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Bumpy road ahead for peace in Nagaland

After the Bangkok meeting, New Delhi faces bigger challenges in preparing a definite road map to address core issues related to Nagaland before the truce expires in six months.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2006 22:00 IST
Syed Zarir Hussain (IANS)
Syed Zarir Hussain (IANS)

Indian officials may be celebrating after convincing Naga separatist leaders to extend their nine-year-old ceasefire until July 31. But the road to peace in Nagaland could prove to be bumpy.

After the Bangkok meeting between Indian negotiators and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), New Delhi faces bigger challenges in preparing a definite road map to address core issues related to Nagaland before the truce expires in six months.

The NSCN-IM adopted a belligerent posture this time in staggered talks lasting four days in the Thai capital.

The group, led by guerrilla leaders Thuingaleng Muivah, refused to agree to a ceasefire extension beyond Jan 31 unless the Indian government consented to meet their demands within a definite timeframe.

Indian Minister Oscar Fernandes and New Delhi's chief negotiator K Padmanabhaiah led the government side at Bangkok.

The scheduled two-day talks failed and the two sides took two extra days before the rebels agreed for a six-month ceasefire extension.

At one stage, the NSCN-IM even threatened to return to war by pulling out of the truce signed in 1997 if New Delhi failed to come up with a firm commitment.

For now, the government has clinched one more ceasefire extension.

A joint statement signed by NSCN general secretary Muivah and Padmanabhaiah Tuesday stated: "Both sides recognise that there has been insufficient progress in the talks."

It was therefore decided to carry the political negotiations forward taking "new initiatives".

The question is: whether New Delhi's strategy of buying time and extending the truce can really solve the problem?

The Nagas are clearly getting restive, and the rebels' adamant posturing is enough indication that they believe the government is having a game plan: drag the peace process without a concrete plan or agenda.

The NSCN-IM, one of the oldest and most powerful of about 30 rebel groups in India's northeast, wants to create a "Greater Nagaland" by slicing off parts of three neighbouring states which have Naga populations.

The governments of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh states have already rejected the demand. Will it be easy for New Delhi then to concede to the Naga demand?

The answer is known to both New Delhi and NSCN-IM -- it would be a tough proposition as any move to merge Naga-inhabited areas in the northeast could lead to a rebellion in the neighbouring states.

The NSCN-IM is also on a sticky wicket. After having climbed down from their demand seeking an independent Naga homeland outside the Indian union, the rebel leadership now is harping on the theme of "Greater Nagaland".

"There is no option left other than demanding a 'Greater Nagaland'. The NSCN-IM leadership too is answerable to its people and their cadres," an analyst said.

Indian officials believe that unless the Naga insurgency, the country's longest running, is resolved, peace will permanently escape the northeast.

So it is New Delhi that has to come up with some formula to resolve the impasse. Or else July 31, when the truce expires, could bury Nagaland's peace.

First Published: Feb 04, 2006 22:00 IST