New Delhi and the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) ended 10 years of ceasefire on Tuesday with a slight change in the script. Instead of setting a timeframe as in the past, both parties agreed to an indefinite extension of the ceasefire.
A high-level Central team led by Union labour minister Oscar Fernandes arrived in Dimapur—Nagaland’s commercial hub bordering Assam—Tuesday morning by a special flight for the umpteenth round of the “Indo-Naga” peace talks. It was the first on Naga soil, the earlier ones held either in New Delhi or abroad.
With the Centre-NSCN (I-M) ceasefire expiring on Tuesday—it started a decade ago on August 1, 1997—uncertainty had shrouded the peace talks. More so, with the NSCN (I-M) leadership threatening to “return to the jungles” if nothing concrete came out of the talks “heading nowhere”.
The acrimony, however, was missing during Tuesday’s talks that lasted over two hours at the Dimapur circuit house. “The meeting was cordial and there was free and fair exchanges,” said “general” VS Atem, the NSCN (I-M)’s emissary after the talks. “In keeping with our agenda of peace, we have agreed not to put a time cap on the ceasefire.”
The two sides also agreed on strengthening the mechanism to monitor the ground rules of the ceasefire. NSCN (I-M) members have often been accused of violating the ground rules, which includes carrying arms outside their designated camps.
Atem was one of the NSCN (I-M)’s top three—the other two were chairman Isak Chishi Swu and general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah—who took part in the talks. And other than Fernandes, chief interlocutor K Padmanabhaiah, Union Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta and Intelligence Bureau chief Ajit Doval represented the Centre.
Though neither party disclosed much about the factors leading to the indefinite extension of the ceasefire, security analysts said it could be a face-saving strategy to tide over the anger among the Nagas vis-à-vis the peace process without any settlement in view.
One of the major stumbling blocks in the peace process is the NSCN (I-M)’s “Greater Nagaland” demand that envisages bringing all Naga-inhabited areas under one administrative unit. This has led to frictions between Nagaland and her three northeastern neighbours—Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur.
Notably, the Indo-Naga conflict began soon after India’s independence. The NSCN was formed in 1980 after a failed reconciliation move in the mid-1970s. In 1988, the NSCN split into the Isak-Muivah and Khaplang groups, and the two have been at each other’s throats since. The NSCN (I-M) declared ceasefire in July 1997 and the NSCN (K) followed suit in 2000.
Truce with the Nagas is believed to be crucial to a broader peace in oil and tea-rich Northeast.