Naga peace talks have been informed of late by a new realism. This was evident once again in yet another extension of the ceasefire between New Delhi and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, led by Mr Isak Swu and Mr Thuingaleng Muivah. Although the ceasefire has been in force for the past six years, it is not something either side can take for granted. Both sides have to make conscious efforts to make it work on the ground. More important, the ceasefire is not an end in itself; it is a means to creating the right atmosphere for the peace negotiations. It is heartening to note that the NSCN(I-M) has agreed to extend the truce by a year, and not by three months as it had initially suggested. A three-month extension would have immediately sent out wrong signals because the ceasefire had always been extended by a year. The rebels may want the peace process to move faster but it is crucial for that purpose not to disturb the terms of the truce. New Delhi may also be reassured by Mr Muivah’s recent remark that he appreciated its difficulties in dealing with some of the NSCN(I-M)’s demands.
The most complicated of these demands is the incorporation into Nagaland of all Naga-inhabited areas outside the state. This will not only call for a reorganization of boundaries of several northeastern states but also open a Pandora’s box of ethnic hostilities.The violent reaction in Imphal to the Centre’s attempt two years ago to extend the Naga ceasefire to Manipur confirmed this fear. In the mid-Eighties the demand for a greater Mizoram had caused a similar flutter. Ethnic groups may have once lived together within a particular geographical area. But their migration to other areas is also a historical fact that cannot be wished away. The Centre could explore how to preserve the ethnic identity of Nagas living outside Nagaland without altering the states’ boundaries. The demand for withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is a different matter. The state government also wants it revoked. The act has been a major bone of contention not only with the NSCN(I-M) but also with political parties and civil liberties groups in Nagaland which hold it responsible for many instances of army and police excesses and human rights abuses. Phasing out the act may strengthen the peace initiative.