Nagaland Assessment - Year 2001
The June 14, 2001 cease-fire extension agreement between the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and the Union government without territorial limits received widespread approval in Nagaland. In addition to the organisations such as the Naga Hoho, the apex tribal council, terrorist outfits such as the Naga National Council-Federal (NNC-F) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) welcomed the development. However, the move, which was seen to be intruding upon the territorial integrity of the neighbouring States of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh led to frayed passions and large-scale violence in those States, especially in Manipur. The Union government was forced to review the decision of extending the cease-fire without territorial limits.
Prior to that the Union Government had aimed at a comprehensive peace process by signing cease-fire agreements with the NSCN-K on April 30, 2001. Attempts were also made to arrive at a similar agreement with the NNC-F. The State witnessed 31 insurgency related incidents in which four civilians, 17 terrorists were killed till May 15, 2001. The NSCN-IM, which claims to be the sole representative of the wishes of the Naga people was, however, not impressed as it felt that such a move would undermine its dominant nature. Thus, it issued threats of withdrawal from the four year-old cease-fire agreement with the Union government. It seemed to have alarmed the government, which rushed the Chief Interlocutor K Padmanabhaiah on May 21. 2001 to Bangkok for a round of talks with the NSCN-IM leadership. After an unsuccessful round of talks, finally the agreement was reached on June 13, 2001 to extend the cease-fire for one more year till July 31, 2002 without territorial limits.
The year 2001 began on a positive note, as the Indian government hammered out the ‘revised ground rules’ that are to govern its ceasefire arrangement with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM). The revised rules not only restricted the outfit’s extortion drive in the State, but also provided the security forces added teeth in terms of dealing with insurgency. The NSCN-IM conceded tactical ground in return for an assurance that the government would discuss the possibility of the extension of the area of cease-fire to the neighboring States with the State Governments there.
The year 2000 was significant for Nagaland, as both tension and insurgency related violence declined. For the first time in the decade, the total fatalities in the year 2000 fell below 100. 154 persons had lost their lives to the conflict in 1999. With 99 deaths in 2000, the low intensity conflict in Nagaland is now approaching the possibilities of an end. The casualties in 2000 included 13 civilians and 4 security forces, as compared with 26 and 4 respectively in 1999. Eighty-two terrorists belonging to different militant groups were killed, as against 124 in 1999. As many as 81 terrorists were arrested in the year 2000; there were 39 such arrests in 1999.
The year 2000, however, failed to provide a breakthrough in the longstanding problem of insurgency, which has already claimed 1697 lives in the State between 1992 and 2000. A total of 599 civilians, 235 security forces and 862 terrorists have lost their lives in this period. Apart from the two factions of the NSCN, namely the NSCN-IM and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khapalng (NSCN-K), other terrorist outfits remained largely passive.
With an estimated 4500 strong cadre, and despite its cease-fire agreement with the Centre, the NSCN-IM continued with its insurgent activities in the State. An incident that affected the continuing peace talks between the NSCN-IM and the Government of India, was the arrest of its General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah in Bangkok in a fake passport charge in the month of January,2000. This stalled the dialogue process for a considerable period as the outfit refused to nominate another member to take Muivah’s place. Only in the month of May was the process reinitiated, when the Union Home Ministry and the NSCN-IM led by V.S. Atem reached a joint agreement to reactivate the Cease-fire Monitoring Group (CMG) to ensure complete cessation of violence. The initial reluctance on both sides posed the danger of the expiry of the cease-fire on July 31,2000.
The extension of the cease-fire with the NSCN-IM for one more year starting from August 1,2000, remained the most significant achievement of the year. The successive talks with the leadership of the outfit remained entangled around the issue of ground rules. While the outfit insisted on the extension of the cease-fire beyond Nagaland, the Indian government maintained a firm stand against this demand, as it could be construed as a step towards conceding to the outfit’s demand for a ‘greater Nagaland’ as well.
Casualties of Terrorist violence between May- September 2001
(May 16 to September 30)
Note: Figures are compiled from news reports and are provisional.
At least, on one occasion in September, the Indian government did give positive signals regarding the NSCN-IM’s demand for the extension of the area of cease-fire. On September 12,2000, the Indian government informed the outfit that it was willing to extend the cease-fire to other areas if the terrorists agreed not to press their demand for a ‘greater Nagaland’ (Nagalim). However, with an assurance from the outfit still pending, a backtrack in the stance became inevitable due to the unequivocal objection by the various State governments. In a meeting with the Prime Minister, on September 28,2000, the Chief Ministers of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, with sizeable populations of Naga tribals in their States, expressed their opposition to the extension of the area of cease-fire to any part of their respective States.
The release of Muivah on September 18, 2000 from the Thai prisons not withstanding, both sides continued to trade charges against each other on cease-fire violations. The NSCN-IM held the Indian government responsible for the tardy progress in the political negotiations accusing the Centre of insincerity.
