Framework Agreement: What is it ?

Dr. Salikyu Sangtam *

Govt of India-NSCN (IM) sign peace accord / Framework Agreement in August 2015
Govt of India-NSCN (IM) sign peace accord / Framework Agreement in August 2015 :: Pix - HL/PIB

Whenever a society is at a crossroad, numerous claims touted to be objective facts begin to emerge. Citizens begin to develop their own opinions about the issue, whatever it may be. The opinions may either be formed by assessing the relevant facts and information or they may be formed through blind obedience to the opinions of others, without enquiring into the prejudices of those opinions. Such scenarios are a recurrent theme in any society where a series of crisis leads people to ponder about that particular predicament. In any case, when any issue preoccupies the attention of a society, more often than not, there is bound to be confusions about the topic leading to a mass paranoia (occurrence of lynching cases across the country is one such example).

This is either due to the lack of relevant information available to the public at large or due to conscious manipulation of information and facts to suit the needs of the vested interests (as it is advantageous for those who want the public to remain in the dark about the realities of the issue). And in both instances, the public are manipulated: in the former, the lack of necessary information enables the public to be manipulated by those who have access to it, and in the latter, the vested interests, by supplying distorted information, manipulate the public en masse. This is what, in my humble opinion, is happening in Assam, Arunachal, Manipur, and Nagaland with regard to the issue of the 'Framework Agreement.'

I think people ought to have opinions about issues that concern them as well as the well-being of their society, it is good, it is healthy. However, such opinions ought not to be formed on the basis of one's pre-existing prejudices and predilections; nor should opinions and beliefs on important issues be formed by uncritically trusting the opinions and propagandas of others. I say this because it is glaringly evident by the manner in which a majority of the intelligentsia, leaders, politicians, and public at large (especially in Nagaland and Manipur) seem to view the 'framework agreement.'

The popular belief among the public, at least as has been portrayed by Naga politicians and those involved in the talks with the Union Government of India (GoI), is that the signing of the framework agreement is an indication that the solution which has been sought after for decades is at hand; that anytime, the solution will be brought; that the conflicts of interests between the equally countless groups/factions and the GoI is resolved; that the GoI is willing to meet the demands of these groups. All these statements are made based on this single term, 'framework.'

Anyone with rudimentary knowledge of politics and diplomacy is well aware that 'framework agreement' is just an empty shell to be filled later on with its contents, after long and protracted negotiations; and these are not easy tasks. 'Framework Agreement' provides the basis for setting up factors for a relationship between protagonists with regard to specific issue/matter of concern. The 'Framework Agreement' provides the conditions under which the contending sides agree to work together toward a specified goal or objective, with specific details, as regards to how to go about achieving that objective/goal, to be added later on.

In the context of a Naga solution, this means the framework agreement signed with the GoI only sets out that the contending sides have agreed in principle to cooperate and build a relationship, minus the contents, to bring about a mutually agreeable solution to decades-long political struggle. The framework agreement does not yet contain the solution, it is not the solution; rather it is just the opening phase to initiate dialogues between the protagonists to resolve the Naga issue. This is what Framework Agreement is, nothing more, nothing less. To think or hold the belief that the framework agreement contains the solution is not only a folly of the highest magnitude but, more seriously, is to risk ruins.

The framework agreement is only the frame. It is the supporting structure. It does not contain the essential ingredient, the nitty-gritty part of the deal. All these essential ingredients must first be negotiated and agreed upon by the contending sides before they are included in the final settlement. And to do this, it takes time, maybe even years, especially to negotiate sensitive topics—such as sovereignty, integration, currency, foreign affairs. This is particularly true when we consider the implications of such settlements: determining the fate of people (Nagas) spread across four national states and two international countries (India and Myanmar). Such sensitive topics are neither easy to be negotiated, nor can they be negotiated quickly and easily. And if such issues are negotiated easily and quickly, it would mean that the solution is not the final solution, but a temporary one. Thus further prolonging the political struggles and protracting the sufferings of the people.

Furthermore, talks also involve lots of compromises between the protagonists, without which no progress can be made. In other words, we cannot expect any solutions if parties are not willing to compromise. This is basic knowledge: diplomacy 101. Therefore, at this point in time, we can infer—based on our careful understanding of framework agreement—that the issues of sovereignty, integration, currency, flag, constitution, and so forth are off the table and not included in the present framework discussion.

Because if we judiciously examine the issues of India's internal integrity, as well as from the perspective of external affairs (especially with regard to China's long term interest in the Northeast region), GoI will not willfully jeopardize India's security and integrity for the sake of Naga solution and integration. And if, that's a big "IF," the GoI even agrees to such demands as sovereignty, integration, constitution, etc., that would only invite more fragmentation of states and further stir up secessionist movements across the country—from Assam to Punjab and from Tamil Naidu to Kashmir.

