TODAY -

Peace in post-Khaplang North-East

Retd Lt Gen KJ Singh *



With the passing away of Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang, in Nagaland the baton now passes on to a new generation of rebel leaders. For the first time, the control of the NSCN-K is with an indigenous Konyak. Elders like TH Muivah, the last of the old tribe, can help to leave a legacy of reconciliation for future generations.

Trecent demise of SS Khaplang, referred to as “Baba,” combined with the passing away of Issac Chisi Swu in June 2016 and the frail health of 83-year-old Thuingleng Muivah sets the stage for the advent of a new generation of rebel leaders. It is these leaders that hold the key to the future of the “Act-East policy”.

Our traditions and the Stockholm syndrome (a condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity) have sprouted eulogies about Baba, a Hemi Naga and the senior-most member of the trio. Sadly, driven by vote-bank politics, the Chief Minister of Nagaland has even released an official obituary. On balance, this foe-turned-friend who almost got Issac and Muivah eliminated in 1988, was nobody’s friend. He showed his viciousness with deadly ambush on unsuspecting Dogras in Chandel in June 15, resulting in the martyring of 18 bravehearts.

His death opens new possibilities as the control of the he National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), for the first time is with an indigenous Konyak, Khango Konyak. Naga insurgency, that began in the early 1950s, was initiated by the first-generation leaders, Phizo, Mowu Angami and Kaito Sema with the Naga National Council (NNC), and the Naga Federal Government (NFG) as the rallying force.

The seeds of proxy war were sowed as early as 1950s with East Bengal (Bangladesh) as the springboard. Phizo’s foiled bid to escape to East Pakistan in 1952, followed by successful forays by Mowu and Kaito, resulted in Phizo finally making it in December 1958. Later, Phizo visited Karachi in 1962 and Pakistan trained nearly 2,500 Naga rebels in the Chittagong Hills between 1962 and 1968.

The mischief by the ISI continued even after the liberation of Bangladesh with ISPR as their partner and relationship with new clients like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). Mercifully, Sheikh Hasina put an end to this aberration, which was making Bangladesh a sanctuary for all centrifugal forces. The current generation of “armchair warriors, locked up in analysing the ongoing proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir, will be well advised not to lose sight of this not-too-distant history and dangers of the Dragon using it again as a leverage to vitiate the situation in the North- East.

There is an uneasy peace with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) since the ceasefire agreement in 1999. This accord has, unfortunately, partially legitimised the Naga quest for sovereignty as ceasefire is generally signed between two sovereign nations. Ceasefire with the smaller but equally deadly counterpart, NSCN-K, inked in 2001 lasted till end March 16.

Abrogation of the ceasefire resulted in Khaplang’s last fling at fiefdom building, manifesting in the formation of United National Liberation Front-West South-East Asia (UNLF-WSEA), a conglomeration of NSCN-K, Paresh Barua faction of ULFA, Manipuri Meitei groups with allegiance to another combination called CorCom. There is an urgent need to redouble our efforts, along with Myanmar, to regain the control of Taga and adjoining liberated sanctuaries in Kachin forests, serving as training camps for UNLF-WSEA.

The Naga society, led by Ho-Hos (tribal bodies), particularly the Konyak Union and the Church, stare at a decisive turning point wherein they could bring all marginal groups (including NSCN-K) together for reconciliation and talks. Muivah, the only link to the old generation, should seize the moment to leave a legacy of being a problem solver, something that Issac missed out on.

The third and new generation of Naga leadership, though dominated by Manipuri Tangkhuls, needs to be persuaded to display pragmatism on contentious issues, which despite the sanctity of the Naga Framework agreement of 2014, have been leaked out probably to satisfy their local constituency. These are: unification of all Naga territories, shared sovereignty and joint defence.

This is the most opportune period to resolve these issues as the ruling party is in the saddle in relevant states and a thaw between the Nagas and the Meities seems to be on cards, with the lifting of the blockade and the recent visit of the Chief Minister of Nagaland to Manipur. Shared sovereignty within bounds of Article 371, applicable to tribal areas, can be refined with additional autonomy.

However, all such measures have to be carefully worded with constitutional safeguards and time stipulation. Joint defence can be worked out with the additional Nagaland Armed Police (Indian Reserve Batallion) battalions and enhanced recruitment in Assam Rifles. Once again, the previous experience of two Naga BSF battalions, comprising surrendered militants, hopefully, will not be lost sight of by policy makers.

Even Nagalim, a compulsion with IM due to its almost Orwellian over-reliance on Tangkhuls, can be resolved by setting up a quasi-legal tribal body with a mandate on specified tribal-related subjects and jurisdiction extending to Naga areas in the adjoining states.

Our quest to match the Chinese One belt one road policy (OBOR) can gain traction only through the actualisation of the “Act-East policy”, with focus on connectivity to South-east Asia. They say, when you cross Brahmaputra, life is governed by lahe, lahe (slow and slow) but even in the North-East, the new generation needs to shift gear and not deny themselves an opportunity that beckons.

(Courtesy : The Tribune)


* Retd Lt Gen KJ Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is currently Maharaja Ranjit Singh Chair at Panjab University
This article was posted on June 18, 2017.


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