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The Hindu (New Delhi)
September 22, 2000

THERE ARE ENCOURAGING signals for the resumption of talks with
insurgents in Nagaland, to bring about a negotiated settlement and
lasting peace. A three-year-old ceasefire was extended by both sides;
the Ceasefire Monitoring Group has met and the rebel Naga leader, Mr.
Thuingaleng Muviah, has been released on bail in Thailand (where he was
arrested last year for traveling with forged documents). The only point
of debate now centres on extending the ceasefire to what the National
Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), led by Mr. Muviah, calls all ?Naga
areas?. This demand has raised two serious questions ? one, it involves
other States in the Northerast, inhabited by the Nagas; and two, this
should not be construed by the ultras as a euphemism for their demand in
recent years for ?Nagalim? or Greater Nagaland. While every reasonable
demand must be considered by the Centre, New Delhi cannot compromise on
the territorial integrity of any of the neighbouring States in the
region. That could spark fresh problems and complicate the peace process
even more. There may be nothing wrong in extending the ceasefire to
other areas in the Northeast, without in any way legitimizing the demand
for Nagalim. If the NSCN agrees to clarify this point, substantive
negotiations can begin in the near future.

Unfortunately, the Naga peace process has undergone several twists and
turns in the past three years, when a ceasefire has been in place. Of
course, there have been violations of the ceasefire and trading of
charges by the rebels and the security forces. Unless an atmosphere of
trust is created and the ceasefire definitely covers all citizens, it
could be meaningless. The not-too-infrequent ambushes and the counter
insurgency operations have only soured the pitch and prevented the peace
process from achieving anything tangible in three years. The change of
Government at the Centre could have retarded the process, but the
Vajpayee Ministry has now acquired a reasonable degree of stability.
Again, the change of the Centre?s negotiator on Nagaland added to the
confusion. The replacement of Mr. Swaraj Kaushal by the former Home
Secretary, Mr. K. Padmanabaiah, could have unsettled the talks, but the
rebels took it in the right spirit. Also, the seasoned bureaucrat brings
loads of experience and expertise with him. It is now time to kick-start
the negotiations with all the insurgent groups in Nagaland, perhaps on
parallel tracks to begin with. They can be fused into a final round of
parleys when the time is ripe for a settlement.

Obviously, the NSCN leader, Mr. Muviah, will have to be in Thailand,
till the disposal of the ease against him. But he is at least free and
available for consultations both to his colleagues and the Government?s
negotiators. That could make a qualitative difference when serious talks
There is another aspect that the Centre and the Prime Minister must
consider. A Congress (I) delegation recently met Mr. Vajpayee and
impressed on him the need to involve the Chief Minister of Nagaland, Mr.
S. C. Jamir, in the peace talks. It is not fair to leave out the State
Government when it has to not only maintain law and order but also deal
with the rehabilitation of insurgents when they lay down arms and join
the mainstream. The Centre cannot close its eyes to the crimes, the
extortion and the harassment that some of the rebels indulge in. The
State administration has to bear the burden of these problems and deal
with the victims. Keeping these developments in mind, the Prime Minister
and the Home Minister must review the Naga peace process and provide a
clear direction and focus to future negotiations.