Khaplang's death to hit peace process

The death of NSCN(K) leader S S Khaplang is bound to have an impact on the peace process with the Naga rebels and other insurgent groups in the Northeast. It is likely that the peace process may get a boost in the long-term though there may be a lack of movement or even setbacks in the near term. It may take some time for the NSCN(K) cadres to overcome the leadership vacuum and confusion following Khaplang’s death. He was the unquestioned leader of the faction which he formed after breaking away from the main NSCN group led by Th Muivah and Issak Swu in 1988. He remained opposed to the peace process between the central government and the NSCN (I-M). He repudiated the 2001 ceasefire agreement with the government and formed an alliance of other insurgent groups in the region.

Khaplang belonged to a Naga tribe from Myanmar and his activities were based in the areas adjoining India in that country. The Nagaland government has claimed that he was responsive to the feelers sent by the government in recent months but it cannot be said that there was a definite change of attitude. It was only last week that an Indian Army major was killed in an encounter with his group. Last year the group had killed 20 Indian Army personnel which was responded to with a raid into Myanmar by the army. It is not known if Khaplang had appointed anyone as his successor. So, the future positions and strategies of the group cannot be predicted now. A hawkish leader may continue Khaplang’s policies but there can also be differences among the second rung leaders. No other leader will have the kind of control over the faction which Khaplang had. It is also possible that the group may split. Naga insurgency has seen many divisions and splits in the past.

Being a Naga born in Myanmar, Khaplang had strong links in the areas across the border and he knew the territory well. He was the key person in the umbrella of insurgent groups like the militant faction of the Ulfa and others, working as a coordinator for them. He also played an important role in the movement of weapons and logistics in the region. His absence may therefore affect the working of many other groups. There is the view that the entire insurgency now acting from Myanmar can be checked if the situation availing after the death of Khaplang is handled well by the government. This is important because the peace process is stuck now.

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