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Naga Peace Negotiations and the NSCN (IM)’s Significant Shift in Posture

Namrata Goswami was Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • February 02, 2011

    The NSCN (IM) leadership's acceptance of Indian passports reflects a significant shift from its earlier political posture of an independent sovereign Naga homeland.

    It has not been easy to negotiate peace with the Naga ethnic movement for an independent homeland which has been ongoing since 1918. Over the years, the movement has witnessed divisions in the Naga public sphere with regard to the use of violent means for political ends. In early 1947 itself, the Naga National Council (NNC), one of the oldest Naga separatist groups, experienced a striking difference of opinion within its core leadership, with moderates like T. Sakhrie and Aliba Impti advocating peaceful means to gain greater political representation for Nagas within Assam (Nagaland became a separate state within the Indian Union only in 1963). Sakhrie and Impti were instrumental for the signing of the Nine Point Agreement on June 29, 1947 with then Governor of Assam Sir Akbar Hydari. On the other hand, A. Z. Phizo, one of the most charismatic leaders of the NNC, was against any peaceful settlement with the Union Government and instead advocated the use of force. In the years that followed, armed factionalism has been a recurring factor in the Naga ethnic movement, with remnants of the NNC forming the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980. A few years later, in 1988, the NSCN itself split into two factions: the National Socialist Council of Nagalim led by Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu [NSCN (IM)] and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland led by S S Khaplang [NSCN (K)]. Again, in 2007, the NSCN (IM) witnessed a split when about 100 of its members broke away to form the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Unification [NSCN-(U)]. With multiple armed factions inhabiting a common territory, internecine violence has been the obvious consequence.

    Simultaneously, the Naga ethnic movement has also witnessed phases of peace with the setting up of the Naga Peace Mission in 1964, the Shillong Accord of 1975, and the ceasefire agreement of 1997 and 2001 between the Union government and the two NSCN factions. While Naga civil society actors have played an active role from the 1950s to the 1990s in bringing about reconciliation in Naga society plagued by violence between security forces and the armed groups on one hand and between the armed groups themselves on the other, their efforts took on an urgency like never before since early 2000 to foster peace. Civil society actors like the Joint Forum for Gaonburahs and Doibashis (JFGBDB), Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) along with the Naga Hoho (Apex Tribal Council) have been insistently calling upon all sections of society to come together and work for peace in Nagaland. From 2005 onwards, the reconciliation processes, mostly facilitated by the Naga Hoho and the FNR, has seen a great many people participating in it – 10,000 people since 2007. In March 2009, a ‘Naga Convention for Reconciliation and Peace’ held in Kohima sent across ‘a message of peace and an end to bloodshed and violence’. The convention was attended by thousands of people from various Naga tribes, the armed groups, the church and the civil society. According to Vivi, General Secretary of the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA), ‘the convention is a positive attitude, everyone expressing the desire for reconciliation … and this is where we can build our hope.’ What is refreshing to observe is that no single actor claims ownership of this process. Rather, it is viewed as a collective effort by all stakeholders to the conflict. The biggest achievement of these civil society actors has been their ability to bring about a degree of reconciliation between the armed groups.

    The latest development in the Naga peace process has to be understood keeping this particular role of Naga civil society in mind. In a significant symbolic departure from the earlier position of no compromise on the demand for a ‘Sovereign Naga homeland’, Isak Chisi Swu accepted an Indian passport for the very first time for his latest visit to New Delhi on January 23, 2011. Earlier, Swu would travel with a Thai or Bangladeshi or a Filipino passport. This perhaps amounts to a realization within the armed group that a resolution can be worked out within the Indian Constitution. Such a resolution has the support of Naga civil society as well. Even more significant is Thuingaleng Muivah’s acceptance as well to travel on an Indian passport, given that he has always been the most rigid amongst the NSCN (IM) leadership on the demand for an independent Naga homeland.

    Another significant shift in the NSCN (IM)’s posture is its stance towards its arch rival, the NSCN (K). In his January 23, 2011 speech in New Delhi, Swu stated that the rival faction leader, S. S. Khaplang, will also be invited to take part in the peace negotiations within the framework of the FNR. Earlier, the NSCN (IM) leadership would balk at any suggestion of inclusion of the NSCN (K) or NNC leadership in the peace negotiations. Credit for this shift should also be given to the FNR, who worked tirelessly to get the armed factions together on the same platform.

    Be that as it may, in this positive atmosphere, four important issues will have to be integrated into the final package for a realistic resolution of the Naga ethnic conflict.

    First, the negotiation process must not be hijacked by a powerful actor (for instance, the state) which could utilize it to buy time to push its own agenda. Instead, there must be joint ownership of the process to address problems and issues in a genuine manner. The perspectives of the different stakeholders must be duly represented, discussed and reflected in the final agreement.

    Second, the unique history and tradition of the Nagas should be visibly acknowledged and respected by the Union Government and local state institutions in Naga inhabited areas [this being one of the core demands of the NSCN (IM)].

    Third, while it will perhaps not be prudent to further demarcate the Northeast territorially given the angst of states like Manipur and Assam, the NSCN (IM)’s demand for a unified Nagalim (Greater Nagaland) can be met by an overarching institutional framework with headquarters in Dimapur or Kohima, and which should be made solely responsible for economic development and political representation of Naga areas.

    Finally, a 2 to 3 year framework for disarmament and rehabilitation of the armed groups must be worked out by the Union government in consultation with Naga civil society and the armed groups themselves.

    It must be recognized that the time has finally arrived for the resolution of the Naga ethnic conflict, given the atmosphere of receptivity, empathy and willingness by all stakeholders to bring it to a dignified closure. The decades-old conflict has stunted growth in Naga areas and instilled fear in an entire generation of Nagas for their physical safety. This lack of basic security has been further helped by a lacklustre state structure. This opportune moment must therefore be urgently seized to build a solid foundation for peace in Naga inhabited areas.