The Naga insurgency is one of the oldest insurgencies plaguing the South Asian region. It is also one that is prone to tribal divisions, armed factionalism and internecine killings. Rebel leaders have failed to keep their ethnic and political differences at bay, resulting in several splits within the armed movement. In 1975, when the Naga National Council (NNC) signed the Shillong Peace Accord, Muivah, Swu and Khaplang, then members of the NNC, disagreed with the accord and broke away to form the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980. Differences then cropped up between Swu, Muivah and Khaplang in the 1980s leading to a violent altercation in the Patkai hills. This led to a split in 1988 in the NSCN with two new factions being formed: the NSCN (IM) and the NSCN (Khaplang). In 2007, the NSCN (IM) witnessed a split when Azetho Chophy, a Sema leader of the outfit broke away and formed the NSCN (Unification). This group later formed a strategic linkage with the NSCN (Khaplang).
The latest split occurred in 2011 with the break up of the NSCN (Khaplang). Kitovi Zhimoni, the Kilonser (Prime Minister) of the NSCN (Khaplang) faction, and Khole Konyak, a senior leader of the outfit, broke away to form a new group called NSCN (Khole and Kitovi). This new faction has now asserted that the Union Government should engage it in peace talks given its representative character in Nagaland. This posture has evoked hostile responses from the other two main rival armed factions: the NSCN (IM) and NSCN (Khaplang). In May 2012, the NSCN (IM) refused to take part in a Naga reconciliation meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand as a protest against any future plausible engagement in peace talks between the Union government and the NSCN (Khole and Kitovi) faction. On June 15, the NSCN (Khaplang) publicly cautioned the Union government from engaging with the (Khole and Kitovi) faction in a statement given out by its self-styled Information and Publicity Minister, Wangtin Naga.
This factional spilt has charged the atmosphere in Nagaland in recent months with the possibility of backsliding to the factional violence of the 1990s. There are fears that the NSCN (Khaplang) and NSCN (Khole and Kitovi) will clash violently in big towns like Dimapur and districts like Mon for turf control since both outfits inhabit the same territorial space.
The split has also agitated the NSCN (IM). There are two specific reasons for their unease. First, unlike Khaplang, who does not enjoy similar local clout like Muivah due to the former’s origins in Myanmar, Khole and Kitovi are local Naga leaders from Mon district of Nagaland. Consequently, the latter duo could pose a serious challenge to the NSCN (IM) on its home turf, given that their local roots enable greater social acceptance and provide legitimacy to their claim that they represent local Naga aspirations. Therefore, their demand to be included in the Naga peace dialogue with the Union government holds far more weight than that of the NSCN (Khaplang) faction. Second, there is a likelihood that the Union government is willing to engage with the Khole and Kitovi faction in peace talks, which would mean that the NSCN (IM) stands in danger of losing its privileged position as the sole representative of the Naga people in formal peace talks.
The end result of the latest split is that the process of Naga conflict resolution has taken a step backward. Earlier this year, the Chairman of the NSCN (IM), Isak Chisi Swu, had stated that final resolution to the decades-old Naga conflict is not far-off. That momentum has got derailed now. What is perhaps most tragic is the fact that the Naga reconciliation process, which was given a serious boost by the Joint Forum of Goanburahs (Village headmen) andDoiabashis (Village elders) or the JFGBDB, is in danger of being sidelined. It was the JFGBDB that had requested a cease-fire between the NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) on July 24, 2007, which was largely successful in bringing down violence in Naga inhabited areas. This informal peace process at the societal level can be challenged by renewed factional fighting.
While one can argue that Naga society itself is based on ethnic differences between the several Naga groups, the fact of the matter is that the same Naga society has been trying its utmost to bring about reconciliation and curtail violence. The rebel leaders should therefore realize that common people are tired of inter-factional violence. Muivah and Swu need to urgently talk to rival leaders like Khole and Kitovi through forums like the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) if they are serious about peace and development in Naga inhabited areas. Furthermore, if the Union government’s counter-insurgency policy is based on further divisions of Naga armed groups as the best way to weaken the Naga armed movement and bring about resolution, it is a policy that is bound to fail. The Naga conflict itself has shown that divisions in the armed groups have led to a protraction of conflict with no resolution in sight.
Only a commitment to reconcile the armed groups, both through formal and informal channels, can bring about a peaceful resolution to the Naga armed conflict and quell factional violence. Towards this end, besides the formal peace negotiations between the Union government and the Naga armed outfits, informal structures like the FNR have a major role to play.
** Article was orginally published on June 29, 2012
**Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at [http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/NagaArmedFactionalismBacktoCentreStageOnceAgain_NamrataGoswami_290612]