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Wednesday, Dec 08, 2021
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Nagaland

A Frozen Peace

Extending cease-fire has become a routine exercise for this time of the year and there seems to be no process in sight, except for disingenuous, indeed, bizarre plans to end extortion and intimidation among the general population. The latest? 'Let's

A Frozen Peace
A Frozen Peace
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

In what is now becoming a routine exercise at this time of the year, the Union Government, on July 30, 2004, extended the cease-fire in Nagaland with the insurgent National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) for another year. A decision to extend the truce, in place since August 1997, was reportedly arrived at after the Union Government interlocutor, K. Padmanabhaiah, held talks with the NSCN-IM leaders Isak Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah at Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

Earlier, Isak Swu, had said: "A ceasefire is only important if it facilitates the peace process. If it is necessary for the progress of the peace process, we will extend it. But if that is not the prospect we are looking at, then we will not extend it. It will depend on our assessment of the attitude of the new dispensation in Delhi." Muivah, confirming his colleague's position, had added, "If one is not prepared to work for an honourable solution, what is the use of having a ceasefire? If after seven years the ceasefire ends, it will be sad. But we are not responsible if that happens."

While the cease-fire extension was on expected lines, some apprehensions had been expressed before the deal had been inked, and the NSCN-IM leadership had asked its cadres to go under-ground, with Muivah declaring, "Don't expect me to be a sitting duck when the enemy creates a situation."

These apprehensions had significantly been fuelled by the NSCN-IM's reservations regarding the coalition United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government's Common Minimum Programme (CMP). The CMP stated, "There shall not be any erosion of the current territorial status of the northeastern States," which the insurgent group construed as a rejection of its demand for a 'Greater Nagaland', integrating all Naga-dominated areas in India's Northeast. The rebel group is reported to have subsequently decided to ignore the contents of the CMP on the grounds that, 'that was an internal matter of the Government.'

Since November 1999, Padmanabhaiah, a former Union Home Secretary, has been the Union Government's interlocutor, and has held several rounds of talks with the Naga group in Amsterdam, Bangkok, Japan, and Kuala Lumpur. That the 'Greater Nagaland' concept would be discussed in Kohima, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Amsterdam, et al, was clear when National Security Advisor J.N. Dixit stated in Bangkok that, "Taking into account the totality of the territorial limits of the existing States, that is a matter to be discussed and that's what we are doing."

The Union Government has long fulfilled two of the NSCN-IM's conditionalities - talks at the highest level (including Prime Ministerial) and outside India, in neutral countries - but there have been no reciprocal concessions. There is, moreover, little evidence of any dilution of the NSCN-IM's intransigence on the 'Greater Nagaland' issue and its separatist agenda.

While not much headway has been made in the negotiations since the last cease-fire extension, it is now certain that the insurgency in Nagaland sustains an entirely new genre of politics in the State. While the fundamental responsibilities of governance are increasingly neglected, Nagaland's Finance Minister K. Therie has come up with a disingenuous solution to stop extortion in the insurgency-wrecked State: he proposes that the Government should fund the Naga insurgent groups in order to 'exterminate the scourge of extortion', arguing that this was 'the only way' to end extortion and intimidation among the general population.

Therie suggested that a 'neutral agency' handle the funding of the insurgent groups during the ongoing peace talks. Underscoring his commitment to an 'honourable solution' to the Naga imbroglio, Therie warned that the insurgent groups' existing extortion machinery was adversely affecting the prices of essential and all other goods and services, and was destroying the economy and prospects of development in the State.

Within this context, the cease-fire and negotiations have been transformed by the NSCN-IM into a new battleground. The negotiating ensemble has primarily involved recurrent extended cease-fires which, while they may have resulted in the relative cessation of violence, appear to be acquiring the character of ends in themselves. The 'high price of peace' in Nagaland has been consolidated through the continuance of a parallel power structure with an elaborate paraphernalia of armed NSCN-IM cadres imposing 'taxes', operating an 'alternative justice system', and maintaining an extended underground economy and indeed, all the trappings of a 'state within a state'.

Beyond the cessation of hostilities between the insurgents and security forces, consequently, the ceasefire and peace process have little to demonstrate as benefits for the people, or measurable advances in the quality of governance. While internecine clashes (with the rival Khaplang group - the NSCN-K) continue, the people are forced to meet exorbitant extortion demands by the insurgent groups. Insurgent cadres, in violation of the terms of the Ceasefire Agreement, routinely move out of their designated camps to indulge in abductions, killing, intimidation and extortion. Muivah acknowledges this 'problem', arguing, "How can we confine ourselves (to the camps) when Khaplang's cadres and the NNC are freely moving around with weapons? Can we leave the field open to the enemy alone, either militarily or politically?"

The NSCN-IM has used the seven years of the ceasefire to widen its support base both within Nagaland and in the neighbouring States, including the hill areas of Manipur. A comparison of the group's support base in the pre-August 1997 period and the present demonstrates a continuous consolidation of the group over widening areas. Organisations within the State claiming to represent the opinions of an ambiguous 'Naga civil society', have now openly arrayed themselves behind the NSCN-IM.

In a recent press release, organisations including the Naga People's Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), Naga Students' Federation (NSF) and Naga Mothers' Association (NMA) have openly proclaimed their support for the insurgent group, declaring their pride in associating with the outfit. The Naga Hoho (apex tribal council), which had consistently refused to be branded as a pro-NSCN-IM grouping till a few years ago, now openly canvasses support for the group, not only in Nagaland, but also in Manipur and Assam. In addition, with an overtly friendly Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) Government in Kohima and the former Congress Chief Minister and bete noire, S.C. Jamir cooling his heels as Governor of distant Goa, the NSCN-IM's capacity to dictate terms can only grow.

Without any movement beyond an exclusive focus on competitive bargaining, the peace process remains trapped in a quagmire. Both parties will have to explore new and more efficient alternatives if they are to engineer a move forward and escape what has become an established and unproductive orthodoxy.


Bibhu Prasad Routray is Acting Director, ICM Database & Documentation Centre, Guwahati. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal

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