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Sustained dialogue key to Naga peace accord

The ice on the Naga peace process has started melting with the resumption of the stalled negotiations.

Naga peace accord

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  22 April 2022 3:08 AM GMT

The ice on the Naga peace process has started melting with the resumption of the stalled negotiations. The Central Government has walked an extra mile to conclude the dialogue and sign a peace accord. The Centre's Interlocutor AK Mishra visiting the Hebron Camp of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) and holding a discussion with NSCN(M)'s General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah is a significant development. It is for the first time an interlocutor of the Government of India has held an "informal" discussion with NSCN(IM) in the outfit's headquarters at Camp Hebron, about 40 km off Dimapur, ever since the talks began in 1997. Although the discussion details have been kept under wrap, hopes for an expeditious solution have brightened after over two-and-a-half years of uncertainty. Mishra's visit to Nagaland follows Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, Deputy Chief Minister Y Patton and former Chief Minister T R. Zeliang calling on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah and apprising them about the stalemate in the peace process. The peace process stumbled on the barrier posed by widening the gap between the previous interlocutor and then Nagaland Governor RN Ravi and the NSCN(IM). While Ravi claimed that the talks were concluded, the NSCN(IM) ruled out any solution without a separate flag and a separate constitution for Nagas. Elections to Nagaland Assembly are due early next year and ruling parties in the state are pushing for the signing of the final peace accord well ahead of elections to avoid constitutional complexities. The political leadership is apprehensive over the possibility of the new government being elected having required to quit power to pave the implementation of the accord. Such a possibility is not ruled out if it is signed after the conclusion of the election process, resulting in constitutional complexities besides colossal wastage of taxpayers' money in conducting the elections to elect a new government. The hurdle before the final peace accord is that the NSCN(IM) and the Naga National Political Groups (NNPG)- a conglomerate of seven rebel groups holding parallel negotiations with the Central Government have failed to reach a consensus on the contour of the final peace accord. The Central Government has adopted a correct approach of signing only one peace accord as the exclusion of any rebel group from it will only keep alive one of the oldest armed conflicts in Asia and permanent peace in Naga-inhabited areas will remain a mere illusion. The NSCN(IM)'s insistence on the integration of Naga-inhabited areas is not supported by the NNPG as the latter believes that physical integration of these areas of Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Manipur is not feasible in the present context. The dilemma before the Central Government is that it cannot ignore the organisational strength and influence of NSCN (IM) and geo-strategic ramifications in the neighbourhood if the peace process breaks down. Such complexities have prevented the Central government from rushing to a conclusion and, therefore, staying engaged to iron out the differences across the table remains the best option. The government extending the ceasefire agreement with NSCN(IM) and two other NSCN factions for a further period of one year indicates that peace talks may continue to drag for a longer period than anticipated by different stakeholders. With Myanmar witnessing political turmoil and rebel groups of the Northeast including NSCN(IM) and other factions having their bases in the neighbouring country, India needs to take cautious steps to prevent anti-India forces from muddying the waters. With the peace talks dragging on for 25 years, the patience of the Naga people is also running out as the intractable conflict has sabotaged their dream of a peaceful and prosperous life. Initiatives by Naga civil society groups for reconciliation among the rebel groups have not produced the desired result. The initiative needs to be sustained to convince all rebel groups to sit across a table and reach a consensus. Naga people understanding the practical difficulty before the Central government in offering piecemeal solutions and singing separate peace accords is critical to making sustained efforts for reconciliation among the rebel groups. Mishra's task will be easier if Naga civil society groups can convince NSCN(IM) and NNPG to come together and agree on the final draft of the peace accord that they will be able to place jointly before the Central government. It is also important that Naga civil society express their clear opinion about the thorny issues and not shy away from it so that the writing on the wall is clearer for the negotiators. It will be naïve to wish away the complexities in the process, but negotiators require an innovative approach to articulate and fine-tune solutions to address the complicated issues which are at the core of the protracted conflict. All stakeholders focusing on sustaining the dialogue will keep alive hope for the signing of the final accord at the earliest.

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