Successful peace moves have a beginning, a middle and an end. If the ceasefire six years ago was the beginning of New Delhi’s peace overtures to the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, led by Mr Isak Swu and Mr Thuingaleng Muivah, the lifting of the ban on the outfit seems to be the half-way mark. Obviously, the two sides have crossed the first hurdles to be able to reach the turning point that has made it possible for the Centre to lift the ban on India’s oldest insurgent group. That is not to suggest, however, that there have not been hitches and hiccups on the way. Both sides have occasionally been mired in controversies over violations of the ceasefire agreement. The NSCN(I-M) has also been charged with continuing its violent activities in defiance of the ceasefire terms. Its cadre has engaged in fratricidal killings with other militant Naga groups and sought to destabilize the elected state government of Mr S.C. Jamir. All these necessitated the army to take action, even while New Delhi’s representatives continued the dialogue with Mr Swu and Mr Muivah. Obviously, the government has taken a calculated risk in lifting the ban. That it will faciliate the Naga leaders’ visit to New Delhi for the next round of negotiations is an important consideration because they have so far insisted on the talks being held in a third country and forced the government to agree. At the same time, a completely new challenge will emerge in Nagaland as the outfit’s cadre, living and working underground for five decades, comes overground. Nagaland’s chief minister cannot be faulted if he is apprehensive of the political consequences in the state.
The real challenge now is to carry the peace initiative to its successful end. If the Naga leaders have moved one step forward by agreeing to hold the talks in India for the first time, they have not yet given up their two most crucial demands — “sovereignty” for the Naga people, and the creation of a Greater Nagaland by adding Naga-inhabited areas of other northeastern states to Nagaland. It is possible that the two sides would eventually agree to greater autonomy for the state to meet the demand for sovereignty. In that case, the issue could be a focal point in next year’s elections to the state assembly, even if the NSCN(I-M) does not take part in them. But the demand for a Greater Nagaland could prove to be more intractable. The violent opposition in Imphal last year to the Centre’s proposal to extend the Naga ceasefire to Manipur was spurred by the fear that it was the first step toward creating a larger Nagaland. A successful conclusion to this peace process will be crucial to ending the smaller ethnic insurgencies in the region.