A Troubled Frontier
Myanmar’s influence on the Indian Peace Process
Since achieving independence from Britain 69 years ago, both India and Myanmar’s northern frontiers have been plagued with violent ethnic insurgencies. From the chaos, a symbiotic relationship had emerged between ethnic armed groups and state actors. For example, in the late 1980’s, India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) reached an agreement with the Kachin Independence Army to stop training various anti-Indian separatist groups from India’s Northeast in exchange for much-needed weapons. The KIA had been training United Liberation Front of Asomand Assam-Peoples Liberation Army with aid from China.
India benefited greatly from this agreement because it cut off the rebel group source of support and forced them to abandon their safe havens in Myanmar, ultimately forcing the ULFA and PLA to turn to Nagas in India’s Northeast for support. Making it much earlier for the India’s to control the insurgency.
Myanmar on the other had has also benefited from the supporting ethnic anti-Indian separatist groups operating outside India. The Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military has even gone so far as to give some of these groups safe-haven within its borders.
Most notable of the anti-Indian separatist groups is the breakaway faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) headed by S.S. Khaplang, who’s primary objective is the establishment an independent state known as “Greater Nagalim”. The independent state based on a federal system would encompass not only the 16,527 sq km. of the state of Nagaland, but a much larger area of 1,20,000 sq km which includes all Naga inhabited areas of Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Sagaing division, Myanmar where the National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Khaplang NSCN - K currently has bases.
The NSCN was birthed out of dissatisfaction for the 1975 Shillong peace accord, that was signed between the Government of India and Naga National Council (NNC). The agreement was intended to end almost 25 years of fighting between the Indian government and NNC with the goal of put Nagaland on a course of peace and prosperity.
However, not long after the signing of the accord Thuingaleng Muivah, Isak Chisi Swu and S.S. Khaplang who had been receiving training in China during the signing of the peace agreement broke away from NNC and refused to accept the Shillong Accord. The three men then formed National Socialist Council of Nagaland in 1980 and stated their own armed struggle against the Government of India. The men used a doctrine of socialist thought and Christianity to legitimise their armed struggle.
Then in the late 80’s infighting between the three men caused the NSCN to splinter into two factions, one led by Isak and Muivarh known as NSCN (IM) and the other lead by Khaplang.
NSCN (K). NSC (IM) consolidated their power in central and western Nagaland while NSCN (K) drew support from Eastern Nagaland and the Naga areas of Sagaing division, Myanmar. Both groups clashed violently for control of the support from the Naga peoples. Ironically the turf war that ensued terrorised the civilian population they claimed to be representing.
By the mid 90’s both groups had the blood of innocent civilian on their hands and neither one was getting the upper hand as they were alienating the civilian population. NSCN (IM) then decided there was a better way to achieving its goals and entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Government of India on July 25, 1997. Three years later in 2001 NSCN (K) followed suit and joined the ceasefire with the Government of India. At the same time, NSCN (K) entered into a verbal ceasefire agreement with the Tatmadaw in Myanmar.
After 12 years of negotiation, NSCN (K) became frustrated with the Government of India and suspicion of their long-time rival NSCN (IM) grew.
According to Neingulo Krome the Secretary General for Naga peoples movement for Human rights, “There were times when the Naga’s negotiators became very frustrated because the Indians would agree on one thing today and then change their minds the next day.”
This made it very hard for NSCN (K) to have any trust in the peace process and NSCN K abrogated the ceasefire in favour of a ceasefire with the Tatmadaw who Khaplang knew would give him a better deal.
David Scott Mathieson, an independent analyst working on conflict and human rights issues in Burma said: “When insurgencies straddle borderlines the host countries or an institution or level of officialdom, always seeks to capitalise on the opportunity to advance their own interests. This may not be official central government policy, but it’s instrumental for the groups living and trading in those borderlands.”
On April 9, 2012, NSCN (K) agreed to end their armed conflict with Tatmadaw. In return, NSCN (K) was allowed to open a liaison office in Khamti for the purpose of facilitating further negotiations and both sides agreed to coordinate the carrying of arms beyond their agreed jurisdiction. NSCN (K) cadres were granted freedom of movement unarmed within Myanmar. NSCN K has even thrown their support behind Myanmar’s National Ceasefire Agreement, although they are non-signatories.
This agreement benefits the Tatmadaw border security agenda by allowing NSCN (K) to act as a de-facto militia. With the Tatmadaw almost stretched to its limits by heavy fighting throughout Kachin, Shan State and Rakhine State, having a ceasefire with any armed group no matter how small takes pressure off an army that is spread thin.
The agreement with NSCN-K also allows for the government to exert limited control over the Naga areas and enables the teaching of the Burmese language in Naga schools.
Meanwhile, the Tatmadaw has allegedly turned a blind eye to NSCN (K) cross-border raids including the training and formation of the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia, a conglomerate of anti-India rebel groups from India’s Northeast.
For now, it appears that the relationship between the Tatmadaw and NSCN (K) is a win-win situation for both parties but the real question is how long will the symbiotic relationship between the Tatmadaw and foreign insurgency groups last while the Government of Myanmar struggles to create peace within its own borders?
Naga man with his wife.
Festivals remain an important part of life.
Cultural practices are changing.