When the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government took power at the Centre, it fast-tracked a solution to the long-standing Nagaland issue and set a deadline of 18 months in November 2014. The renewed focus raised the stakes for the Naga people to achieve an accord. A further impetus came via the plan to transform Nagaland and Manipur into India’s trade gateway to the ASEAN countries. This made peace even more urgent.
Unfortunately, on March 27, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) headed by its Myanmar-based Chairman, S.S. Khaplang, unilaterally decided to retract from the 14-year ceasefire agreement with the Indian government, due for annual renewal on April 28. NSCN-K also expelled two senior India-based leaders, Y. Wangtin Naga and P. Tikhak. The two have subsequently formed NSCN (Reformation), a new body.
The NSCN(K)’s move might lead to renewed factional violence, which could stall the plans of connectivity via Myanmar that Narendra Modi announced in his visit to the North-East last year.
Trouble has been brewing in NSCN (K) for a while now. In April 2012, when it signed a ceasefire with Yangon, it was opposed fiercely by the two other Naga armed groups, the NSCN (Isak-Muivah)and the NSCN-Khole-Kitovi, who said that the NSCN (K) could not function like a trans-border group and be allowed to sign ceasefires with two sovereign governments. Then, when Khaplang decided to withdraw from the Indian ceasefire, he closed the Ceasefire Supervisory Board (CFSB), which includes five members each from the NSCN (K) and the Indian government (who will nominate the chairman) to monitor and enforce ground rules. Mr. Wangtin and Mr. Tikhak defied Mr. Khaplang and called a meeting of the CFSB in its office in Mon, Nagaland, where they unanimously resolved to oppose Mr. Khaplang’s ‘unilateral decision’ to annul the ceasefire. The two leaders accused Mr. Khaplang of not consulting cadres in India before taking the decision and challenged him, saying in essence that he had no right to withdraw the ceasefire from India while enjoying a ceasefire with Myanmar.
NSCN (K), meanwhile, defended its action, saying that any solution to the Naga issue without the sovereignty clause was a sham. It also accused India of using the ceasefire as a “psychological ploy” to undermine and demoralize “the patriotic spirit and fervor of the Nagas”.
Ceasefire always broken
The Indian government, for its part, also has a growing list of concerns about the NSCN (K). The latter had agreed not to assist any North-Eastern insurgent groups to set up base camps in Myanmar, but on-ground research reveals that in NSCN (K)-dominated areas of Myanmar such as Lahe, Leshi and Nanyun in Sagaing administrative region, the United Liberation Front of Asom-Paresh Barua faction and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB (Songbijit faction)) set up camps to carry out attacks in Assam. In fact, a study of the ceasefire from 2001 shows that there has been no let-up in NSCN (K)’s militant activities and active support to insurgent groups from India.
North-Eastern insurgent groups also have access to training and regrouping camps in Myanmar’s Naga Self-Administered Zone, where NSCN (K) has been granted autonomy by the Myanmar government. NSCN (K) cadres are allowed to remain fully armed in the three townships in the Zone, which is geographically contiguous to Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.
In the aftermath of the breakdown of the ceasefire, there have been renewed attacks on security forces by suspected NSCN (K) militants in Tirap District of Arunachal Pradesh. Even more ominous, the NSCN (K) is supported by CorCom, short for Coordination Committee, an umbrella organization of six insurgent groups in Manipur. CorCom groups regularly camp and train in NSCN (K)-controlled territory in the Naga-inhabited areas of Myanmar contiguous to Nagaland. With CorCom’s support, the NSCN (K) can retain its insurgent capabilities in this corridor.
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(Namrata Goswami is with the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org)