Nagaland: Hope and War
On December 16, 2012, in a fresh spurt of factional violence, six militants belonging to the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) and NSCN-Khole-Kitovi (NSCN-KK) were reportedly killed in two separate incidents in Kiphire and Phek Districts. Early in the morning, two NSCN-K militants, identified as 'lieutenant' Among of Anatonger village and '2nd lieutenant' Tholo Pochury of Phongkhuri village, were shot dead by NSCN-KK cadres in Kiphire District. In a retaliatory act, the same afternoon, militants of the 'Mobile 5' unit of NSCN-K, led by 'colonel' Kuruchu, killed four NSCN-KK militants, including 'major' Isur, at Meluri in Phek District.
Earlier, on December 5, 2012, two NSCN-KK cadres were killed in Longkhim town in Tuensang District after an altercation between cadres of the NSCN-KK faction and those formerly with the outfit, who had defected to the NSCN-K.
Previously, on December 3, 2012, NSCN-K militants had killed two NSCN-KK militants, identified as "2nd lieutenant" Sheye Konyak and "sergeant major" Wochamo Ezung, at Murgi Patti in Dimapur District.
Fratricidal rivalry among the Nagas has persisted since the formation of the NSCN-K and NSCN-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM), following the split of the original NSCN on April 30, 1988. More recently, turf wars between Naga groups have resulted in escalating violence with the further split of both the NSCN-IM and the NSCN-K. The NSCN-KK, a splinter group of NSCN-K, was formed on June 7, 2011; and the Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF), a Manipur based Naga group, split from the NSCN-IM on February 25, 2011. Within Nagaland, fratricidal clashes in 2012 have occurred only between NSCN-K and NSCN-KK.
There were 40 incidents of fratricidal clashes between these two Naga groups within the State, through 2012. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, annual fatalities in the State have risen from just three in 2010, to 15 in 2011, and, dramatically, to 58 in 2012.
Outside Nagaland, the worst fratricidal clash between Naga groups was the fierce gun battle between ZUF and NSCN-IM cadres, which erupted in the evening of September 25, and continued late into the night of September 26, leaving six persons dead and one civilian injured. The incident occurred inside a forest near Wairangba village in the interior Tamenglong District of Manipur.
Nagaland has also witnessed an increasing trend in incidents of extortion and other violent acts. Though the numbers on record are tiny (SATP data registers 11 incidents of extortion in 2012, while 12 such incidents were reported in 2011, as against nine in 2010; only three incidents of abduction was reported in 2012 while, six such incidents were recorded in 2011, as against two in 2010; recorded incidents are likely to be a fraction of actual incidents, most of which go unreported, and are met with total compliance), the reality of extortion and intimidation by armed militant formations is endemic across the State and in areas of their dominance outside Nagaland as well.
The State recorded a total of 90 militant arrests in 2012 as against 56 in 2011 and 76 in 2010. In an important development, on November 25, 2012, Security Forces arrested NSCN-IM 'lieutenant major' Clinson, the Dima Hasao District 'commander' from a Naga-dominated village of Lungmung in Dima Hasao District (Assam). NSCN-IM is also strengthening its position in the neighbouring State of Assam.
The sharp escalation in fatalities in Nagaland comes in the wake of a precipitate decline since 2008, following the signing of the Covenant of Reconciliation (CoR) by top leaders of the NSCN-IM, NSCN-K, and the 'Federal Government of Nagaland' / Naga National Council (FGN/NNC), on June 13, 2009, after a Naga Reconciliation meet held in Chiang Mai in Thailand from June 1 to June 8, 2009. The Covenant was reaffirmed by the three groupings on September 18, 2010.
However, the 'highest level meeting' of the Naga Reconciliation Committee, which was to be held during the visit of NSCN-IM leaders to Dimapur in March 2011, could not take place due to the sudden review of the decision by the NSCN-K. On December 5, 2011, moreover, members of the High Level Commission (HLC) of the 'Naga Concordant' represented by leaders from the three groups NSCN-IM, FGN/NNC and NSCN-KK, reaffirmed their commitment to the Naga Reconciliation and to remain firm in their pledge to work towards "building a shared Naga future." The 'Naga Concordant' is a joint declaration signed by all the six leaders - Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah of NSCN-IM; 'General' Khole Konyak and N. Kitovi Zhimomi of NSCN-Khole-Kitovi; and 'Brigadier' S. Singnya and Zhopra Vero of NNC, after they resolved "in principle", on August 26, 2011, to work towards the formation of one 'Naga National Government'.
