Naga Unity: Ending South Asia's Longest War
News of Thuingalang Muivah, 72-year-old militant leader of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland Isaac Muivah group popularly known as NSCN (I-M) having 'secretly' entered India to explore reconciliation between rival groups raises hopes of ending the Naga insurgency South Asia's longest running 'war'.
It all started in the 1950's and while a cease fire was signed in the 1990's, stray killings continue. Muivah's arrival yet to be confirmed follows the Naga warring groups signing a joint declaration to resolve 'all outstanding issues' among themselves in the 'larger interest' of the Naga people and for an early solution to the nearly 65-year-old Naga political imbroglio. The 'Covenant of Reconciliation' was signed by Isak Chishi Swu, the chairman of NSCN (Isak-Muivah), S.S. Khaplang, the chairman of NSCN (K), and S. Singya, the president of Federal Government of Nagaland in Chiang Mai, Thailand where the leaders met from 2 to 7 June.
However given the fractious nature of Naga politics it was evident that there would be voices of dissonance. Some elements in the Khaplang faction came out against the show of unity and ruled out any possibility of 'reconciliation' as long as Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah continued peace talks with Delhi. Kughalu Mulatonu, the emissary to the collective leadership of the NSCN (K), said: 'Reconciliation and unity is impossible till Swu and Muivah are in dialogue with the government of India.' This is said to be the view of hard liners within the K faction who are resisting conciliation.
The shades of differences in the Naga community are evident over the past many decades and efforts to reconcile the same have been ongoing but have not achieved any progress so far despite the meeting of the NSCN IM and K groups and the other Naga federations in Changmai in Thailand. In addition there has also been pressure from outside Naga ethnic groups per se which is evident with the killing of a number of Zeme Nagas in the North Cachar hills which is their traditional habitat but which is clashing with the larger indigenous community the Dimasas. This has led to a bout of violent attacks on the Zeme Nagas.
While news of Naga reconciliation in Chang Mai was evident in the past few months including possible signing of an accord between the three most virulent Naga separatist movements, the two arms of the NSCN IM and K and the NNC/FGN there were denials thereafter and also some trouble between the groups on the ground raising doubts about the pact.
But in a new development on 03 June the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) or NSCN (K) expressed willingness to hold talks with the central government. Possibly Muivah is visiting after this confirmation.
The main contentious demand is the issue of Greater Nagaland. Over the years IM, which claims to be the sole representative of Naga people, has come down from its original demand of a sovereign state to a constitutional arrangement within Indian union. However it insists that all the Naga areas in the North East should be clubbed as Greater Nagaland which the centre and many state governments in the region vehemently oppose.
The militancy in Nagaland on the other hand has fractured into many parts and the Naga groups are supporting network of militant groups in the North East which has been spreading and therefore there is a concern that the linkages would have firm roots in Nagaland as well. This flows from the NSCN regarded as the mother of all militant groups in the North East for it has provided support in various spheres to other groups. Now Nagaland itself has become a hub of criminal activities including extortion and the virus has also spread into other areas including the North Cachar hills in Assam adjoining Nagaland, thereby creating multiple dimensions such as the ethnic killings.
So while the Naga groups may or may not reconcile given their past history of attacking each other based on tribal affinities, attacks on other tribal communes as the Dimasas in North Cachar, support to terrorist networks in the North East and criminal activities as extortion and kidnapping is likely to continue.
Yet the arrival of Muivah may indicate a new phase in the ongoing political negotiations with the Naga groups, hopefully these will go in the right direction leading to establishment of permanent peace and stability in the Naga hills, hopes which have not been realized for the past many decades.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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