Recasting Ceasefires: Antithesis of Guerilla Warfare

By Mmhonlumo Kikon *

Ceasefire-a cessation of hostilities, a moment of truth, absence of war, a breather for negotiations, a strategy to reinforce, a battle of wits in lieu of bullets, a time to recast visions in the vortex of history, a time for adversaries and friends alike to meet and share stories, a misnomer when many lives are lost in the period.

In the history of any struggle, there have been factions, not because it is required, nor because it is natural, but because struggles are led by people coming from different histories, ideologies and visions. There are the usual contestations of truths and visions for domination.

Objectives of all struggles are borne out of an event disrupting the phenomenon of normal thought. It is triggered by a justification of suppressed truths and invigorated by the passion of patriotism. It is nurtured in the embrace of blood, tears and untold miseries. At all important epochs there are leaders of different shades, leaving behind trails of glory and blunders.

At all such moments, the sustenance comes from the belief that we are nearer to the goal then we were before. Nagas are once again at the threshold of one such moment. It maybe our biggest moment, a moment of glory; it might even turn out to be our moment of total dismay.

You wake up one fine morning and find yourself thinking about the meaning of ceasefires, the killing fields, the wailing mothers, the discursive battles and the war at large. There are attempts by various sections of the Naga society to address the issue by offering all sorts of arguments and remedies.

The most commonplace response has so far been the immediate condemnations by one and sundry, followed by the claims and counterclaims to justify the omissions and commissions of the actors concerned. This process only serves to enrich the archives of Naga history. While the word "Unification" has gone from being an aspiration to a contentious issue, the word "Reconciliation" has gained currency due to the efforts of the Quakers and Rev. Dr. Wati Aier.

While many are engaged in the theatre of rhetoric and almost every other day you hear of the gospel according to the Nagas, let us not forget to recast Ceasefires in the annals of Naga History from being a mere document of memoranda to the basis of the promise of peace and development.

This is the second big Ceasefire between the Nagas and the Government of India. In the past the Ceasefire lasted for only about eight years, while the present Ceasefires with both the Naga factions is stuttering on for more than a decade despite signs of weariness and differences. The reasons for the failures of the first Ceasefire and Peace-talks are aplenty and needs no elaboration here.

However it must be mentioned that its failures led to the development of so many misgivings among the Naga leaders of that period. The misgivings were the germination of bolder initiatives and renewed struggles. And it must be mentioned that the rhetoric of Peace and Development did not play such a significant role in that period of the Naga History like it is taking shape today.

It is between this twin discourse of Peace and Development that the meaning of Ceasefires become altered and twisted beyond its generic sense. Negotiations assume seriousness because there is a ceasefire at place, development and peace follows different trajectories and have never really interfered with Conflict resolutions.

The public sphere needs to be engaged and therefore the ills of any society is always focused on a development and peace rubric that there comes a point of time where many are misled and the more important issues confused.

That a ceasefire has 'ground rules' is only the legitimization of that cessation of hostilities, an acknowledgement of the fact that we need to give dialogues a chance. While it is important to keep a keen watch over the developments of any peace talks, it is also important not to lose sight of one of the most important mechanisms through which the Nagas of today are able to enjoy relative peace.

It is also important to recast ceasefires in the light of the factional killings and the unfortunate distractions that have occurred due to the internecine skirmishes.

The present scenario does not portend well for the Nagas. The 'NSCN (IM)' has decided to boycott all the Ceasefire Monitoring Group (CFMG) meetings due to the appointment of M L Kumawat as the acting Chairman of the (CFMG) by the Government of India.

They termed the appointment of Kumawat, who is also the Special Secretary (Internal Security) as 'arbitrary and unilateral' and till a new Chairman is appointed or the NSCN (IM)is taken into confidence in the appointment of the CFMG Chairman, no future meetings will be attended (Nagaland Post, July 3).

Just recently the 'NSCN (K)' has threatened to pull out of the Ceasefire with the Government of India due to the recent incursion into their designated camp at Athibung. They accused the centre of trying to "smoke out" the outfit in collaboration with its rival outfit (Nagaland Post, July 17).

Nagas can well imagine a pre-1997 scenario if the Ceasefire is abrogated. It will replace the rhetoric of Peace and Development with the issues of war and battles. It will raise the level of threat perceptions among ordinary citizens, and the culture of fear that dominates the Naga society will resurface. We don't need a Nostradamus to predict all the above for us under the circumstances.

We will be definitely taking a giant step backward. We appreciate and salute the mental rigor, maturity and perseverance that the Nagas have displayed down the ages. However, it is necessary to carry through the Present Dialogues when we still can, when peace is not only a hope but a possibility waiting in the wings, when we are all energized by the spirit of reason and understanding.

Naga history has its own gruesome tales to tell, its own bloody wars to be ashamed of. Some say it was necessary, a collateral albeit costly, while some opine still that we will not be where we are if we didn't choose the path of guerilla warfare, if there was no armed struggle.

Naga history turned a new leaf when Phizo rejected T Sakhrie's non-violent approach towards the struggle with India and chose the path of armed struggle. From then on the NSCN perfected the art of guerilla warfare in the Naga Hills and there are many milestones thenceforth.

A Senior lecturer at Delhi University once presented a paper on the issue of ceasefire between the Government of India and the NSCN in the early part of ceasefire, by problematizing the idea of designated camps as part of the ceasefire ground rules. He argued that the very essence of a guerilla rested on its mobility.

