The ‘Framework Accord’ with NSCN(I-M) can serve as a new paradigm for security and federalism, reconciling the aspirations of the Kashmiris and Nagas with the larger vision of a strong India
In the two weeks since its August 3 signing, much has been written on the ‘Framework Agreement’ between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) by media commentators on a subject that would have found it very difficult to find space in newspaper columns at other times. The unexpected attention that the Naga peace process has generated is perhaps a recognition of the significant implications—constitutional and security in particular—that will follow once the proposed peace accord is successfully implemented.
The details are still not known, yet it appears that for India, negotiating a peace deal with the Nagas will give it the vantage point it requires to not only contain China but ensure, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated during his speech at the signing ceremony, “peace, security and economic transformation in the north-east”. In the same speech, Modi went on to describe the ‘Act East Policy’ as “the heart of his foreign policy”, thereby underscoring the importance of the Naga peace accord for India’s wider foreign policy goals in South-East Asia.
The expectation is that the Naga peace accord will greatly serve India’s security and economic interests in the strategically important eastern frontier. It is not just China or difficult neighbours in Myanmar or Bangladesh, but the rise of Islamic extremism and the active presence of Pakistan’s Inter-Services-Intelligence (ISI) in the north-east region which ought to worry New Delhi. One should, therefore, not miss the security dimensions of the Naga peace accord.
That is why it is surprising that the national media missed the chance to break news on something that was ground-breaking—Modi’s description, during the signing of the ‘Framework Agreement’, of the Nagas as “the guardians” of India’s eastern frontiers and “our gateway to the world beyond”.
What Modi said was not at all surprising. Over the long years of his negotiations with the Government of India, NSCN(I-M) leader Thuingaleng Muivah has been strongly pushing for a ‘joint defence’ mechanism to be included in any future agreement. Perhaps Modi could have been referring to a version of such an outcome, where a post-accord Nagaland starts playing the role of an active provider of security for the country against any possible external threat rather than as a source of insecurity—something it has been seen as all these years. The location of Nagaland in the east and Kashmir in the north-west makes both states quite similar in terms of their strategic importance to India’s security interests.
The other aspect of the Naga peace accord that ought to draw our attention is the prospect of using this model of dialogue and peace-making in resolving similar disputes, including trouble-torn Kashmir or even other conflicts around the globe.
Modi himself described the peace accord with the Nagas in these terms, thus making the case for similar rapprochement in other cases as well. In his words, the ‘Framework Agreement’ “is a shining example of what we can achieve when we deal with each other in a spirit of equality and respect, trust and confidence; when we seek to understand concerns and try to address aspirations; when we leave the path of dispute and take the high road of dialogue. It is a lesson and an inspiration in our troubled world”.
Talking of conflict, it is not surprising that the J&K-based Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) was the only political party to actually issue an official statement welcoming the Naga peace accord. PDP chief spokesperson Mehboob Beg went on to make an appeal to the Centre to engage with all stakeholders in Kashmir with a similar approach – “respecting their sentiments, culture and history – in a sustained dialogue with the utmost dignity”. A way forward on the Kashmir issue is not something that should be seen as impossible. With the PDP-BJP alliance under Mufti Mohammad Sayeed no0w running the government in J&K, Prime Minister Modi has a good opportunity to take some form of political initiative on the Kashmir front.
True, the BJP’s hard-line position on doing away with Article 370, which guarantees a special position to J&K in the Indian Union, and the equally strong nationalist position of the PDP when it comes to the Kashmir political question, including on self-rule and abrogation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), does make the BJP-PDP alliance an awkward and unwieldy contrivance. But at the same time, it is a unique experiment and provides a way forward. It also gives credence to the saying that politics is the art of the possible.
At a time when the Modi government in Delhi is working on a time-bound solution to the decades-old Naga issue, a similar political initiative in Kashmir will hopefully lead to the evolution of working models of federalism that address the aspiration of self- rule for the Kashmiris, similar to the proposed arrangement with the Nagas. To refresh public memory, the PDP has in the past advocated “shared sovereignty” of an integrated and united Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Similarly, the NSCN(I-M), which signed the ‘Framework Agreement’, has put forth its proposal for a ‘Special Federal relationship’ between India and the Nagas. Both the ideas of shared sovereignty and a special federal relationship are major departures from mainstream political discourse and should be seen as forward looking and the way ahead for reconciling the aspirations of the Kashmiris and Nagas with the larger vision of a strong India.
The final contours of the Naga peace accord may still be in the works and will likely take some more time to emerge. Nevertheless, its importance lies in the new security paradigm it will bring, along with the novelty it will give to the working of the Indian federation.
Along Longkumer is a former Editor of The Morung Express, a Nagaland-based English newspaper. He has written extensively on the ceasefire and the Naga peace process and is also a keen observer of Indian politics, the Constitution and current affairs around the globe. His email address is: [email protected]