The gunning down of at least seven NSCN-K ultras in an encounter with the Indian army in galand’s Tuensang district on Friday indicates how fluid the situation is on the ground. The firefight occurred at Pangasha after a group of militants travelling in two vehicles were flagged down at an army checkpost. This comes in the backdrop of the Centre’s attempts to contact the outfit’s leadership in Myanmar, though ypyidaw has been reportedly cool to these overtures. At the prodding of galand chief minister T R Zeliang, the Union Home ministry had recently given security clearance to a 16-member ga delegation to travel to Myanmar to hold talks with NSCN-K supremo SS Khaplang. Consisting of representatives of ga Hoho, Eastern galand People’s Organisation (ENPO) and other ga civil society groups, the delegation plans to convince NSCN (K) leaders to resume ceasefire talks with New Delhi. Now the Myanmar government’s stand-offish attitude has been ascribed to the fiasco over the Indian army’s hot pursuit of NSCN-K ultras in June last deep inside Myanmar territory. After Myanmar’s intertiol image took a beating thanks to chest-thumping by some Union ministers in India, ypyidaw remained silent last month when New Delhi made a formal request seeking custody of Khaplang and his three lieutents Niki Sumi, Kirichu and Asang. These four leaders are believed to have masterminded the outfit’s deadly strike in Manipur’s Chandel district that took out 18 soldiers. Khaplang has however strengthened his position after signing a pact with the Myanmar government, securing virtual autonomy for the NSCN-K in Sagaing region in the neighbouring country’s north-west. Keeping his headquarters just out of reach of the Indian army, Khaplang is said to be plotting more mayhem, which explains the army’s continuing operations.
The peace pact signed on August 3 last between the rendra Modi government and the NSCN(IM) leadership has been shrouded in such secrecy that even other NSCN factions appear clueless. This has led to much confusion on the ground, with the Central government’s interlocutor RN Ravi visiting galand to push the accord to other NSCN faction leaders. Even NSCN(KK) leaders Khole Konyak and N Kitovi Zhimomi have expressed dissatisfaction at the ‘sidelining’ of other ga groups as the Centre ‘deals with only one group’. With around 10,000 active members including armed cadres, the NSCN(KK) is the largest NSCN faction with Khole and Kitovi long used by New Delhi to open channels of communication with other ga outfits. Meanwhile, the ga tiol Council (NNC), the oldest among ga outfits, rejected the peace pact earlier this month by harping on ‘ga sovereignty’, saying the pact will sow ‘further division and distrust among the gas’. Is the NNC taking a hardline position now as a bargaining strategy, being the origil sigtory of the 1975 Shillong Accord which triggered the birth of the NSCN and its subsequent violent campaign? As for the NSCN (IM) itself, news of it recruiting around 1,000 fresh cadre from its stronghold Tuensang, Dimapur and parts of eastern galand, is definitely a cause for worry. Militant outfits signing peace accords are not allowed to recruit fresh cadre, and the Central government professes to be in the dark over such moves by the NSCN(IM). The outfit however claims that the youths are joining ‘voluntarily’ and will not be given arms training. If the NSCN(IM) becomes a political group soon, or if it wants its cadres to join army or paramilitary battalions as promised by the Centre — this move might be understood. But if it signifies flexing of muscles to deter other groups from challenging its pre-eminence, then difficult days may lie in store for galand in the near future.