By M M Ali
When Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Union and de facto head of government in 1985, could anyone imagine that his radical reform would not save the Soviet Union from disintegration and bring an end to Soviet influence in Eastern Europe and collapse of some countries under the Warsaw pact.
Things that nobody would believe they could possibly see in their lifetime actually happened when the Berlin Wall collapsed. Countries under the Warsaw pact known as Eastern Bloc broke away from the treaty and opted for democracy and finally the USSR or the Soviet Union also disintegrated.
On the seventh year of Gorbachev’s rule things started happening at a rapid pace – one incident was superseding the other. The chain reaction of uprisings, demonstrations on the streets, the collapse of the old order was such that nothing more dramatic could be thought of.
Can it be called Gorbachev’s seven-year itch with the USSR and the Eastern Europe?
The seven-year itch is a term used to describe the point in time when happiness and connection in a relationship declines. Various studies and surveys reveal, it often occurs around the seventh year of marriage, leading the couple to disconnect emotionally and stray physically. Divorce rates are most common around the seven-year mark.
The term seven-year itch—referring to the supposed urge to stray from one’s marriage after seven years—entered into popular lexicon as a result of the success of American comedy film The Seven Year Itch. The film released in 1955, featured a memorable performance by Marilyn Monroe.
Will India meet the fate of USSR?
‘The USSR collapsed because of the failed Afghan war’, the diplomat wrote on January 8, 2019, quoting US president Donald Trump adding, ‘countries like India do not do enough for the mountainous country.’
Trump’s comment on India – US’ strategic partner -in a statement that links USSR’s collapse to its defeat in Afghanistan is significant and needs evaluation. Did he mean India after US withdrawal from Afghanistan is destined to have fate similar to that of USSR following the red army’s defeat in the mountainous country?
Trump must have his own reasoning for his statement, but what can be surmised is the likely change in the narrative and definition of terrorist and terrorism, which India had over the years manipulated to suppress freedom movements not only in occupied Jammu and Kashmir but also in places like Khalistan, the seven sisters in the north east.
Flag and Constitution core to Naga Peace
‘Less than a month after the Centre ended Jammu and Kashmir’s special status that allowed it to have its own Constitution and a flag, a Naga extremist group has for the first time said a ‘separate flag and Constitution’ were necessary for an ‘honourable solution’ to the 22-year old Naga peace process,’ reported The Hindu on august 25.
‘The Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) has in a letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi said any solution to the Naga political issue would be far from honourable if the core issues such as Naga flag and Constitution are yet to be agreed upon between the group and the Centre.
‘The letter followed former Intelligence Bureau officer RN Ravis’s statement that the Prime Minister had before his appointment as Nagaland’s Governor underscored the need to conclude the peace process within three months.
‘Mr Ravi was speaking at a civic reception in Nagaland’s capital Kohima on August 17 and allayed fears that the scrapping of Article 370 would cast a shadow on the peace process and the State.
‘The publicity wing of the NSCN(IM) said hopes were raised about a final solution to the peace process – it began when the outfit declared a ceasefire in July 1997 – when the Framework Agreement was signed on August 3, 2015. But there has been no headway in the three years since the agreement was signed, it said.
‘The Indian government has been going slow in taking a stand on the core issues compelling the group’s chairman Q Tuccu and general secretary Thingaleng Muivah to write to the Prime Minister about the doubt and confusion on whether an honourable political solution can be arrived at, the NSCN(IM) said.
‘This is in reference to the core issues like Naga flag and Constitution, which are yet to be agreed upon between the two parties. Without these two core issues solved, any solution would be far from honourable because Naga pride and identity is deeply entrenched here,’ the outfit said.
The Naga Insurgency
Nagaland one of the seven north eastern states of India, separated from mainland by the narrow Siliguri Corridor, has international border only with Myanmar on its east while surrounded by insurgency infested states of Assam in west, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in north, Manipur in south.
With an area of 16,579 sq km, the Nagas have a population of 1,980,602, of which 88 percent are Christians. Naga consisting of 17 major tribes and many smaller sub-tribes retain distinct local customs and dress. English is the official language and also the medium for education in Nagaland. Other than English, Nagamese, a creole language based on Assamese, is widely spoken.
The Nagas were united under Angami Zapu Phizo, who formed the Naga National Council (NNC) in 1947, shortly before India’s independence from Britain.
An initial nine-point agreement was signed in which Naga areas would be governed within the state of Assam for a period of ten years, during which time the Nagas were to be afforded limited powers and land rights. However, Phizo rejected the deal and declared independence for the Nagas, and the idea of Naga sovereignty spread through the tribes.