Muivah, in an interview, on October 3,2000, stated that, "We can come close to India…we will try to come as close as possible to India…provided India tries to understand the ground realities in history." However, such pronouncements were only of symbolic value. On November 2,2000, the Union government's chief negotiator for the Naga peace talks, K. Padmanabhaiah, said that the talks with the NSCN-IM had reached a 'stalemate'. In spite of the fact that both sides did meet for the fifth round of peace talks on November 29,2000, at New Delhi, nothing significant emerged.
However, in a significant addition to the ongoing peace talks, the government of India sought to involve the Chief Minister of Mizoram, Zoramthanga in initiating a direct dialogue with the NSCN-IM leadership in Bangkok. Zoramthanga, an ex-rebel himself had two meetings with Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah in Bangkok. The three demands made by the NSCN-IM leadership during these discussions were:
The engagement with the NSCN-IM faction clearly overshadowed the peace process with the Khaplang faction of the NSCN. The outfit, however, continued to claim that a meaningful dialogue to solve the Naga problem would take place only after the withdrawal of the ban on the outfit and the abrogation of the laws such as the Armed Forces Special Power Act.
The cease-fire with NSCN-K had been first signed on December 15, 1998. However, its dormancy in compared to its more visible counterpart, the NSCN-IM kept it out of the sphere of significance. The NSCN-K’s repeated overtures to the government for a peace deal drew less enthusiastic responses. On March 2, 2000, NSCN-K ‘Deputy Minister for Information and Publicity’, Kughalu Mulatonu announced that the outfit was ready to negotiate with the Central government provided the ban on the organisation was lifted. Even though, on November 28, the Home Minister indicated the government’s wish to include the Khapalang faction in the Nagaland peace process, subsequent events showed no further signs of progress. In the month of April the NSCN-K announced a formal cease-fire with the Central government. In response, on April 16, the security forces decided to unilaterally suspend operations against the outfit for a period of six months.
The desperation of the outfit to move forward in the underplayed negotiations was apparent when on June 19, 2000 the ‘Prime Minister’ of the outfit, Kitovi Zhimomi threatened to call off the ongoing cease-fire if the Central government did not lift the ban imposed on the NSCN-K. The outfit, which is believed to be enjoying political patronage under the Chief Minister of the State, S C Jamir, reiterated its call once again on October 10,2000, for formalisation of the cease-fire agreement with the Indian Government. Eventually, on October 16,2000, cease-fire with NSCN-K was extended for a period of six months.
The relationship between the two factions of the NSCN remained volatile throughout the year. Except for an unconfirmed news report, which suggested a proposed unification move in the month of August, the outfits remained at loggerheads for territorial supremacy. The places affected by the continuous feuds between the two outfits were the districts of Tuensang and Mon. Media reports in the month of February 2000 pointed to an understanding between the Isak-Muivah faction and the ruling junta in Myanmar to initiate a crackdown on the terrorists of the Khaplang faction. According to unconfirmed reports, as many as 70 terrorists of both factions were killed in an internecine clash in the Mon district in the first week of May, 2000. On May 17,2000 the Khaplang faction claimed to have wrested control of the Zunheboto district from the its rival faction. Earlier in the first three months of the year, the Tuensang district witnessed as many as 10 fierce factional fights between the two groups. In 1999, clashes between the two had claimed 43 lives.
Insurgency in the State of Nagaland also continued to thrive as a result of cross border contacts. Contrary to the belief in the intelligence agencies, which held that the NSCN and Chinese contacts had been severed in the 1980s, news reports, in October,2000, stated that NSCN-IM was reviving its clandestine contacts with China. The reports suggested that an NSCN-IM leader visited the Kunming province in China to strike a deal for a ‘major’ arms consignment. The deal included supply of AK-47 and M16 rifles and G-3 machine guns. There were also some reports regarding Muivah’s attempts to strike an arms deal with China. It can be mentioned here that Muivah, back in 1960s had made a trip to the Yunan province in China to enlist Beijing’s help in floating the outfit after he decided to part ways with the then Naga National Council (NNC). On December 9, 2000, I D Swami, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, speaking in the Parliament, confirmed NSCN-IM’s arms procurement links with China.
Apart from the Chinese connection, Myanmar and Bangladesh also remained safe havens for the NSCN-IM. Relations with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), a Myanmarese guerrilla group, facilitated the movement of arms into the Indian northeast through the State of Arunachal Pradesh. Reports in the month of December, 2000 suggested that an arms consignment worth $75,000, meant for the NSCN-IM had arrived at Cox Bazar in Bangladesh. Of late Cox Bazar has emerged as the port for circulation of illegal arms. The fact that Muivah visited Pakistan before being arrested in Thailand was also a pointer to Pakistan’s involvement in the whole gamut of insurgency in the region.
The ‘dual approach’ adopted by the NSCN-IM failed to generate much confidence in the Indian government. Some time in the month of October, the group reportedly shot off letters to American senators requesting them to declare India a terrorist State.
Apart from the peace efforts by the Government of India, Church leaders in the State remained engaged in a unification move between various terrorist factions. Again the NSCN-IM‘s lack of faith in the credibility of the religious leaders threw the entire process off the tracks. The publicity wing of the outfit declared that these leaders "are sponsored by the State and they speak like the State’s politicians. They speak with authority but without serious thought."