If and when that is curbed, they remain hemmed in by the antithesis of proven guerilla tactics. He studied the impact of such ceasefires around the world on a guerilla cadre. He mentioned, especially about how many soldiers in the LTTE started developing psychological aberrations due to the absences of war and how it impacted their discipline and normal lives.

Cadres who were accustomed to fighting took time to adjust to not-fighting, adapting to normal living. Some are reported to have committed suicide, even. So when the Ceasefire is first put in place, there are bound to be problems of familiarization, adaptation and also acclimatization. They who were roaming freely in the jungles are now contained by written agreements and ground-rules, literally.

This is not a situation which any Government or authority can fully manage or control as per the expected objectives of the rules laid down. However, try they must and in the process attrition sets in as a natural consequence. I mention all these to strike home the point that the Ceasefire is something we need to appreciate and take seriously.

Although not everything goes by the book and not every cadre is thus contained, there is at least some sort of discipline which was previously not there. The soldiers are in the barracks and the civil society is 'allowed' a big enough space to veer their efforts towards resolution of all longstanding issues. Whereas these soldiers were trained and raised primarily to fight, they are now keeping peace.

Imagine Nagaland with or without a ceasefire. Imagine also, of the mayhem if the thread on which the ceasefire is loosely hanging is broken. These are scary thoughts to entertain, but we must go through the grind, if we have to think through the present crises of ceasefire effectively.

As responsible Nagas, we must not leave it to the Government of India, Nagaland and the NSCNs alone to tackle such important mechanisms. For the common man I must reiterate that the Ceasefire Ground-rules and the Ceasefire agreement are extremely important. The problem with many common men is that they tend to overlook whatever is more important to them and get distracted by sideshows.

For many, the past three months, especially after the assembly elections in Nagaland, have been tumultuous to say the least. There are as many interpretations of the dismal events as there are denominations among Christians. The most common observation is that the NSCN factions have reduced the Naga National cause to turf wars.

And as common observation goes, it is a very commonplace comment. This reductionism started with the killings in Dimapur district, which remains unabated till date. The larger issue of the Indo-Naga Peace talks has been put behind for sometime due to the interest shown and the emotive affair of the factional clashes.

After all it is amongst brothers, as Nagas are fond of putting it. The recent events and the response of the civil society is a clear case of privileging the language of violence over the peace-talks. Even the media exchanges between the NSCNs and the Government of India has been limited to the politicization of people's issues and skirting around troubled waters. From all these we can easily conclude that there are many loopholes which have been addressed with insincerity and provided with stop-gap arrangements only.

The Ceasefire Ground-rules are very interesting to read. The recent flush out operations carried out by all the district administration in Nagaland may be a step towards profiling the presence of NSCN cadres in the urban centres, although it is based on strategic intelligence inputs.

How far these relate to the ground-rules, one cannot say. The basis of any Ceasefire rests on the conflicting parties agreeing to maintain peace together. This argument will find favor in the light of the recent appointment of M L Kumawat as the acting Chairman of the CFMG.

The rejection of his appointment by the NSCN (IM) is interesting because the Government of India and the NSCN are the two entities which have entered into a Ceasefire agreement and have agreed in principle to have ground-rules governing their relations. It is by nature bilateral, and any unilateral decision is bound to evoke protest from one of the conflicting parties.

If there is no honor and respect among treaty parties, there is bound to be friction. And in this case any friction would lead to a disaster for both the Nagas and the Government of India. We expect at least that there is no politicization of such cooperation and monitoring mechanism between the Government of India and the NSCNs.

Anything and everything should be settled under the principle of consultation and mutual understanding. The Government of India would only encourage misunderstanding and mistrust in the process, and yes, Nagas will once again record that in the annals of their history. It will become the hallmark of the Indian approach towards resolving conflicts.

It is natural for outside observers to understand that the ground-rules are a means towards maintaining the ceasefire effectively so as to facilitate any peace-talks. The implementation of ground rules in Nagaland has been tricky and oftentimes messy. The confusion exists not only among the general populace but also among government agencies.

Who is authorized to implement the ground-rules and in what manner and capacity? What kind of space does it have for the civil society to participate in the review of the ground-rules implementation? For all keen observers of the Ceasefires, it is pertinent that the Government of India initiates debates of the abovementioned questions in public spaces.

This will go a long way in establishing the much needed trust among the general populace on the issue of the seriousness of the government of India towards resolving the Naga issue. While appreciating the many initiatives of the Political Affairs Committee (PAC) of the DAN Government, it would be great if the PAC can conduct a debate on the issue of implementation of Ceasefire ground rules. This will ensure that there is an informed public keenly watching the developments of the Peace Process.

Ultimately, as I have argued, it must be remembered that Ground-rules and designated camps are antithetical to the essence of guerilla warfare and we are fortunate to have achieved a lot through the reversal of the motivating and the dominant forces of the nature of war and temporarily taming it to a more civil space that if we lose it we may well forget peace for generations to come.

This is the fear that converts a lot of disinterested Nagas into keen observers of the Peace Process at hand.

* Mmhonlumo Kikon, a resident of Kohima, Nagaland, contributes for the first time to . The writer can be reached at mkikon(at)gmail(dot)com . This article was webcasted on July 25, 2008.

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