 2021. Apart from the lone militant fatality, three civilians were also killed. On March 22, 2021, an unidentified gunman in camouflage killed three Zeliang tribesmen – Itingwangbe Haikam, Hangyi and Asiambo – in an area located at the border between the Peren and Dimapur Districts of Nagaland. Though it is still unclear who was behind these killings, those arrested in the case include both civilians and militants from NSCN-IM and NSCN-U. Prior to this incident, the last civilian killing was reported on August 17, 2019, when the body of an unidentified non-Naga was recovered with gunshot wounds from the Zubza area of Kohima District. In fact, in six years, seven months and 24 days following the signing of the Framework Agreement, the State recorded 16 civilian killings. During the corresponding preceding period, the State had witnessed 51 civilian fatalities.
Similarly, in six years, seven months and 24 days after the signing of the accord Nagaland recorded six Security Force (SF) personnel killings. During the corresponding preceding period, there were nine SF deaths (all in 2015). The last SF death was reported on May 25, 2019, when two Assam Rifles (AR) personnel were killed and another four sustained injuries, after suspected militants ambushed an AR patrol along the Indo-Myanmar border in Mon District.
Also, in six years, seven months and 24 days after the signing of the accord Nagaland recorded 31 militant killings. During the corresponding preceding period, there were 122 militant deaths .
Despite engagement in talks the Naga groups remain active on the ground. SFs arrested 147 militants in 88 incidents in 2021, adding to 117 arrested in 59 incidents in 2020. Those arrested in 2021 included 36 from NSCN-IM, 25 from NSCN-K, 16 from NSCN-KN, 16 from NSCN-K-NS, 12 from NSCN-R, seven each from the Yung Aung faction of the NSCN-Khaplang and FGN, five from NSCN-U, four each from NSCN-K2 and NNC, three each from United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I), and Kuki Rrevolutionary Army (KRA), two each from NSCN and the Dimasa National Liberation Amry (DNLA), and one each from NSCN-NK, Manipur Naga People’s Front (MNPF), NNC-NA, and NNC-GDRN.
Ominously, a new spark was lit in 2021 on the issue of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), after the killing of unarmed civilians by 21 Para Special Forces of Indian Army. On December 4-5, 2021, a total of 15 civilians and one trooper were killed in an operation and reprisal following the incident at a location between the Oting and Tiru villages in the Mon District. According to Police sources, the firing incident took place when a group of labourers onboard a pick-up vehicle was on its way from Tiru village. Following ‘intelligence inputs’ about NSCN-K-YA militants in the area, SFs mistakenly fired at the vehicle, taking their occupants to be militants. On December 5, another two more civilians were killed and several others injured after locals attacked an Assam Rifles camp in Mon District Headquarters. Most of the those killed were Konyaks, the largest tribe in the State. Konyaks mostly inhabit the Mon District and the bordering areas of Myanmar.
Thereafter, the Konyak Union, a civil society body representing the tribe, declared ‘non-cooperation’ with the Indian Army till its ‘charter of demands’ was met. The demands include giving justice to the Konyak youth who were killed and removal of AFSPA. The Union demanded “total restriction on Indian military force convoy and patrol” and asserted that “the Konyak shall not withdraw its non-cooperation against Indian military forces until its charter of demand is fulfilled.”
The problem of lack of ground level intelligence gathering for operations might be heightened due to such calls by influential groups.
Further, according to a January 3, 2022, report, the volatile security situation in Myanmar following the February 1, 2021 coup, there has been a redeployment of forces in Myanmar’s Naga-inhabited region by NSCN-K-YA along with other Northeast Insurgent groups [Assam-based ULFA-I and Manipur valley-based militant formations – the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the Kangla Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and the People’s Republican Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK)].
There is growing urgency to engineer convergences in the peace talks, so that an inclusive solution can be worked out. If the peace in the State falters at this juncture, uncertainties and the potential for violence can only grow.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management