|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
As the government deadline of October 31, 2019 for final settlement to the Naga dispute approached, talks with the NSCN (IM) by the government side headed by Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi was undergoing a difficult inconclusive phase. On July 16, 2019, G. Kishan Reddy, Union Minister of State (Home) had stated that any disclosure of details of the Frame Work agreement signed on August 21, 2015 will be premature and prejudicial to the final settlement. Full text of the 2015 peace accord was never made public but jubilation over it was short-lived when Thuingaleng Muivah, General Secretary NSCN soon after gave a statement that NSCN (IM) was not prepared to compromise on Nagalim (Greater Nagaland), separate flag for Nagaland and separate Constitution. But if government had not acceded to NSCN demands of separate flag, Constitution and Nagalim, disclosing details of the 2015 Frame Work agreement would show the NSCN (IM) leadership in poor light of having reneged on its promise.
Amid inconclusive negotiations with NSCN (IM) in October 2019, Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi ruled out a separate flag and Constitution for the Nagas, denounced endless negotiations with NSCN (IM) under shadow of guns, and said that a "mutually agreed" draft comprehensive settlement is ready for inking the final agreement. However, news emerged on October 24 of a breakthrough with the NSCN (IM) agreeing to a peace accord 'without' a separate Naga constitution but with a 'conditional' flag. The 'conditional' flag bit is not clear though it is assumed that the Naga flag will not be permitted during official functions and official buildings. When exactly the accord will be signed is not known with the NSCN (IM) stating, "We have agreed to finalize the agreement... The flag and the Constitution will be pursued later. We have to go over all the agreed competencies before signing. It may take some time." This indicates that the demand for separate constitution is not dead yet.
Post the death of Isak Chisi Swu in 2016, NSCN (IM) continued to envisage 'Greater Nagalim' comprising contiguous Naga-inhabited areas of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland and also tracts of Myanmar. The organisation had said it is ready to "co-exist with India', which had a duplicitous meaning. Naga National Political Groups include NSCN (Kitovi Zhimomi), Naga Nationalist Council, Federal Government of Nagaland, NSCN (Reformation), National Peoples Government of Nagaland (Non-Accord), Government Democratic Republic of Nagaland (Non-Accord) and Khango Konyak-led faction of the NSCN (Khaplang). NSCN (IM) is the largest armed militant organisation which has continued with extortions and violent acts despite the 2015 agreement. It has added another 5000 cadres since 2015. Most important is Beijing's support to the NSCN (IM) over past several decades including providing arms, equipment and training.
Recall media reports a decade back of Chinese nationals apprehended in India with fake Indian documents in a bid to contact north-east insurgents. Concurrent to PM Modi announcing the 'Act East Policy' (AEP) in 2015, Chinese intelligence orchestrated the umbrella organisation of United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (ULF WSEA) bringing together nine insurgent groups of northeast, two major ones being NSCN and ULFA. Though Khaplang, Chairman NSCN was to be nominal head of the new grouping, a key role was of Paresh Baruah of ULFA, who always opposed peace with India. But on November 2, 2019, Yung Aung, Chairman of NSCN-K since last year, in a media interview has spoken of the "struggle for freedom", future of Nagaland, crackdown by Indian and Myanmar armies, and the role of China, saying: as long as India and Myanmar continue to dominate "our country", fighting is inevitable; we will continue the fight till our goal is accomplished; Nagas do not trust India who kept Nagas in a state of complete confusion through a divisive 'confuse and destroy' policy, NSCN/GPRN is silent on present GoI-NSCN (IM) negotiations because it within India's constitution and has nothing to do with the Naga struggle for complete independence; our stand is clear - apart from full freedom, there is no point to demand or argue with India. It is not a choice or option, it is the birthright of every Naga citizen; accusation and blame game are Myanmar and India's political tactics.
Nagas are not struggling in foreign land but in the land that belongs to the Nagas, and; NSCN/GPRN is ready for talks if it is based full sovereignty of Nagas. Yung Aung has been traveling to China accompanied by Paresh Barua. This makes it clear that NSCN-K is unlikely to be part of the accord that GoI is keen to sign early. It is therefore yet to be seen when the final Naga Peace Accord will be signed, will the contents be made public, and will all Naga factions, particularly the NSCN (IM) abide by it or again raise the issue of separate constitution. China which illegally claims Arunachal Pradesh as 'South Tibet' will want India's northeast to remain destabilised. It is in the same context that the People's Democratic Council of Karbi Longri (PDCK), which is also part of ULF WSEA, has threatened to declare independence by 2022 and has asked Indian Army to leave the area.
Concurrently, two Manipur separatists have declared a government in exile in UK though the royals of Manipur have distanced themselves from this. By virtue of its pro-active sub-conventional activities, China has the upper hand in India's turbulent northeast. Within Myanmar, China has its deadly proxy in the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and also is linked to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), headed by a Pakistani national through Pakistan's ISI and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Paresh Barua, militant leader of ULFA too is based at Ruli in China. Ironically, India has made little effort to bridge the adverse asymmetry vis-à-vis China and Pakistan at the sub-conventional level. The aces in India's northeast therefore continue to be held by China.