A new round of Naga talks is encouraging
Thursday marked the beginning of a fresh effort when new interlocutor AK Sharma met the leadership of the NSCN (IM).
When the Naga peace talks began in 1997, the hopes of resolving Asia’s oldest insurgency appeared dim. The differences seemed intractable. Naga groups wanted a so-called Greater Nagalim, which included Naga-speaking parts of other states and Myanmar, and wanted sovereignty with separate symbols. New Delhi was clear that neither was possible, but kept the door open for a compromise – accepting arguments in favour of a distinct identity and greater autonomy, and allowing the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) to operate informally in some regions.
This strategy worked to an extent, the hold of the insurgency weakened over the years, the influence of the elected government rose, and in 2015, a framework agreement was reached. But in recent years, talks appear to be stuck at an impasse. Despite hopeful noises in the run-up to the 2019 deadline, no pact was signed, and a spat between then Nagaland governor RN Ravi and the NSCN (IM) complicated matters further. Of course, differing perceptions on the demands of a separate constitution, flag and Greater Nagalim, as well as possible frustration over the lengthy negotiations, played a role.
Thursday marked the beginning of a fresh effort when new interlocutor AK Sharma met the leadership of the NSCN (IM). Though little detail is publicly available it is encouraging that both sides were willing to come back to the negotiating table despite bitterness. The geopolitical dynamics in the region are also rapidly changing — and a more belligerent China is in a position to exercise greater influence in the region via a pliable Myanmar. Against this backdrop, the goodwill and momentum of this fresh beginning must be utilised to break the logjam and move quickly to an agreement.