The peace agreement signed by the Union government and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) on Monday is significant because it offers an unprecedented opportunity to put an end to the country’s oldest insurgency. Negotiations have been held for decades to reach an agreement. The details of the present agreement have not been revealed to the public. It is considered to be a framework agreement on general principles and may not contain specific points of accord, which may have to be worked out on the basis of consultations in future. But two important issues which have been the most contentious of the Naga rebels’ demands, seem to have been resolved. One was the demand for sovereignty which could not even be considered by the Indian state. The second was the demand for a Greater Nagaland consisting of the present state and Naga-dominated areas in neighbouring states. This also could not have been accepted, as it would invite protests and unrest in other states. A measure of autonomy for the Naga areas in these states has been proposed in the past but the governments of these states will have to be taken on board on it.
The NSCN (Isak-Muivah) is the strongest of the Naga rebel groups. Other groups like the NSCN (Khaplang) faction have not recognised and accepted the agreement. They will also have to be made part of the deal if it is to have the best and most positive impact on the ground. The NSCN (K) had disowned its ceasefire agreement and recently staged a major attack on the security forces which necessitated a counter-attack on its bases in Myanmar. It should also be noted that the Shillong accord of 1975 with the then leadership of the Naga rebels unravelled later. The constitutional and political arrangements needed to protect the cultural identity of the Nagas, envisioned in the agreement, will have to be made acceptable to the wider society in the state and outside. Importantly, there also need to be provisions for decommissioning of the rebel militias. All this will call for much more groundwork. Only when the agreement is fine-tuned and implemented well can it be called a historic event for the country and the North East.
Such groundwork will hopefully be done and the agreement will lead to lasting peace in Nagaland and in the North East. The entire region has paid a heavy price for the violence and unsettled conditions created by insurgency. That is why it has been unable to realise its potential. The opportunity presented now by the agreement should not be wasted.