Nagaland: Deepening Imbroglio
By Veronica Khangchian
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management
With the signing of the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) between the Government of Myanmar (GoM) and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) for the first time on April 9, 2012, and the extension of the CFA between the outfit and the Government of India (GoI), on May 3, 2012 (the CFA with GoI has been in existence since 2001), the outfit became the only outfit in the North east region to have entered into a CFA with two countries-India and Myanmar.
Under the Myanmar CFA, from May 14, 2012, the NSCN- K was granted ‘autonomy’ in three Districts of the Sagaing administrative region in the northwest of the country, bordering Nagaland and Manipur to its north. Y. Wangtin Naga, an NSCN-K leader from India who was one of the six signatories of the April 9 CFA, stated, "Nagas have autonomy in Lahe, Layse and Nanyang in Sagaing region and we are looking for self-administration in more Naga populated districts in Kachin." He asserted, further, that there were no Burma Nagas or India Nagas, but "Nagas are one and one nation struggling for one cause". NSCN-K cadres are now free to move unarmed anywhere in Myanmar. The GoM reportedly has proposed a 3-stage formula for the Nagas of Myanmar, including Ceasefire, Political negotiations and Economic development.
Significantly, the NSCN-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), under the leadership of chairman Isak Chisi Swu and general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah, which has been in talks with the GoI since 1997, has expressed some anxiety over the developments in Myanmar. The NSCN-IM Joint Council, on April 27, 2012, declared that the Naga people were "concerned" on the proposed talks between NSCN-K and the Myanmar military junta. According to the NSCN-IM leaders, it was under their legitimate leadership that a "unilateral ceasefire" had been reached with the GoM years ago.
The breakaway NSCN-Khole-Kitovi, led by "general" Khole Konyak and Kitovi Zhimomi, (which signed a CFA with GoI on April 27, 2012) has, however, no issue with the Myanmar CFA. On April 17, 2012, the group issued a statement declaring, "the political destiny of Nagas of Myanmar should be left to his Excellency the president S.S Khaplang, NSCN (K)". Earlier, though, the NSCN-Khole-Kitovi had described S.S. Khaplang as a ‘Burmese national’ and asked him not to interfere in ‘Naga affairs’.
Significantly, on June 15, 2012, the NSCN-K listed reasons for split in the outfit on June 7, 2011 which led to the formation of NSCN-Khole-Kitovi faction. Wangtin Naga, ‘minister for information and publicity’ of the NSCN-K, asserted that the split was because of differences in political ideologies regarding talks with the Centre. He claimed that Kitovi Zhimomi, ‘general secretary’, NSCN-Khole-Kitovi, wanted to enter into dialogue with the GoI without S.S. Khaplang, as New Delhi did not want to talk to the latter, who is from Myanmar. He noted that Kitovi also wanted to settle the issue of Nagas in Nagaland alone, which was opposed by other leaders. The NSCN-K also claimed that the Khole-Kitovi faction wanted to settle for an economic package, compromising the ‘sovereignty of Nagaland’, which has been ‘pending’ for over 60 years. It also reportedly wanted the Centre to increase the number of Assembly and parliamentary seats in Nagaland (the present number of assembly seats being 60 and parliamentary seat 1). Wangtin Naga observed that NSCN-K would not compromise on the sovereignty of Nagaland though Khaplang was not against any group or faction who wants to settle for financial or economic packages or an autonomous council. He cautioned GoI that talks with one or two groups would not permanently solve the Naga problem. Earlier, NSCN-Khole-Kitovi had claimed that S.S. Khaplang was ‘expelled’ from the outfit for his alleged ‘dictatorial leadership’.
Meanwhile, news reports on May 11, 2012, suggested that GoI, in a move to bring about a ‘final settlement’ to the protracted Naga problem, had proposed engagement with all three Naga underground (UG) groups — NSCN-IM, NSCN-K and NSCN-Khole-Kitovi – for peace talks. Joint Secretary (North East) Ministry of Home Affairs, Shambu Singh, thus noted, “eventually all three factions of the NSCN would be invited for peace talks before any final settlement is reached.”
Unfortunately, this proposal appears to have deepened the Naga imbroglio, with the NSCN-IM warning New Delhi against ‘toying’ with the ongoing dialogue with this group. A statement issued by the NSCN-IM strongly opposed the Centre’s decision to begin talks with rival groups Khole-Kitovi and NSCN-K. Isak and Muivah had told the Centre that they would back out of the talks if a dialogue was initiated with their rivals. The NSCN-IM claimed that then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao had assured Swu and Muivah that the other outfits were ‘already with’ GoI and outstanding issues were only with the NSCN-IM, which was why the Centre wanted to talk with the group. “Accordingly, dialogue started between the Centre and the NSCN and is running in the 15th year,” the statement added.
