India Signs Peace Deal With Nagaland Rebel Faction

By Altaf Ahmad
2015.08.03
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150803-IN-nagaland-620.jpg Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (center, left) appears with Thuingaleng Muivah (center, right), general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah, for the signing of a peace accord in New Delhi, Aug. 3, 2015.
Prime Minister's Office

In a bid to end an insurgency in the northeastern state of Nagaland, the Indian government on Monday signed a peace treaty with the biggest separatist group there, culminating a process that began with the signing of a ceasefire agreement nearly two decades ago.

Leaders of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland - Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) signed the accord in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other top Indian officials at his official residence in New Delhi.

“The Naga political issue had lingered for six decades, taking a huge toll on generations of our people,” Modi said in a speech following the signing, according to a transcript released by the prime minister’s office.

“I sincerely thank Shri Isak Swu, Shri Muivah and other Naga leaders for their wisdom and courage, for their efforts and cooperation, which has resulted in this historic agreement.”

“Today, we mark not merely the end of a problem, but the beginning of a new future,” he went on to say. “We will not only try to heal wounds and resolve problems, but also be your partner as you restore your pride and prestige.”

However, neither the government nor the NSCN-IM have publicized the pact’s contents so far.

More militant faction not on board

The Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland has been fighting since 1980 to establish a “greater Nagaland” for indigenous Naga tribespeople who inhabit the northeastern state by that name as well as neighboring states in India and Myanmar.

But a more militant faction of the rebel group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang (NSCN-K), was not a party to Monday’s historic agreement. The faction has launched a series of attacks on Indian forces since April, when it broke a 14-month-old ceasefire with the Indian government.

The NSCN-IM, in contrast, has not engaged in violence for several years.

On Monday, one of its top two leaders, Thuingaleng Muivah, said the government and Nagas were entering a "new relationship with great challenges ahead,” the Deccan Herald reported.

While thanking Modi, Muivah said "Nagas will forever remember you for your statesmanship,” according to NDTV.

‘Treaty must cover Naga inhabited areas in Manipur’

According to one expert, the accord could help end long-running conflicts in India’s northeast, because the NSCN-IM is the strongest among Nagaland’s insurgents groups.

“It’s a historic pact in my opinion. The accord should now be extended to Nagas who are living mostly in the violence-infested Akrol and Chandel districts of Manipur,” Professor Prasenjit Biswas, who teaches at North Eastern Hill University in Shillong and is an expert on the restive northeast, told BenarNews.

“Also, the union government should immediately transfer adequate resources to the state in an effort to achieve overall development, especially in insurgency-hit, ignored areas of Nagaland, to win the trust of the Naga people.”

That trust, according to him, will depend upon the goodwill of armed forces because recent violence in Mon district, in eastern Nagaland, brought a certain kind of distrust.

“There should be a complete cessation of any kind of armed war to help restore peace in the region,” Biswas said.

Nagas optimistic

Meanwhile, people in Nagaland reacted positively to news of the deal’s signing, by expressing hope that peace and development would finally come to their region.

“It is a good move and I’m hopeful that the Modi government will spare no efforts in roping in other insurgent groups to end violence in the state,” Akhum Yimthunger, a social worker in the city of Dimapur, told BenarNews by phone.

“As NSCN-IM is the strongest rebel group in Nagaland, it should convince other insurgent groups to give up violence and initiate the peace process with the government,” he added.

He also called on state authorities to revoke the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) of 1958, which is in force there and other states dealing with insurgencies. The act empowers security forces to make warrant-less arrests and shoot any suspect, among other powers.

“The move has come to the respite of the people of Nagaland, who have been reeling under violence for past many years. I hope this will help end violence and bloodshed,” Ramjikhiung, a high school student from the region, told BenarNews.

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