It's the season to forgive and forget in Nagaland. Even as two top leaders of the dominant militant group in the state, the Issac-Muivah faction of the banned National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN), were meeting Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in Osaka on December 8, Naga elders, church leaders and NGOs cutting across tribal lines (there are 18 major Naga tribes) were busy organising a reconciliation meeting scheduled for December 20.
Nagas from across the northeast will gather in Kohima, Nagaland's capital, that day to formally launch what is being called the 'Naga reconciliation process' aimed at getting people to 'forgive and forget' any past misunderstandings. This unique reconciliation process has been jointly initiated by the Naga Hoho, the apex tribal council of the Nagas, church leaders and almost every other frontline organisation representing the Naga elders and youths.
The effort comes close on the heels of the Centre's initiative to revive the talks after they were derailed in June following trouble in Manipur over the extension of the NSCN(IM) ceasefire to neighbouring states. By meeting the NSCN chairman, Issac Chisi Swu, and general secretary, Th. Muivah, at his suite in an Osaka hotel, Vajpayee has fulfilled the NSCN(IM)'s long-standing demand that the ongoing peace talks be elevated to the "highest political level".
Besides, the 30-minute meeting—with national security advisor Brajesh Mishra, interlocutor for the Naga peace talks, K. Padmanabhaiah, and Intelligence Bureau chief K.P. Singh sitting in—suggested that the two sides have been able to set aside the controversy over the areas that should come under the jurisdiction of the ceasefire. The latest meeting came only weeks after the two sides had agreed on—and set a two-year time-frame to arrive at—an acceptable political settlement of the contentious Naga issue.
The formula for a solution to the 54-year-old Naga problem may not be an easy one. But the immediate question is whether the NSCN(IM) leadership would agree to New Delhi's stand that the venue of the talks should now shift to India. So far, Indian negotiators have been flying to Bangkok, Amsterdam, Paris and Zurich to meet the NSCN leaders.
The peace process had received a serious setback in June after Manipur objected to extending the jurisdiction of any ceasefire to Naga-dominated areas in the state. Following the Osaka meeting, Padmanabhaiah and the Naga leadership are likely to get down to sorting out all contentious issues. So far, the talks have been bogged down in technicalities. Says a senior army official in Nagaland: "By not going back to the jungles despite the breakdown of talks in June, the NSCN(IM) leadership has sent clear signals that it wants to continue with the peace process. Ultimately, only a political solution will bring peace in the state and consequently, the region."
One major hurdle foreseen by analysts in the region is the question of the status of Nagas living in neighbouring states like Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The NSCN(IM) derives a substantial following from among these settlers and one of its major objectives has been to have a 'greater Nagaland', encompassing all these areas. But given the fierce opposition displayed in Manipur, all moves in this direction have failed. Alternatively, a more autonomous administrative structure for these areas is what is being thought about.
Then there is the question of involving the other factions like the NSCN (Khaplang) and the Naga National Council in the talks process. Most observers share the view that unless all factions agree on a common solution, the five-decade-old problem may not be resolved. The Khaplang faction has already warned the Indian government not to ignore the group led by S.S. Khaplang. In fact, N. Kitovi Zhimomi, general secretary of NSCN-K, had this to say to journalists: "The people's mandate is with NSCN-K. The leaders of the other faction (NSCN-IM) who are remote-controlling the revolution from abroad have lost their credibility and contact with people."
The prime minister's Osaka meeting is seen in Nagaland as a significant step forward. Vajpayee has given the push. It is now left to the Naga leaders and the government's interlocutors to carry the talks ahead.
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