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Posted at: Jul 1, 2015, 1:07 AM; last updated: Jun 30, 2015, 10:58 PM (IST)

Nagaland violence: Negotiate peace that endures

Nagaland, unlike Manipur, is ripe for a peaceful resolution. Two decades of peace has enlarged the peace constituency, bringing home the benefits to the silent majority — the people.
Nagaland violence: Negotiate peace that endures
All the stakeholders should be involved in the peace process in Nagaland. Protesters demonstrate against the mob lynching of a man accused of rape in Nagaland. AFP

THE  recent spate of ambushes of security forces in the North-East remind us that, at the policy level, violence can be a communication medium or tool. The Khaplang-led Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) was doing precisely that, abrogating the ceasefire and orchestrating these incidents over three states, targeting only the Central Security Forces (Army and Assam Rifles). The calibrated violence, progressively, led to two, four, eight and 19 casualties of the security forces. The remote rulers being addressed in Delhi, never had their ears to the ground and could only hear the signals after the June 4 ambush in Manipur. The message being sent was that the NSCN (K), perceiving their marginalisation in the peace process, were demonstrating their relevance.

Fortunately, a hands-on government, once having woken up from its stupor, responded speedily and communicated its resolve by a raid across the IB, in a manner that Khaplang is likely to have heard in his hospital bed in Yangon.This has been followed up with greater coordination with the Myanmar government. With two-way communication restored, we must now be ready to move forward with initiating a dialogue.

Nagaland, unlike Manipur, is ripe for a peaceful resolution. Two decades of peace has enlarged the peace constituency, bringing home the benefits to   “the people”, the silent majority. They have been exerting their influence on the militants to abjure violence and sign an honourable peace agreement. The state has vibrant civil society groups, like the Naga Ho Ho, the Church, Naga Mothers’ Association and a host of other tribal bodies that must be incorporated in the peace process.

The Centre, while negotiating, should be guided by the primary democratic principle of representing the wishes of all sections of society. Those wielding the gun are only relevant in so much as they represent some of the people's aspirations. The Indian state has strong Army and security forces to strengthen its negotiating position, unlike the complicit instrumentalities of our neighbours. Those models need not influence us. (In the past, the NSCN-IM too had threatened to abrogate the ceasefire but strong contingency plans of the security forces dissuaded it). The endeavour must be to include both the NSCN factions. While the NSCN (IM) is the stronger, more dominant group, much of its strength comes from Ukhrul and the northern hill districts of Manipur. These are unlikely to form part of Nagaland’s voters’ list, despite all options of autonomy under discussion. The weaker NSCN (K) has been further weakened by some defections of prominent leaders like  general-secretary N Kitovi Zhimomi and commander-in-chief Khole Konyak. However, it has adequate strength and influence to disrupt the peace, especially since it has secure bases in Myanmar and a ceasefire agreement with a weak and overcommitted government in that country. It must also be remembered that its calibrated violence was a signal to remain relevant to the peace process and not to wreck it, after 14 years.

The lessons of the last three endeavours at a peace settlement in Nagaland — in 1947, 1960 and 1975— must not be forgotten. The most recent ones being more relevant to the present. To get a lasting peace settlement, all stakeholders must be a part of the process. It may be appropriate for the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, with channels of communication to all, to lead the initial process (as presently designated). The solution must be based on a more transparent and wider consultative process to meet the people's aspirations and be enduring. The sketchy contours of this Intelligence- driven settlement in the Press indicate a deal with the NSCN (IM), with the NSCN (K) left out in the cold across the IB. Thus the visualisation of an Army deployment in a 20-km border belt, which would be designated as a disturbed area with AFSPA restricted to it. Such a solution would have the factional pitfalls of the Shillong Accord and, more precisely, the vices of the Bodoland Accord of 2003; that had some beneficiaries but it was not the people.

The Bodo Accord was signed with the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) but excluded the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), which like the NSCN-K today, were keen to be stakeholders in the peace deal. The BLT got control of the  autonomous Bodo Territorial Council (under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution) and money to run it. Those who designed or facilitated the Accord, have remained in power in Guwahati, based on the BLT MLAs elected from the 12 seats that constitute this Territorial Council. This win-win power-sharing arrangement excludes the people, who continue to suffer the NDFB violence and the security forces who must remain deployed on counter-insurgency duties indefinitely, much to the chagrin of both.

The North-East has its own mosaic and dynamics. A modicum of understanding can be achieved by solving the riddle: “Why do chief ministers of insurgency-affected states have the longest tenures in India; be it Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura or Assam?” It is imperative that a peace settlement, is based on the peoples’ aspirations and not be a compromise between those who wield the gun and those who wield power. Only the right peace talks architecture, process and policy can empower people and provide enduring peace.

The writer is former Commandant Defence Services Staff College & former Senior Fellow IDSA

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