In the most recent development, NSCN-IM did not attend the Naga reconciliation meeting initiated by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) held on May 26, 2012, in Chiang Mai (Thailand), due to 'unwanted' developments. The NSCN-IM noted that the 'clarification' given by NSCN-KK on the word 'Nagaland' as encompassing "all Naga lands" irrespective of national or international boundary demarcations 'contradicts' the statement made by 'general secretary' Kitovi Zhimomi after his group signed the ceasefire with the Government of India (GoI). On May 14, 2012, NSCN-IM, termed the move by the Khole-Kitovi group, reportedly to seek a solution within the boundary of Nagaland, as a "calculated-deliberate step to sabotage the hard-earned 14 years negotiations being held at the highest level of the GoI and the NSCN."
Against the backdrop of increasing fratricidal violence, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, on February 29, 2012, decried the rising factionalism among Nagas, observing, "Though the world and outsiders recognize Naga people, yet Naga people themselves do not recognize each other and though Nagas have ceasefire with others, they do not have ceasefire among themselves."
Amidst escalating war, however, the hope of peace talks between NSCN-IM and GoI persists, albeit occasionally clouded by the 'confused stands' of the principal three Naga factions.
A high-level meeting of the NSCN-IM on October 25, 2012, at 'Council Headquarters' in Camp Hebron (Dimapur District), attended by top-ranking leaders of the outfit, including those of its 'Naga Army', reportedly decided to consult the Naga people before inking any peace accord with New Delhi. According to an unnamed NSCN-IM leader, the meeting fully backed 'chairman' Isak Chisi Swu and 'general secretary' Thuingaleng Muivah in their efforts to find an honourable solution through political negotiations with the Union Government, and further described the path chosen as the correct one.
Earlier, on October 15, 2012, a 20-member Joint Legislators Forum (JLF) team of the Nagaland Assembly, led by Assembly Speaker Kiyanielie Peseyie and including Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio met Union Minister of Home Affairs (UMHA) Sushilkumar Shinde, Union Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) 'chairman' Sharad Yadav and the NSCN-IM collective leadership. JLF MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) also offered to resign from the Assembly if any agreement was reached between NSCN-IM and the Union Government. JLF was formed in the year 2009.
On October 10, 2012, Shinde, reportedly hinted that a 'solution' to the 'Naga issue' was likely before March 2013, when Assembly polls in Nagaland are due to be held. The Centre is talking to Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur Chief Ministers for a consensus on steps relating to the welfare of Nagas living in the two States, before it reaches a final settlement with the NSCN-IM. Shinde disclosed, "I have been talking to the chief ministers of both Arunachal and Manipur and we are trying to reach a consensus on this." Shinde's statement came a day after he held talks with Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh.
Anticipating a solution for the Naga issue in the near future, Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi on October 20, 2012, declared that Assam would continue to oppose the NSCN-IM's primary demand for territorial integration of Naga inhabited areas in Assam. Tarun Gogoi, however, expressed sympathy for Nagaland Chief Minister Rio's expectation of the Union Government's nod to the 'emotional integrity' of the Naga people.
On October 18, 2012, NSCN-IM 'general secretary', Thuingaleng Muivah stated, "the ball is now in the court of the Government of India," and, further, "about the solution, we cannot say, but it is sure that the progress is there and of course, the Government of India is also more serious and we are hopeful that something honourable will be achieved."
Also, former UMHA P. Chidambaram, in his last press conference as the Union Home Minister , on July 31, 2012, had observed that the ongoing peace talks between NSCN-IM and GoI had reached a "sensitive stage" and efforts were on to iron out a longstanding solution to the Naga political issue. Chidambaram clarified, further, "first we will try to reach an agreement with NSCN-IM. Only then, we will talk with the other two groups, provided they are willing to talk. As everybody knows, one group lives outside India."
