The death of NSCN-K chief S S Khaplang may pave the way for peace talks with the hardline Naga rebel group, bringing about a possible change in the insurgency theatre in the Northeast. 77-year-old Khaplang, who had also led the United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFW), a conglomerate of several insurgent groups, was instrumental in the recent step up in the attacks against security forces, besides running an arms racket. He was opposed to a peace dialogue with the Centre. While opinion is divided on how the insurgency situation will evolve in the Northeast, Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said a peace dialogue with the NSCN-K is possible if the organisation gives up violence and secessionist activity.
“Khaplang was the main person who was supporting and facilitating insurgency in the Northeast and had a clout. He was a Myanmarese citizen and hence there was a problem. His death will definitely have impact in the region,” he told PTI. Rijiju said the central government will rehabilitate all Indian citizens in the Naga group if they abjure violence. “We appeal to all the Indian Nagas in the NSCN-K to surrender and return to the mainstream. We will rehabilitate them,” he said. Rijiju, however, said he cannot talk about Myanmarese citizens, who are part of the NSCN-K. Khaplang was a Hemi Naga from Myanmar.
Executive director of the Guwahati-based Centre for Development and Peace Studies, Wasbir Hussain, said Khaplang was the most important player in the insurgency theatre in the Northeast and he abrogated the peace talks with the central government two years ago. “His death raises questions whether his successors are more belligerent than him,” he said. Hussain said the Nagaland government had some time ago claimed that it was in touch with Khaplang to bring him back to the peace process and the rebel leader had apparently agreed to it provided the talks centered around “substantive” issues.
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“Now the question is whether Khaplang’s successors will keep that apparent commitment or whether the group will step up attack on the Indian state,” he said. Hussain said it will be also significant to see whether Khaplang’s departure from the scene will impact the activities of the rebel umbrella United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia. “This is because Khaplang and the anti-talks faction of ULFA leader Paresh Baruah were the two main movers and shakers of this potent rebel platform,” he said. Editor of the Dimapur-based English daily Nagaland Page, Monalisa Changkija, said it was too early to say whether peace will return to the Northeast following the death of Khaplang.
Changkija said if the NSCN-K leadership goes into the hands of Nagas belonging to Nagaland, there is a possibility of holding peace talks. “Why would Government of India talk to someone from Myanmar. It will take time some time to get a clear picture. It is difficult to predict just a day after Khaplang’s death as to how the situation will evolve,” she said. Khaplang, who had engineered many attacks on the security forces including the killing of 18 Army soldiers in Manipur in 2015, died on Friday at Takka in Kachin province of Myanmar. Khaplang, along with Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, had formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980.
However, Khaplang split and formed his own group NSCN-K in 1988 following differences with Swu and Muivah. Swu died in June 2016 in a Delhi hospital. The faction headed by Swu and Muivah has been carrying on a peace dialogue with the central government since 1997. Khaplang had also entered into a ceasefire agreement with the central government in 1997, but abrogated it on March 28, 2015. The NSCN-K was involved in the killing of 18 Army soldiers in an ambush in Manipur on June 4, 2015. Following the Manipur ambush, the Indian Army had carried out cross-border raids on NSCN-K camps located inside Myanmar killing several militants. Subsequently in September 2015, the government declared the NSCN-K an unlawful organisation for five years.