The landmark peace accord signed by the government and the NSCN-IM on Monday came nearly 40 years after another similar treaty inked in Shillong that failed to establish peace and led to a fracturing of the Naga rebel movement.
On November 11, 1975, then Nagaland Governor L P Singh signed what came to be known as the "Shillong Accord" with six representatives of the Naga rebels in the capital of Meghalaya.
The ambiguous nature of the agreement--including a clause that said representatives of underground groups would have "reasonable time to formulate other issues for discussion for final settlement"--and the lack of support from hardline leaders like Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu meant that the Shillong Accord did not lead to lasting peace.
At the time, the Naga rebel movement had been weakened because China had stopped extending support to it and the creation of Bangladesh meant they could no longer seek shelter in the erstwhile East Pakistan.
The Naga National Council, which had been the predominant group for nearly four decades, splintered after several leaders refused to accept the Shillong Accord. In 1980, Muivah, Swu and SS Khaplang, a Hemi Naga from Myanmar, broke away and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).
With renewed backing from China and, according to some reports, Pakistan, the NSCN became the most lethal and feared insurgent group in the restive northeast till the emergence of the United Liberation Front of Asom in the 1980s.
But in 1988, the NSCN split into two--the IM faction led by Swu and Muivah and the K faction led by Khaplang. This led to bloody internecine clashes as both factions sought to establish their dominance in Nagaland.
The government established contacts with the NSCN-IM in the mid-1990s to explore the possibility of holding peace talks and Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao met Muivah and Swu in Paris in June 1995. Late Union minister Rajesh Pilot, an old northeast hand, played a key role in wooing the Naga rebels to the negotiating table.
This was followed by contacts by Rao's successor HD Deve Gowda and other senior government officials, mostly in Europe and Thailand, before the two sides agreed to a ceasefire in July 1997 to pave the way for talks.
The NSCN-K too agreed to a truce with the government and began peace talks in 2000. However, the group ended the truce earlier this year and launched a series of attacks on security forces, including an ambush in June in Manipur that killed 18 soldiers.
Though details of
inked on Monday are yet to emerge, it will be crucial to see how the NSCN-IM's key demands, including the creation of a Greater Nagaland, are handled under the agreement. Nagaland's neighbours such as Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have already expressed their opposition to the integration of Naga-inhabited areas into a Greater Nagaland.
The government's policy for tackling the NSCN-K--which along with Ulfa and several other militant groups is now part of the United Liberation Front of West South East Asia that has bases in Myanmar--will also be crucial for ensuring peace in Nagaland.