These events have raised hopes for a solution to the Naga imbroglio before the 2013 Assembly elections. Unfortunately, however, a war of words regarding the solution continues between the three factions. Thus NSCN-KK (who reportedly wanted to settle the issue of Nagas in Nagaland alone) 'ato kilonser'('prime minister'), N. Kitovi Zhimomi, on November 22, 2012, declared that any solution that may come about between the Union Government and the NSCN-IM could not be applied beyond Manipur. He claimed that the current talks between the NSCN-IM and the Central Government were confined only to Naga inhabited areas in Manipur, since the Central Government had rejected both sovereignty and integration, and thus, the 'alternative arrangement' for the Nagas of Manipur had nothing to do with the Nagas of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.
NSCN-IM, 'general secretary', Thuingaleng Muivah, before leaving for New Delhi, on November 6, 2012, had, however, clarified that NSCN-IM had not dropped the demand for Naga integration, declaring, "Without the Naga integration, there will be no Naga solution."
Meanwhile, NSCN-K Ministry of Information and Publicity (MIP) 'kilonser' ('minister'), Y. Wangtin Naga, on November 5, 2012, noted that the 'secret' talk between the GoI and NSCN-IM was "still concealed and known to none". Talking to Nagaland Post over the phone, Wangtin argued that the Nagas should be ready to face any eventuality in case the GoI and NSCN-IM's "secret solution" was imposed on them. He asserted that any solution arrived at with NSCN-IM would be a "factional solution" and that the GoI had "no authority to force it" as the Naga solution. The NSCN-K 'kilonser' also recalled that the formation of NSCN in 1980 by Isak Swu, S.S. Khaplang and Thuingaleng Muivah was based on the foundation stone of "Naga sovereignty" and reasserted that the 'Naga nation' and its political aspiration would not perish under any circumstances.
The NSCN-K also blamed Isak and Muivah for factionalism when they not only condemned the Naga National Council (NNC) "the mandated political institution but also started killing thousands of Nagas" by accusing them of supporting the 1975 Shillong Accord; that these killings only "multiplied factions"; and that the GoI, after almost 15 years, has realised too late that there can be no Naga solution with one faction. The group urged GoI to realise that the NSCN-K, under the leadership of S.S. Khaplang, was capable of bringing a lasting solution not only to the long-standing Naga issue, but also for the entire north east. It said, there can be no solution without involvement of NSCN-K and that any solution arrived at with NSCN-IM alone "will be a mockery."
Earlier, in July 2012, NSCN-K 'chairman' S.S. Khaplang had stated that his 'government' would reject any political solution within the Indian constitution, unless it was the "sovereignty solution". Khaplang declared, further, that NSCN-K would not be involved in the forthcoming "forced Indian election" of 2013 in Nagaland.
In another significant development, on April 9, 2012, the Government of Myanmar and the NSCN-K signed a ceasefire agreement which granted autonomy to NSCN-K in three Districts in the country: Lahe, Leshi and Nanyun, which fall in Sagaing - a north-western administrative region of Myanmar, bordering Nagaland and Manipur to its north. The agreement also provides NSCN-K members with the freedom to move 'unarmed' across the country.
Complicating issues further is the Eastern Naga Peoples Organization (ENPO), an apex body of six Naga tribes in Nagaland, again raising the demand for the creation of a separate 'Frontier Nagaland' State comprising the four eastern Districts of Nagaland (Mon, Tuensang, Kiphire and Longleng), with a special status within the Indian Constitution. The demand has already been turned down by both the Centre and the State Government. Further, NSCN-KK has threatened ENPO on the issue of Frontier Nagaland. The demand was first raised in the year 2010. ENPO has also rejected the State Government's offer of an autonomous council, regional council and economic package, in lieu of 'Frontier Nagaland'.
Increasing factionalism and the unabated conflict between various Naga outfits, rampant violations of the Covenant of Reconciliation, rampant extortion, abductions and violations of ceasefire ground rules have been enduring and major impediments to the Naga peace process. The rising expectations of a 'pre-election solution' notwithstanding, past trends have repeatedly demonstrated the vanity of such hopes. It remains to be seen whether the current round of optimism is baseless sentiment, or a reasoned assessment of the realities of the ground.
(The writers are Veronica Khangchian - Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management - and Giriraj Bhattacharjee - Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the authors and not India Blooms News Service)