A referendum held in 1951, in which 99% living in Naga areas allegedly voted in favor of Independence, was rejected by the Indian government.
In the early 1950s, guerrilla warfare broke-out and violence escalated, with Naga insurgents raiding army and police outposts. The army launched a crackdown, enabled by the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in 1958, which remains in place today.
Phizo established a Naga Federal Government (NFG) and Naga Federal Army (NFA) in the mid-1950s, which replaced the NNC as the organizations at the forefront of the Naga uprising. India ceded some ground and allowed Nagaland to become a separate state in December 1963, while the NNC, NFG, and NFA were all labelled unlawful.
The first peace breakthrough came in 1975, when the Shillong accord was signed by the NNC, NFG, and the government, whereby the armed factions agreed to accept the Indian constitution and drop their demand for full independence, while agreeing to turn in their weapons to the authorities.
However, many Nagas were not satisfied and rejected the agreement. In 1980, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed to resume the armed struggle.
The NSCN split into two main factions in 1988 amid a leadership struggle and ideological dispute. Isak-Muivah continues with the NSCN-IM and SS Khaplang has the NSCN-K, based across the border in Myanmar’s northern Sagaing region.
The two NSCN factions remain dominant forces, with the NSCN-IM campaigning for an autonomous Naga region extended from Nagaland to include Naga-inhabited areas in the neighbouring states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur, while the NSCN-K seeks the inclusion of parts of Myanmar.
No result even after 22 years of peace talks
Peace talks between the government and the NSCN-IM began in 1997 after a ceasefire was signed. More than 80 rounds of talks have since been held. Dialogue led to a framework agreement being signed in august 2015 between Modi and NSCN-IM leader Muivah.
Talks continued with the NSCN-IM and six other Naga insurgent groups at the negotiating table, while the NSCN-K continued to fight on both sides of the border.
The 2015 framework agreement has been criticized as vague, and it does not seem to be all-encompassing, though few details or specifics have been made public.
What is known is that the framework accord aims to enhance recognition and acceptance of Naga history and culture, and is thought to be based on the concept of ‘shared sovereignty’ with some kind of ‘special status’ for Naga areas within the national constitution and administrative system.
However, India is opposed to ceding territory or altering the constitution, and is not open to re-drawing the boundaries of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, or Manipur.
This means the core NSCN-IM demand for full sovereignty or political autonomy over all Naga areas in northeast India, including areas in neighboring states, is unlikely to be met. Without such a settlement, it is hard to see how rebel leaders will be satisfied with a deal adhering to existing lines.
A second stumbling block to peace is that the powerful NSCN-K faction commanded by SS Khaplang remains excluded from the peace process and appears certain to reject any final deal signed by the NSCN-IM.
NSCN-K’s involvement in the negotiation is essential for a resolution to the Naga conflict in its totality. The NSCN-K envisions parts of the Sagaing area of northern Myanmar in a future cross-border Naga region. This further complicates the issue since Myanmar is not prepared to give up any of its territory.
Myanmar’s attempt to engage NSCN-K through its own state-led peace process called the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) aims to end multiple long-running insurgencies in volatile border regions of the country, which similarly to the conflicts in northeast India, were sparked after Myanmar secured independence from Britain.
The India-Myanmar joint crackdown on the NSCN-Kin recent months has made a peace breakthrough in Sagaing a bleak prospect. Other, smaller Naga armed units on the Indian side of the border may also reignite their armed campaigns if they are not satisfied with the outcome of the NSCN-IM dialogue. The splintered nature of the movement is a barrier to peace.
Peace accord signed but not finalised
Since the 1950s in India’s remote northeast, ethnic Naga insurgents along the border with Myanmar have fought the central government for either full independence or greater autonomy.
During this period, the Naga movement for a separate state outside the Indian Union experienced splits, infighting, violence against state, failed peace agreements and a succession of fragile ceasefires to contain major outbreaks of violence.
The framework peace accord signed between the government and the NSCN-IM in 2015 following 80 rounds of talks during the last 20 years is yet to be finalised.
Yet four years on, the deal has still not been finalized and frustration is rising. Despite the delay, there is concern that the aspirations of the NSCN-IM and other factions may not be satisfied.
Question arises whether, the core issue at the heart of the insurgency – the desire for a territorially-expanded Naga region covering areas in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and possibly also in northern Myanmar – will be resolved?
By M M Ali