While the peace initiative with the NSCN (IM) is inching towards a final settlement, mysterious absence of a top insurgent leader from the ambit of talks has started to raise many eyebrows.

Sources said Phungting Shimrang, former commander-in-chief of NSCN (IM), who was always a key member in every round of talks, went missing during the final round in October last year.

The final round of talks was “extremely crucial” for NSCN (IM) because R.N. Ravi, the interlocutor of the peace process, had announced to complete the process by October 31, 2019.

Soon, a section of media reported that Phungting Shimrang was not happy with New Delhi’s carrot-and-stick approach, and had gone to Yunnan province in China with two of his most trusted lieutenants.

The reports claimed Phungting Shimrang, a NSCN (IM) Steering Committee member, was trying to talk to the Chinese authorities for “aid in their fight against India”.

Interestingly, Thuingaleng Muivah, ato-kilonsar (Prime Minister) of NSCN (IM) neither confirmed, nor contradicted the media reports on the mysterious absence of the top insurgent leader.

Though the exact terms and conditions of the agreement have not been disclosed, sources said one of the key demands of NSCN (IM) for granting of “autonomy” to the Nagas of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh has been accepted.

Knowing it well that a separate flag and constitution may not turn into reality, Muivah still has kept all the doors open with New Delhi to finalise the final modalities for a peace agreement.

On January 18, Muivah and a group of NSCN (IM) leaders met RN Ravi at the Police Complex in Chumukedima and submitted their “competencies” and a Naga “integration map”.

If Muivah is still complying with New Delhi’s peace initiative, why he is silent on Phungting Shimrang’s move to open up with China?

This is the most serious question which is now troubling every peace-loving people in Nagaland.  

People in Nagaland are of the opinion that Muivah is still keeping his options open, and Phungting Shimrang is the protagonist of his multi-pronged strategy.

At the crucial juncture, NSCN (IM)’s management of dissent is a well oiled strategy, and is agreed and approved by Muivah, informed sources closely following the peace development, said.

People in Nagaland believe Muivah has one of the finest political brains of northeast, and has learnt a lot of lessons from the failure of the Shillong Accord, which was signed in 1975.  

Muivah, the tallest NSCN (IM) leader, has a definite exit plan, and would not like to repeat Phizo’s mistakes.

In fact, it was Thuingaleng Muivah, Isak Chisi Swu and S S Khaplang who had termed Phizo as a “traitor” after the Shillong Accord, and had subsequently laid the foundation of the NSCN in early 1980s.  

If Phungting Shimrang continues to be away from the path of final peace settlement, Muivah can use him sprucely to tell New Delhi that “hardliners” of NSCN (IM) are “unhappy” and are now looking at China.

Moreover, if Phungting Shimrang leads the “hardliner” group, Muivah will not be branded as a “traitor” if the peace agreement is not “respectable enough”.

But, the NSCN (IM) leadership is confident that New Delhi is always caught nervous when China gets involved with insurgent outfits of northeast.  

Phungting Shimrang in an interview to The Week in April, 2017, had said that their movement was always suppressed as an “internal problem”’, and New Delhi only after cadres had reached China in 1966.

During the course of 23 year-long peace initiative with New Delhi, the NSCN (IM) always tried to maintain a concealed relationship with China.

On January 25, 2011, Wang Qing, a Chinese spy disguised as a TV reporter, was arrested and deported after she reportedly visited the NSCN (IM) headquarters in Nagaland.

Qing was a spy for the People’s Security Bureau, a Chinese intelligence agency, and had a four-hour-long, closed-door meeting with Thuingaleng Muivah.

In October 2010, Anthony Shimray, the commander-in-chief of NSCN (IM) was arrested for gun-running, and had strong connections with Chinese agencies.

Shimray had reportedly confessed that Muivah had written a letter to senior Chinese intelligence officials to formally appoint Kholose Swu Sumi as the permanent representative of the NSCN (IM) in China.

Muivah, according to reports, went to China three times, and has always been smart to play the China card against New Delhi.

But, New Delhi, and especially the interlocutor of Naga talks, R.N. Ravi have also mounted a counter-pressure on NSCN (IM), and especially Thuingaleng Muivah.

The NIA was quick enough to establish a terror-funding case against Pungting Shirmrang alias James Jamir.

On December 17, Alemla Jamir, wife of Pungting Shirmrang was detained at Domestic Airport (T-1) in New Delhi, with a cash of Rs 72 lakh, and was later arrested.

Alemla Jamir reportedly told the NIA that she was carrying the cash to Nagaland on the instructions of Icrak Muivah, the wife of Thuingaleng Muivah.

Based on Alemla’s confession, NIA teams conducted raids in multiple places in New Delhi, Dimapur and Imphal and claimed to have seized ammunition of prohibited bores, bullet-proof jackets and several documents to establish the terror-funding case.   

Meanwhile, there are reports that another top NSCN (IM) commander Hangshi Ramson Tangkhul is now hiding with about 400 cadres in a camp at the Somra Tracts in Myanmar.

Tangkhul was entrusted with the responsibility to shift a large number of weapons to Somra. He is also “wanted” by the NIA.

Caught in the terror-funding mess, it remains to be seen what new strategy Thuingaleng Muivah now adopts for his “respectable” peace settlement with New Delhi.  

Anirban Roy

Anirban Roy is Editor-in-Chief of Northeast Now. He can be reached at: editor@nenow.in