Naga type talks?

The Nagas have reached a stage where they can neither walk out of the peace process nor allow it go on endlessly

The Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Muhammad Sagar while addressing youth wing of National Conference on January 18 suggested `Naga type’ dialogue with the militants. Sagar said if government of India had no problems talking to Naga militants; it should not shy away from gun yielding youth of the state.

Ali Muhammad Sagar cannot be unaware of the Naga situation and the mess government of India has made of the peace process.  During my visit to North-Eastern states last year, harsh realities of Naga peace process dawned on me. On the basis of my observations in the land of Nagas, I can safely say that nothing can be more dangerous for the people of Jammu Kashmir than a Naga type dialogue.

There are no shortcuts to peace. But when the quest for peace gets prolonged, the people seeking it lose their nerves.  The Nagas are losing patience and the peace process its utility. A decade of peace talks have failed to yield any tangible results. Concerned about their future, the Nagas are seriously thinking of   dissociating themselves from the peace process. But can they do it?

The peace process commenced with the cease-fire in 1997. Guns fell silent on both the sides. The Nagas believed they scored a victory over New Delhi by making it accept its terms and conditions.  The Nagas asked for unconditional talks at the highest level in an alien country. The conditions were accepted by New Delhi much to the surprise of Nagas.

Like Nagas, some Kashmiris also felt that New Delhi had succumbed to pressure of Naga militants. Some even went to the extent of saying that New Delhi had compromised its sovereignty by accepting talks in an alien country. But, after eleven years of the peace process, the Nagas have been forced to look for alternatives. Walking away from the peace process will only win them a label of war mongers or enemies of peace. And they cannot allow the peace process to go on like this. What shall they do?  Some of them have started cursing the process.

Till date several rounds of talks have been held in the Netherlands.  Pertinent to mention the Naga conflict has may parallels with Kashmir. There are many contrasts as well. The unending Naga peace process has made it amply clear that bilateralism rarely works. The movement in Nagaland is more structured and organised than the Kashmir struggle. Unlike their counterparts in Kashmir, the students and the women play an important role in the struggle. Besides they have a vibrant civil society.

Notwithstanding this, the Nagas, by and large, candidly admit that they were engaged and slowly but surely consumed by New Delhi in the name of peace.

Most of the people who interacted with the visiting team of journalists severely opposed the peace process. “We have to do some rethinking now. If the peace process has not delivered anything for ten years, it must come to an end”, said a student at the well decorated office of the Naga Students Union. Senior politicians and human rights defenders also subscribe to his view.

However, the president of the Naga HO HO, Kevi Letou, is still optimistic about the outcome of the peace process. According to him, the process must continue. “It is not proper for the leadership to share important details with the general public as it will result in miscarriage of the entire process. An outline has been drawn and at an appropriate time the public shall be taken into confidence”, he said.

According to him, change of government at New Delhi delayed the process. “Vajpayee was very positive. Had he been around, things would have been different today”, he said.  Surprisingly the leaders in Kashmir share his views. They have also hailed the role of Vajpayee.

Naga HO HO is an important and highly influential organization. But the Nagas do not agree with its strategy. Like Kashmiris, they too are scared of secret talks. They want to be taken into confidence.

The President of the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA), Khesheli Cheshi admits her role in bringing the Nagas and New Delhi to the negotiating table.  But she too seems dismayed. “It has taken too long. We are running out of patience. It is hell of a job explaining things to the public”, she said.

A young activist of the NPMHR made an important observation. “The peace process failed, or seems to have failed apparently because we sought unconditional talks. When the dialogue is unconditional, we cannot set a time limit. It goes on and on. This is where, in my opinion, New Delhi outsmarted us. The leadership should have set a time frame.”

There seems no immediate respite for the Nagas in the near future. Sensing that the people in Nagaland were getting impatient, the government of India has already taken measures to shift the discourse from sovereignty to preservation of natural resources. Exploration of minerals and oil has already started in the conflict ridden state. Some multinationals also seem interested in the exploration.  The Nagas are genuinely concerned. They perceive it as an act of aggression and seem determined to resist it tooth and nail. Where will it lead to? A question that haunts every Naga. The `misadventure’ may prove the last nail in the coffin of the unending peace process, opines a teacher. He added that the Nagas have been crucified in the name of peace.

The journalists, academicians and intellectuals strive hard to counter the misinformation campaign launched with a purpose. The Nagas have been projected as cannibals. “This is how we have been dehumanised”, said Acum, a journalist based in Dimapur. He urged the scribes to write about it. “We are civilised and decent people. We do not eat humans”, he pleaded.

When competent people like him should be doing some serious work at other front, they have been forced to respond to the misinformation campaign. This is how important people have been engaged. In Kashmir it has been done by creating a wedge between various communities. The Gujjars hate Paharais. Shias are scared of Sunnis. There is a tussle going on between various schools of thought. This did not happen on its own. Somebody is pulling the strings somewhere to create confusion and gullible people are falling in the trap.

National Conference has badly suffered during the past twenty years of the conflict. Hundreds of its workers were killed. It desperately wants restoration of peace. Ali Muhammad Sagar also seems desperate for peace. But can a Naga type dialogue help restore peace?

The dialogue must be structured, meaningful and result oriented. It should not go on and on for decades together. And last but not the least, the talks must address main issue.

History has shown that Kashmiris need to learn the art of dialogue. They have miserably failed on previous occasions. The government of India on the other hand has experts who can engage people for long and ultimately consume them.  If New Delhi can do it to the Nagas, they can do it very easily with Kashmiris. The leadership in Kashmir must study the Naga problem, the struggle and the peace process. It definitely will help them a lot in the long run.   

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