Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 124, 15 July 2020

Northeast India: NSCN (I-M) cadres killed in counter insurgency operation in Arunachal Pradesh
Sourina Bej

In the news
On 11 July six cadres of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), from Nagaland, were killed in a counter insurgency operation at Longding in Arunachal Pradesh. The cadres of NSCN (I-M) were armed and were allegedly involved in “either kidnapping influential people for ransom or carrying out a big attack on security personnel,” the Arunachal Pradesh director-general of police said. The cadres nabbed by the security forces were linked to a group that was involved in the killing of Khonsa MLA Tirong Aboh and 10 others in May 2019. In response, NSCN (I-M) on 12 July called the operation an “act of terrorism” and that the 23-year-old truce with the Centre had “lost” its meaning.

Issues at large 
First, muscular counter insurgency measures to break NSCN (I-M). The counter insurgency operation has come as a step to nab those responsible for the death of the MLA who was gunned down at the peak of the Lok Sabha elections. Even though this was the immediate reason, the security forces have long been engaged in series of operations to rout the group who is one of the actors in the Naga peace talks. With a stronghold in eastern Arunachal Pradesh, NSCN(I-M) has been the reason for violence. Thus on 1 April when Home Ministry extended the “disturbed areas” tag under AFSPA in this region for another six months, it was only to create the leeway to come down heavily on group. This was subsequently followed by the Nagaland governor sending a circular to the various departments to furnish details of family members and relatives involved with the different groups by 7 August.

Second, ending extortion to weaken money trails of NSCN (I-M). The main aim of the operations is to weaken the group economically. The group has maintained its active role through extortion and kidnappings which is a notorious truth in Nagaland. The government has been looking to end them and has now used the goodwill from the 2015 peace agreement to create the ground for the operations. It was also evident when the Nagaland governor sent a letter on the extortion situation to the Chief Minister and NSCN(I-M) was seen reducing the tax-rate citing the pandemic.

Last, NSCN (I-M)’s uncompromising demand in peace talks. The encounter has taken place at a time when NSCN(I-M) is in ceasefire with the Centre. The government interlocutor who signed the 2015 Framework agreement is now the Nagaland governor who represents the Centre’s position in achieving quick peace through a deal. But the quick peace has been difficult as the group has evaded to compromise on its primary demand and has continued with extortions or collecting taxes. This has further justified the ground for a muscular policy to deal with the group.

In perspective
First, the present operation comes at a dangerous time when the state cannot afford the return of insurgency. The past experiences have proved that NSCN(I-M) can withstand multiple muscular policies. At the same time the group has also sent all the right messages by heeding to low extortion rates. There is a broad consensus among the group that peace talks with the government is desirable and beneficial for its larger political objective and inclusion.

Second, by continuing with the counter insurgency measure, the security agency has made it clear that they are looking to break the group to make peace work. This is highly unsustainable as it might end up overturning the decades of talks and also the possibility of a deal in the future.

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