Hence, why would the GoI even entertain such demands in the first place? That is why, we can hypothesize with a high degree of probability that issues of sovereignty, integration, and separate constitution and passport, flag, etc. are not up for discussion. Indeed, we may deduce that one of the pre-conditions set by the GoI, before the "Framework Agreement" could commence, is for the Naga Nationalist Political Groups (NNPGs) including the NSCN-IM to drop these aforesaid demands. Without agreeing to such conditions by the NNPGs and NSCN-IM, the present framework agreement would not have come into existence.

What is certain, however, at this juncture is that the signing of the Framework has established the basic structure to initiate talks for resolving the Naga issue. That is it. Now, the obvious next step is the coming together of the contending parties to the negotiating table with their own sets of demands and grievances. And these grievances and demands will have to be arduously negotiated point by point. Compromises, no doubt, become a necessity. At this stage, the contending parties may reach an impasse, a stalemate. If this happens, the negotiation is stalled, further delaying the settlement. And the negotiations can be stalled for months, if not years. One can be sure that none of the contending parties, to the talks, will easily give up their claims. This makes it even more unrealistic to assume that a permanent solution is attainable in such a brief period (i.e. few months or a couple of years) of time.

Furthermore, the essentiality of having a unified front is necessary for any negotiations to work well. This is a matter of vital concern especially with regard to the present framework agreement. As it stands, the Nagas are represented by various groups (to which we never consented), who are at odds with one another and all claiming to be the legitimate representatives of the people. Moreover, there are two groups (NSCN-IM and Working Group led by NSCN-U) separately in talks with the GoI, while others (such as NSCN-K) are either excluded or are not willing to participate.

Any judicious person would doubt the nature and intensions of the talks when two groups, allegedly claiming to represent the Nagas, are separately having discussions with the GoI about the same issue. Under such scenario, how can one realistically expect any kind of long term or permanent solutions? Any 'solution' hammer-out in this case would only deteriorate and intensify the problem. It is, therefore, unrealistic for one to reasonably think that a permanent solution is possible when we have so many groups, with equally different interests. These groups are busy looking out for their own interests and self-preservation. Indeed, one must instead question their true intentions as to why they prefer to splinter away rather than work together for the common goal and well-being of the people they allegedly claim to represent. As such, how can one reasonably expect these groups to achieve anything concretely useful?

Another point of significance is the need for the stakeholders, i.e. the people, to be subsequently made aware of the substance of the framework, following the negotiations between the protagonists and prior to its implementation. Whatever is brought to the table by the contending parties and which points/demands have been mutually agreed or compromised must be made aware to the people, for ultimately they are the ones who will bear the brunt of the settlement. As one African proverb goes, "When Elephants fight; it is the grass that gets trampled." Hence, the ingredients or items of what is been negotiated should reflect the interest of the people. And the only way for those who allegedly represent and speak for the people, in the negotiating table with the GoI, to know what the people want is to let the citizens have their say in what is being negotiated and how it is to be negotiated.

There is a reason why after the signing of the Framework Agreement in August 2015, the protagonists have declined to disclose its contents. Indeed, it has been mentioned several times in press interviews and statements, given by those involved in the talks, that one of the conditions of the talks was not to disclose what's been discussed, so as not to hamper the negotiation process. It may be so to a lesser degree. But another crucial reason could be because: there is nothing about the solution in the framework agreement, yet; it is empty; the contents are yet to be negotiated. That is why the contending parties continue not to reveal the contents of the framework.

Rather, they distracted the public's attention with vague and nebulous proclamations about how the framework agreement contains the solution, how close we are to the final settlement, how sensitive matters which have been up for debate are resolved, and how in few months' time all will be brought to pass. Indeed, no party wants to come out saying that it contains nothing, for that would undermine their legitimacy and authority. And who in their right mind would want to do that?

All these issues must be soundly understood by all the concern parties, including the people in Assam, Arunachal, Manipur, and Nagaland, so as to avoid the potential pitfalls that invariably accompany such political agreements. I do hope the readers have acquired some relevant knowledge about the framework agreement, thus enabling them to utilize their rational faculty to make sound judgments (and not fall prey to divisive propagandas) about the Naga issues, which are of concern to us as citizens of our respective states.

As for my own observation, there will be a solution, no doubt, but a temporary one. We'll have to wait longer, if not eons, for the permanent solution. Regardless, don't let my pessimism defile the optimism of the framework agreement. Who knows, I may be wrong in my estimation. Lastly, we ought to have confidence in those who allegedly claim to be our representatives—whoever they are, for we've lost count—and hope that they will always have the people's interests at heart.

* Dr. Salikyu Sangtam wrote this article for
The writer is at Department of Political Science, St. Joseph University, Dimapur, Nagaland and can be reached at salikyu(DOT)sangtam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on July 11 , 2018.

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