Naga leaders with RN Ravi
File photo of Naga leaders including NSCN(IM) general secretary Th. Muivah and Naga peace talks interlocutor RN Ravi. Image credit - Twitter

Below is a summary of the discussion that took place in the “Global Order” webinar “Rebuilding Trust in the Indo-Naga Peace Process” on March 14, 2022, between the below-mentioned participants. The initiative was taken by Jaideep Saikia, Guwahati Based Conflict Analyst to virtually convene the webinar.

The Recommendations were made during the discussion to restore confidence in the talks which broke down in 2020 and restarted in late 2021, with the appointment of a new interlocutor, A.K. Mishra.

Views have been offered in personal capacities only, and do not represent the official positions of organisations to which the participants are affiliated. Furthermore, the webinar was held with the express hope that the recommendations could help the Government of India in its future parleys with NSCN (IM).

The webinar was moderated by Alex Waterman, University of Leeds, UK and Gopal K. Pillai, Lt Gen (Retd Dr. K. Himalay Singh and  Jaideep Saikia participated as panelists.

Lessons from the “Ravi Era” of Dialogue (2014-2021):

  • Keep the negotiations and negotiators low-key, away from the front pages where possible. Hype, continual promises of imminent peace, condemnation and public spats have characterized post-2015 negotiation politics.
  • When it is unavoidable that major positive developments attract publicity (i.e., concessions, positive review of talks), ensure that momentum is maintained with carefully-sequenced follow-ups. The hype following the 2015 Framework Agreement which was not made public, and the slow progress thereafter eroded faith and created the perception that it served as a delaying tactic.
  • Avoid complicating interlocutor responsibilities. R.N. Ravi’s appointment of as Governor of Nagaland placed his constitutional responsibilities at odds with maintaining good-faith relations with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim–Isaac-Muivah (NSCN (IM)).

Pressures and Timeframe

  • NSCN (IM) may be positioned to extract negotiating leverage from the recent breakdown in talks, exploiting both a) the renewed regional instability in Myanmar/India-China boundary and b) political and civil society pressure as leverage to obtain concessions.
  • Resist pressures to secure a quick fix. Time, space and sustained dialogue is necessary to rebuild trust in the Indo-Naga relationship. Years, not months, should be the expected timeframe.
  • At the same time, do not drag out negotiations excessively. While a ‘peace dividend’ has decreased the risk of a full mobilization/return to the jungle, any future changes to the NSCN (IM)’s post-Muivah leadership may risk a more belligerent position. NSCN (IM)remains a large, active militant organization able to shape ground-level law and order realities, whether extortion-related or active operations in contested areas of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh. Perceptions of a Kautilya-esque strategy of wearing out insurgencies undermine the spirit of goodwill and honourable solution.

Confidence-Building Measures (CBM) and Negotiating Goals

  • Appointing a new interlocutor is a positive CBM, but an early step. Patience will be required in rebuilding trust.
  • Begin by reviewing the existing 31-point charter of demands, focusing on reaffirming existing progress on non-territorial issues.
  • Then prioritize issues such as autonomy in the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur and the workings of a Pan-Naga body. The ‘Flag and Constitution’ are likely to remain on the table until other contentious issues, such as the extent of autonomy in the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur and the workings of a Pan-Naga body, are fleshed out.
  • Finally, move to the ‘Flag and Constitution’ issue. While a ‘Constitution’ will be unacceptable to negotiators, innovative solutions to the ‘flag’ could be explored. While events in Kashmir have restricted the negotiating space, a provincial flag is not legally prohibited, provided it is subordinate to the Union flag in official settings.

Building Trust with Wider Stakeholders

  • Confidence-Building Measures should be seen as interventions into a delicate ecosystem of actors– not just to repair bilateral relations with the NSCN (IM).
  • Transparency is vital to keep the wider array of stakeholders on board.
  • Establish a Task Force to rework the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Bill 2021.A revised bill could redress longstanding inequalities in land purchase rights, presents an opportunity to equitably distribute power and lay the basis for connecting with a Naga “Autonomy Plus” deal even as it assuages the concerns of the Manipur Valley.
  • A phased, district-specific withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AF (SP) A) will build confidence with stakeholders in Nagaland and build support. Drawing on the precedent set by AF (SP) A’s 2004 withdrawal from the Imphal Municipal Area, a district-specific withdrawal can ensure retention in strategically sensitive border areas (such as Mon) while building the requisite momentum to move beyond the Constitution and Flag deadlock.
  • The webinar can be viewed by accessing:

https://www.globalorder.live/post/rebuilding-trust-in-the-indo-naga-peace-process

Jaideep Saikia

Jaideep Saikia is a well-known terrorism and conflict analyst. He can be reached at jdpsaikia@gmail.com.