- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C., India, Feb. 12 (UPI) — The longest-running insurgency in India is in and around the northeastern state of Nagaland. Its origins go back half a century to the mid-1950s when A.Z. Phizo hoisted a flag in his ancestral village and launched a brutal insurrection that took several years to quell.

In 1960, an agreement was reached between the bulk of the insurgents and New Delhi, but the depredations of the discontents continued. For the past several decades, the insurgency has been led by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, or NSCN. Since the late 1980s it has split into two major factions, the NSCN-IM led by Isaac Swu and the NSCN-K led by T. Muivah.

This insurgency is not only the longest running in the country, it is also called "the Mother of all Insurgencies" for the patronage it extends to almost any group in the northeast that targets the unity and integrity of India.

India is heaving a collective sigh of relief because the two leaders of the NSCN-IM have come to New Delhi after several years spent outside the country to talk peace with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his key aides. Although it is close on six years since India and the NSCN-IM agreed to a cease-fire, precious little has been done on the political front to convert the cease-fire agreement of 1997 into a political settlement.

Indeed, till now the talks with the NSCN-IM have been handled by a former bureaucrat who has neither a political mandate nor the required political standing to hammer out an agreement with the other side. The talks in New Delhi are the first at a political level and they are aimed at a political settlement.

While that is welcome, every indication is that the goal is far off and will take quite a while to reach. Thus, immediately after their first meeting with the prime minister, IM praised Vajpayee for his "maturity" but insisted that establishing a state of Nagalim, or Greater Nagaland, constituted their minimum demand.

They added that the war between "India" and the "Nagas" was over but peace would be contingent on India agreeing to the secession of the state of Nagaland and adjoining Naga-inhabited areas in the three other states which neighbor Nagaland. It was a bit like the Confederates announcing the end of the American Civil War subject to the Union accepting their minimum demand that the United States of America be broken up!

The number of Indian Nagas is well over a million yet the number of Naga insurgents runs to a few hundred or, at most, a couple of thousand. But these well-armed militants have held Nagaland to such ransom over so long — through the exercise of kidnappings, extortion, illegal exactions, arson, looting and murder — that the yearning for peace is palpable all over Nagaland.

That is why the chief minister of Nagaland, S.C. Jamir, has been persistent in his demand for a negotiated settlement even though he is the main target of terrorist attacks by the IM. He has persisted with this demand for peace despite an ambush by the IM two years ago that resulted in his chauffeur and many members of his security detail being killed.

Jamir himself had a miraculous escape. But instead of pledging himself to revenge in the "Wanted Dead or Alive" practiced by President George W, Bush, Jamir has consistently maintained that a political dialogue must be initiated with his assailants to arrive at a political settlement. He has stuck to his demand for negotiations even though the IM have repeatedly violated the cease-fire conditions and used the military pause to strengthen themselves in several ways, including spreading their network of mayhem wherever in the northeast they smell trouble.

The states bordering Nagaland have had to bear the brunt of the NSCN-IM exploiting the breathing space provided by the cease-fire in Nagaland proper to extend their tentacles into the hills beyond. With IM insisting that a settlement include the ceding of Naga-inhabited territories to a Greater Nagaland, the territorial integrity of these states has been brought into question. They are, therefore, insisting that no settlement with the NSCN be made over their heads by the Union government. The IM, on the other hand, are targeting not only the "Naga" areas of India but also a vast swathe of neighboring Burma, also known as Myanmar, that they claim for Nagalim.

Clearly then a political settlement is a long way off. There will have to be agonized talks stretching over months, perhaps years, before the required compromises are reached. It is a process that should have begun shortly after the cease-fire was concluded the better part of six years ago.

If this process has finally started, it has a lot to do with the upcoming elections to the state assembly of Nagaland this month.

When similar elections were held five years ago, the IM called on the voters of Nagaland to boycott them to show that they wanted to be no part of an "Indian" political process. But this call for a boycott backfired on the IM. In very large numbers, the voters of Nagaland poured out of their homes on election day to overwhelmingly elect Jamir and his party, the Indian National Congress now led at the national level by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's Italian-born daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi.

Jamir has provided stable, sensible governance for a full decade, including his second term of the last five years after the cease-fire, and would in the normal course have been a shoo-in for a third five year term. His party is, however, in opposition in New Delhi and so the ruling party in the national capital, Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party is attempting to cobble together all dissatisfied elements in the Nagaland polity to give Jamir a run for his money. The timing of the talks with the NSCN-IM suggests the prime minister wanted them to give his party an election boost.

It is difficult to believe that the people of Nagaland have been taken in by this ploy. Moreover, the IM are not the only players in the game. The NSCN-K faction will also have to be brought into the peace talks. There are also a number of smaller militant groups who too will have to be appeased — in the best sense of the term. Jamir has, therefore, been stressing two words with regard to any negotiated settlement: "comprehensive" and "durable."

To be comprehensive, the negotiations must include the spectrum of dissent, not just one faction, however relatively strong it might be in terms of militant muscle. And for any settlement to be "durable", it must be comprehensive so that agreement with one faction does not trigger the launching of a fresh uprising by those who feel left out. Unfortunately, the talks as at present structured are limited to IM and any outcome is, therefore, likely to be fractured rather than be comprehensive. Such a fractured settlement would, of course, have no hope of being "durable."

There are lessons in this for the "war on terrorism" that the Bush administration has waged since the al Qaida terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In his current obsession with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Bush seems to have almost forgotten al Qaida's lurking leader Osama bin Laden. There could, therefore, be a rude awakening any time.

The point is that dissatisfaction which expresses itself in violence cannot be dealt with by counter-violence alone. Bin Laden may one day be killed but it is not possible to assassinate or bomb to smithereens the discontent that finds voice in his form of terrorism — or, indeed, any other kind of terrorism.

In India, whatever the government's present motivation, the process of talking to angry Nagas has to and will involve answering at the negotiating table the unpalatable demands of the NSCN. Counter-insurgency actions have certainly brought them to the negotiating table. But leaning across to shake hands and sign an agreement will be much harder. That applies as much to the Naga problem as it does to the bin Laden phenomenon.


Mani Shankar Aiyar is a member of the Indian Parliament representing the Congress Party. His column is published weekly.

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