THE truce was not unexpected but what took everyone by surprise was the swiftness with which both the Centre and the Issac Swu-Muivah faction of the banned National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) agreed to cease fire in the violence-hit state. The other dominant faction of the NSCN, led by S.S. Khaplang, also reacted swiftly—it rejected the truce.
On July 25, Prime Minister Gujral and Issac Swu, chairman of the insurgent out-fit, cheered the region with simultaneous announcements that hostilities between rebels and security forces in Nagaland will be stalled for three months starting August 1. The announcement came in the wake of two rounds of informal talks between the Centre and the militant leadership in Switzerland over the past six months.
The agreement raised the hopes of many that this would lead to an official dialogue, perhaps culminating in a decision on the Naga question hanging fire since the Fifties. As Swu said in a statement from Bangkok: "For securing a peaceful political solution to the long drawn out Indo-Naga issue, discussions were held between the government of India and the NSCN leadership. It has been mutually decided to cease fire for three months with effect from August 1, 1997, and embark upon political discussions." In Nagaland, chief minister S.C. Jamir hailed the agreement: "It is a major breakthrough and is in consonance with our policy of prosperity through peace. People want peace and peace alone. I lend my full support to the efforts."
But Jamir may be left out of the peace process since the NSCN (I-M)regards him as a 'puppet' chief minister and a sympathiser of the rival Khaplang faction of the NSCN. To add to Jamir's predicament, the Khaplang group also rejected the ceasefire call. In a statement faxed from Geneva last week, Khaplang, chairman of the faction, said: "This is to categorically state that the so-called agreement between the Indian government and the Issac-Muivah group has nothing to do with the NSCN. The statement given by the Indian prime minister that even the NSCN(K) supports the ceasefire is totally baseless and malicious, rather, the NSCN condemns the ceasefire as another act of treachery to divide the Naga people."
Khaplang's statement is seen as a major setback to the Centre's peace initiative. Home Secretary K. Padmanabhaiah, who visited Kohima last week, appealed to other insurgent groups in Nagaland to agree to a ceasefire but the Khaplang faction seems determined not to be party to the agreement.
Also predictably, within two days of the announcements by Gujral and Swu, reports began emanating from Kohima demanding "broadcasting" the scope of the dialogue. A statement by official sources (which, in other words, means the state government led by Jamir) said: "The scope of the Centre's peace initiative in Nagaland should be broadened to include six constituents of the Indo-Burma Revolutionary Front (IBRF), led by the NSCN (Khaplang)." Implicit in the statement was the threat that no peace in Nagaland can be complete without taking all the factions into confidence. The ALAM Centre is aware of these factors but for the moment, it seems to have ignored them in order to make a beginning.
Despite these obstacles, the people seem to be happy about the outcome of the peace talks. As T. Socia, a student in Kohima, said: "Any effort for peace must be welcomed. We all want to lead a normal life." As regards the terms of settlement, he would rather leave it to the authorities and the militant leadership to sort out the details. Adds Anna M., a businesswoman in her late thirties: "The ceasefire is good, but the question is, will the security forces abide by its terms?" The doubts about the sincerity of the security forces, mainly the Army, arises due to past instances of atrocities. In 1964, for example, a similar agreement was reportedly violated by the troops.
But Lt. Gen. G.S. Grewal, commander of the Dimapur-based 3 Corps, puts to rest any apprehension in this regard: "The army extends its full support to the peace initiative since we have also worked towards it. I have always maintained that it is for the people to put pressure on the insurgents. Once that happens, no force is required to bring about a solution." But people are sceptical in view of the past history of betrayals and dashed hopes, especially the much-touted 1975 Shillong accord which failed to bring any lasting peace.