TODAY -

Ceasefire under fire

Oken Jeet Sandham *

Seized: AR's arms still under NSCN (I-M) custody on April 20 2012
Seized: AR's arms still under NSCN (I-M) custody on April 20 2012. Source - Nagaland Post



It was not comfortable to read the news that the Assam Rifles violated ceasefire ground rules. But the quick admission of that by the Chairman of the Cease Fire Monitoring Group (CFMG), Maj Gen (Retd) N George is appreciated. Let us discuss why we should protect peace.

When the Government of India declared ceasefire with the Federal Government of Nagaland (FNG) on September 6, 1964, there was mix-response. The Naga people had overjoyed because that was the first ever ceasefire declared between the Government of India and FGN. This ceasefire was a hard earned one and prominent Indian political leaders, Naga leaders and even foreigners were thickly involved in the making this historic and unique ceasefire.

It may be mentioned that Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) was key in effecting this unique ceasefire between the Government of India and the FGN. They had set up Nagaland Peace Mission with renowned persons like Jayaprakash Narayan, a Sarvodaya leader, Reverend Michael Scott, a British citizen and Bimala Prasad Chaliha, the then Chief Minister of Assam as members.

The church leaders persuaded the Government of India to halt their military operations for eight days in four villages. During this period, the church leaders along with Rev. Michael Scott visited FGN leaders and discussed the importance of having ceasefire with the Government of India so as to start political talks for finding solution to their issue. The FGN leaders verbally conveyed their willingness to have ceasefire with the Government of India. That was how things were shaped to reach a logical conclusion for striking an official ceasefire between the Government of India and the FGN.

Following the ceasefire between the Government of India and the FGN on September 6, 1964, political talks started within a few months. The primary objective of this historic ceasefire was to create an atmosphere to find an honorable solution to the Indo-Naga political issue. Talks were held at various places in Nagaland like Chedema, Khensa, etc. And finally it was elevated to the Prime Ministerial level. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Naga delegates led by Ato Kilonser (Prime Minister), Gughato Sukhai held talks at New Delhi.

In the 6th round of talks in October, 1967, between Mrs Gandhi and Sukhai, the talks broke down. Later, the Government of India had unilaterally abrogated the ceasefire in August, 1972. In spite of the breaking down of the historic ceasefire, the FGN still observes this "historic Indo-Naga ceasefire" annually on September 6.

It was very interesting to see how the 8-year old ceasefire and the subsequent talks could not go beyond sixth round. Most interesting part was why the Government of India, after few months of granting Nagaland statehood, had to declare official ceasefire with the Naga underground group. After few months of the declaration of the historic full-fledged "Nagaland Statehood" on the basis of a memorandum submitted by the then Naga People's Convention (NPC), Delhi declared ceasefire with the FGN.

On one side, India had to see the nascent State's wellbeing and security, on the other they had to deal with the Naga underground leaders to see that their first ever ceasefire was maintained and talks followed. After eight years, the Nagaland State survived, while the talks with the FGN broke down. Violence reared its ugly head again leading to the signing of the infamous Shillong Accord of 1975. The Accord, unfortunately, became the bond of contention among the leaders of the NNC. Some influential leaders broke away from the NNC and formed the NSCN in 1980. Again this split into two in 1988---one headed by Isak Chishi Swu and Th Muivah and the other by SS Khaplang and Dally Mongro.

It took 33 years to have another ceasefire with the Government of India. It was on July 25, 1997, the Prime Minister IK Gujaral announced in the Parliament that the Government of India entered into a ceasefire with the NSCN (IM). At home, we were all taken aback when the Prime Minister announced the ceasefire with the NSCN (IM). The ceasefire declaration copy signed by NSCN (IM) Chairman Isak Chishi Swu was received by only one paper in Nagaland---"The Daily Review, Kohima"---edited by Mhiesizokho Zinyu.

Few of us in the media did not know what to do thinking whether the ceasefire document was correct. We along with the Zinyu rushed to the Chief Minister's official residence to meet him and confirm whether the ceasefire was really done. SC Jamir confirmed it and also simultaneously declared from his side about the suspension of operation against the cadres of the NSCN (IM) with immediate effect.

The NSCN (IM) was arguably the most powerful insurgent group when the Government of India struck a ceasefire with them. Yet to come to a complete cessation of clashes between the security forces and the NSCN (IM) cadres, it took time and a lot of mechanisms and diplomacies were needed because, naturally, it would be quite difficult for the people, who spent most of their lives in jungles, to suddenly come out in public.

One thing we all should understand is the ceasefire with the Government of India simply didn't happen. In order reach such a costly stage, so many stakeholders played their parts. You need to build a bridge of understanding through various channels. Who believed that Isak Chishi Swu and Th Muivah would be coming to Nagaland one day and have free interactions with their people? But it happened. Successive Prime Ministers like Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and their close confidants had immensely contributed their shares to reach this stage.

It has been fifteen years that the NSCN (IM) and the Government of India have been maintaining their truce and there have been over 60 rounds of talks during this one and half decades. Also the Government of India declared ceasefire with the NSCN (K) in 2001. (Now it got split into two---one, GPRN/NSCN, headed by Khole and Kitovi Zhimomi and other, NSCN (K), still by SS Khaplang). But even after this development, the Center declared that they continued to maintain ceasefires with both of them.

Everyone is restless and frantically thinking that solution to the longstanding Indo-Naga political issue would come anytime, may be less than a year.

After 65 years of struggles, we need to show now an exemplary maturity to the world that we can still go extra miles to find solution and the size is not the matter. The world is fast changing and actually military concept may not be that relevant for a country's health after some years. It's going to be a technological fight rather.

There is mutually agreed upon ceasefire ground rules and, of course, we have seen charges and counter charges of violations of the ground rules by the cadres of the NSCN (IM) and also by the jawans of the Assam Rifles. Such issues are normally discussed during the meetings of the Cease Fire Monitoring Group and they managed to thrash out differences, if any, during such meetings.

And the present issue should also be tackled in the similar fashion. At the same time, provocative statements should be avoided as far as possible and both parties should exercise maximum restraint for the larger interest of the peace in the region. Civil societies should rather, instead of issuing provocative statements, try to step in and educate the party in wrong side not to repeat because we should not allow any party to destroy peace which is very costly.

Let us not fire the "ceasefire," without which, talks cannot be held. And if talks are not there, then peace will never come. They should know that in constructing this costly peace, thousands of people lost their valuable lives.


* Oken Jeet Sandham (of NEPS) contributes regularly to e-pao.net.
The writer can be contacted at nepsonline(at)yahoo(dot)com
This article was posted on April 22, 2012.



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