Sources disclosed that, according to the GoI, the best option was to work out a solution with the NSCN-IM, with which over 80 rounds of talks have been held since 1997, and then bring other groups in the loop. Consequently, a senior government official noted, on May 21, 2012, “We are likely to have a solution with the NSCN-IM in the near future and other groups will be asked to respond to it. R.S. Pandey (GoI’s interlocutor is talking to NSCN-IM) leaders”. The Government's stand that the solution would be within the framework of the Indian Constitution, however, remained unchanged.
Worryingly, NSCN-IM did not attend the Naga reconciliation meeting initiated by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) held on May 26, 2012 in Chiang Mai (Thailand), due to the ‘unwanted’ development observing that the ‘clarification’ given by NSCN-Khole-Kitovi on the word ‘Nagaland’ as encompassing "all Naga lands" irrespective of national or international boundary demarcations "contradict" the statement made by 'general secretary' Kitovi Zhimomi after his group signed the ceasefire with GoI. The NSCN-IM, on May 14, termed the move by the Khole-Kitovi group, reportedly to seek a solution within the boundary of Nagaland, as "calculated-deliberate step to sabotage the hard-earned 14 years negotiations being held at the highest level of the GoI and the NSCN."
Meanwhile, on May 22, 2012, the NSCN-K also criticized contradictory statements by NSCN-Khole-Kitovi, declaring that these needed to be "viewed seriously as they are trying to confuse the Nagas and take them for a ride." NSCN-K stated that, during many meetings of the three groups – NSCN-IM, NSCN-Khole-Kitovi and Naga National Council (NNC) – Kitovi had "categorically stated time and again" that his group stood for the Nagas of Nagaland alone.
It is apparent that NSCN-Khole-Kitovi is unhappy with the ‘nature’ of the talks between NSCN-IM and GoI. Alezo Venuh of the NSCN-Khole-Kitovi pointed out that, since the formation of the FNR in 2008, NSCN-Khole-Kitovi had been "very vocal" that a meaningful reconciliation among Nagas would not be forthcoming as long as the NSCN-IM leadership "believed in having reconciliation process and political negotiations running parallel to each other." Asserting that the reconciliation process included all sections of Nagas, Venuh asserted that the same was not the case with negotiations between GoI and NSCN-IM "because Nagas are still in the dark about the core demands and the progress or lack of it." Stating that ambiguity and inconsistent politics had failed the Nagas for many years, the Khole-Kitovi faction declared that the "Indo-Naga political struggle” had entered a more practical zone, with NSCN-Khole-Kitovi making necessary preparations to consult all strata of Naga society to pursue a "realistic political solution" that was acceptable to the Naga people. They also made it clear that S.S. Khaplang, who was "impeached and expelled from NSCN on June 7, 2011", and who was in touch with the junta backed GoM to secure some sort of autonomy, "has lost all legitimacy" in the ‘Western Naga’ (India) homeland.
Interestingly, according to a June 6, 2012, report, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, in an interview on the peace process between New Delhi and the NSCN-IM observed that the under ground (UG) groups were fighting for sovereignty but had realized and reconciled with the reality that the situation was such that “we have to live in the Indian Union. That is why this is the closest moment for the Nagas and the Indian Government… this is the time for a solution.” However, he noted, further, that a piecemeal settlement would not work. Earlier on May 3, 2012, the Chief Minister advocated two separate solutions to the Naga problem, one with New Delhi and another with Myanmar, since the Nagas were divided between the two countries by the erstwhile colonial rulers.
NSCN-Khole–Kitovi seeks a settlement within the existing boundaries of Nagaland. The NSCN-K demands ‘sovereignty’ for Naga areas comprehending Naga dominated territories within India and contiguous areas in Myanmar. Reiterating its stand on sovereignty on April 24, 2012, NSCN-K declared that NSCN-Khole-Kitovi's "espousal" of Eastern (Myanmar) and Western Nagaland (India) was another ideology for further partitioning Naga areas, rather than "dismantling" arbitrarily imposed "artificial boundaries". It stated that NSCN-K would pursue the cherished goal of the Nagas without any "biasness (sic), preferences or territorial limitations". NSCN-K also stated, on April 22, 2012, that there could be no "reconciliation" at the expense of sovereignty stating that it (sovereignty) was not a "mere traditional concept". The NSCN-IM visualizes the integration of all Naga inhabited areas of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam within India, and the Naga-inhabited regions in neighboring Myanmar under a single administration. Talks with the NSCN-IM have stalled on the contentious issue of the incorporation of Naga inhabited areas in the States neighbouring Nagaland.
Meanwhile, factional clash continues amongst the Naga militant factions. Twenty eight incidents of fratricidal clashes have already been reported in 2012 within and outside Nagaland, resulting in 37 fatalities (till July 9, 2012). The number of injured was 18. The largest proportion of fratricidal violence has been registered between the NSCN-K and the NSCN-Khole-Kitovi in Nagaland (22 incidents out of a total of 28). Earlier, a sharp spike in Naga factional violence had been registered in 2011, with 49 killed and 13 injured. With fundamental ideological contradictions between the principal UG Naga factions and unabated fratricidal violence, the Naga imbroglio continues to evade a durable settlement.