In his address to the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) cadres at Camp Hebron on March 21, 2017, the group’s ‘headquarters’, on the outfit’s 38th ‘Republic Day’, ‘general secretary’ Thuingaleng Muivah declared, “NSCN had consultative meetings with the people on talks consecutively for eight times. The historic Framework Agreement recognizes the unique history, identity, sovereignty and territories of the Nagas. It also recognizes the legitimate right of the Nagas to integration of all Naga territories.” The Framework Agreement was signed on August 3, 2015.
However, on February 23, 2017, central government’s interlocutor for Naga Talks and Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) Chairman R.N. Ravi observed, ‘“The framework agreement is less-than-one-page document; it tells about broad parameters within which the final settlement will be worked out. So it’s the principles within which we will work out the settlement. It does not mention anything about Manipur or any State; it does not compromise the territorial integrity of Manipur.” On the question of secrecy, he added, “A framework agreement is not the final agreement and you do not serve half-cooked meal. We believe it is not in the larger interest to release the details now. But I have explained it to all the stakeholders by and large by going and meeting with them on what it contains. An incomplete agreement can create issues”.
Despite these continuing ambiguities and different interpretations of the ‘historic accord’, there was a further consolidation of peace in Nagaland through 2016. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the State accounted for a total of six insurgency-linked fatalities, including four civilians [none of which could be clearly linked to any specific militant formation] and two militants, through 2016, as against 46 fatalities, including 14 civilians, nine Security Force (SF) personnel and 23 militants, in 2015, reflecting a drop of 87 per cent in total fatalities.
In terms of civilian fatalities, year 2016 was the most peaceful since 2010, when the State had not recorded a single fatality in this category. Before that, it was way back in 2003 fewer civilian fatalities (three) than in 2016 were recorded.
Significantly, there was no fatality among SFs through 2016, thus reestablishing the trend of zero fatalities in this category secured since 2009, with an aberrant 2015, when nine SF personnel were killed, the highest recorded in the State since 1998, when there were 14 SF fatalities. The number of militant fatalities also dropped considerably from 23 in 2015 to just two in 2016. The spike recoded in SF and militant fatalities in 2015 was primarily due to the unilateral abrogation of the cease-fire arrangement by the Khaplang faction of the NSCN (NSCN-K) on March 27, 2015. The ceasefire agreement with NSCN-K had been signed on April 28, 2001. NSCN-K was linked to 33 out of the total of 46 insurgency-related fatalities in Nagaland in 2015.
There has also been a considerable improvement in terms of the geographic dispersal of violence. In 2016, fatalities were recorded in only three Districts – Dimapur (3), Tuensang (2) and Wokha (1). In 2015, killings had been reported from eight Districts – Tuensang (14), Mon (11), Dimapur (7), Zunheboto (5), Phek (4), Kohima (2), Mokokchung (2) and Wokha (1). Nagaland has a total of 11 Districts.
Only two incidents of explosion, resulting in injuries to six persons, were recorded in 2016; as against six such incidents registered in 2015, which had resulted in one fatality and 10 persons injured.
Even internecine clashes between Naga outfits have registered a decline, both within and beyond the territorial limits of the State. According to SATP data, no fratricidal killing involving Naga groups was recorded inside Nagaland in 2016, as against six such incidents in 2015 resulting in four deaths and one person injured. Further, in 2016, two incidents of Naga group clashes, resulting in one death and one injury, were recorded outside the State, as against nine such incidents resulting in 11 deaths and six persons injured in 2015.
The state recorded six incidents of abduction in which six persons were abducted through 2016, as against 11 such incidents in which 15 persons were abducted in 2015. On October 2, 2016, a driver of a Manipur bound truck was abducted and was kept at an unspecified place near the New Secretariat area of Kohima. The abductors later demanded a ransom of INR 1 million for his safe release. On receipt of the information, Police launched a search and rescue operation and secured the release of the victim. During the operation police arrested one of the three abductors, ‘lieutenant’ Kewepe Wetsah (30), of the ‘Federal Government of Nagaland’ (FGN), while the other two managed to escape
However, reported incidents of extortion increased from 24 in 2015 to 31 in 2016 (both abduction and extortion tend to be under-reported, so the actual incidence may be higher). Worried by the rising incidents of extortion, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) registered a case titled “Extortion and unlawful collection by NSCN-K from individuals and organizations” on September 18, 2016, with a summary allegation: “Large scale extortion and unlawful tax collection on behalf of the banned organisation NSCN-K from the individual and organisations etc , by the cadres of NSCN-K in Dimapur and Kohima areas with the directions from self-styled brigadier Isac Sumi of NSCN-K and other leaders. The cadre namely – S. Khetoshe Sumi arrested on 31-07-2016, along with many unlawful documents related to extortion, tax collection and war like stores and drugs etc.”
Though the level of extortion prevalent in the state remains worrisome there is significant improvement in the overall security situation after the reversal of the trend witnessed in 2015. This has been possible principally due to the pressure created by SFs against NSCN-K in its strongholds, both within and beyond the State. News reports indicate that Special Forces from the Indian Army were involved in operations against NSCN-K militants along the Indo-Myanmar border. In one such incident, SFs launched an operation on August 19, 2016, targeting a NSCN-K camp located close to the International border (border pillar 151) in the vicinity of Chen Moho village in the Mon District of Nagaland. “The raid was part of many operations intended to maintain pressure on the NSCN-K,” an unnamed senior Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) official disclosed, adding, “These operations have been ongoing, and will continue.”
SFs also arrested 142 militants in 86 incidents through 2016 in addition to 171 such arrests in 92 incidents through 2015. Those arrested in 2016 included 32 militants of NSCN-K; 25 cadres of the Kitovi-Neokpao faction [earlier known as Khole-Kitovi] of NSCN (NSCN-KN); 19 from NSCN-IM; 16 from the Reformation faction of NSCN (NSCN-R); 11 from the Non-Accordist faction of the Naga National Council (NNC-NA); five each from the Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN) and the People’s Revolutionary Army of Kangleipak (PREPAK); two from the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP); and one militant each from the ‘Government of the People’s Republic of Nagaland (GPRN/NSCN), Naga National Council (NNC), Dima Halam Daogah-Dilip Nunisa faction (DHD-N), Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA), Tiwa Liberation Army (TLA)-1, I.K. Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-IKS) and Liberation of Achik Elite Force (LAEF). The Group identity of 20 militants remained unspecified. Top arrests made during 2016 included ‘finance secretary’ of the NSCN-K, identified as Max Asukomi, and the ‘defense secretary’ of NSCN-K, identified as Kughato Chishi.
A lasting peace continues to evade Nagaland primarily due to the failure of the Governments, both at the Central and the State level, to reach to a final understanding, principally as a result of the proliferation of competent Naga armed factions and the issue of the ‘integration’ of Naga areas across State boundaries. While the Framework Agreement holds out the promise of a settlement with the most powerful of these factions, NSCN-IM, it has exacerbated difficulties with the others. Crucially, imminent changes in the NSCN-IM leadership – Isak Chisi Swu, the other signatory to the Framework Agreement died on June 28, 2016, and Muivah, at 83, is also in poor health – may alter, if not disrupt, the talks process. The gains in Nagaland have, no doubt, been dramatic; but they remain fragile.
* G Bhattacharjee