Good beginnings are no guarantee to good outcomes. India has taken a big step forward in ending the protracted Naga insurgency by signing a framework agreement with the largest and most prominent of the armed Naga groups, the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah). However, not all the major issues stand sorted out with this agreement, and some smaller groups have not been part of the decisive phases of the peace process. While the Khole-Kitovi and the Reformation factions, which are not party to the present accord, have signed a ceasefire agreement with the government, the Khaplang faction of the NSCN, active in the eastern areas of Nagaland and with bases across the border in Myanmar, remains hostile to the engagement with the Isak-Muivah faction.
The NSCN (Khaplang) is known to have carried out a deadly ambush on Army personnel in Manipur in June 2015 as a way of communicating its opposition to the evolving accord with the I-M faction, and demonstrating its capabilities. The NSCN (K) seems to have forged an alliance with other disgruntled splinter groups that are in opposition to the course taken by the I-M faction. Thus, while the agreement with the NSCN (I-M) is a breakthrough in the decades-long peace process, the Government of India will have to bear in mind that many of the players of the insurgency are still not on board, and several issues do not have a settled look yet.
To make matters worse for groups that are not part of the agreement, and that feel left out of the process, details of the accord have not been made public yet. There is no clarity on the controversial “sovereignty” demand that was central to the I-M group’s negotiations strategy, or on the demand for the creation of a Nagalim or Greater Nagaland that is tied to claims on the territories of the neighbouring States of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Issues relating to sovereignty and territories of other States offer no easy solution. For this agreement to hold, and to be built upon, the government needs to involve all the stakeholders, including other groups and members of Naga civil society, and representatives of the neighbouring States.
Otherwise, the present agreement, which is no doubt a landmark event in the decades-long history of the insurgency, could falter in the months ahead. To recognise the Naga sense of identity without acceding to claims on the territories of other States, to allow the people of Nagaland greater autonomy in deciding their own lives and future without allowing concessions on the sovereignty of India: these are the challenges before the government. The agreement provides a basis for pushing ahead on these aspects, and is a hard-earned opportunity that should not be lost.