A Trou­bled Fron­tier

Myanmar’s in­flu­ence on the In­dian Peace Process

Mizzima Business Weekly - - NEWS ROUNDUPS - Raymond Pag­nucco

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?

Photo: Raymond Pag­nucco

Naga man with his wife.

Photo: Raymond Pag­nucco

Fes­ti­vals re­main an im­por­tant part of life.

Photo: Raymond Pag­nucco

Cul­tural prac­tices are chang­ing.

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