Despite the existence of ceasefire agreements between New Delhi and different Naga armed political groups – for decades – violent confrontations between the Indian security forces and the Naga groups continue to take place. The latest of such incident was the shootout between Assam Rifles and members of GPRN/NSCN near Okotso village in Wokha on October 23 last. Though the NSCN (K) have walked out of the truce after more than 20 years in peace, the GPRN/NSCN as well as the NSCN (IM) still have their respective ceasefire agreements with New Delhi.
And it comes as no surprise that, in the aftermath of the latest confrontation near Okotso where a member of the GPRN/NSCN was killed by the Assam Rifles, both the parties have turned to the ceasefire agreement for their respective alibis. This, sadly, has been the trend for as long as the ceasefire agreements have existed. On this tragic occasion too, we are being taken down the same old road by those party to the armed confrontation that day. The GPRN/NSCN has called the incident “a clear case of ceasefire ground rules violation perpetuated by the 28 Assam Rifles.”
A statement from the group’s representative at the Cease-fire Supervisory Board (CFSB) has claimed that situation on the ground at that very moment (on the day when the shootout took place) was quite normal without a slightest thought of provocation. “As the process of designate camp was at its final stage and hence, both parties knew the presence of each other from the very beginning,” it has claimed. Under the ceasefire agreement, Naga groups are permitted to have “designated camps” after due scrutiny by the CFSB. Thus, according to the NSCN/GPRN, they were functioning within the parameters of the ceasefire ground rules.
On the other hand, the Assam Rifles have claimed that an operation was launched on the night of October 22 last following intelligence report about the movement of a “large number of armed UG cadre in general area Okotso” village. Subsequently, the presence of a “large number of UG cadres in uniform with weapons was detected”, leading to exchange of gunfire, according to the Assam Rifles. The ceasefire ground rules, the Assam Rifles have contended, prohibits carriage of weapons by the Naga armed groups. It appears that it all boils down to the interpretation of the ceasefire ground rules.
It is obvious that the room for misinterpretation, or differences in interpretation of the ceasefire texts, could exist only if there are loopholes in the agreement. Over the years, we have witnessed to signatories of the ceasefire agreements accusing each other of indulging in “convenient interpretation” to suit their own version of the tale. Almost all ceasefire board/cell meetings are dominated by this issue of “misinterpreting” the texts of the agreement. The former chairman of the ceasefire board/cell, Maj-Gen (Rtd) N George has gone up to the extent of seeking clarification from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs on the correct interpretation of the ceasefire ground rules.
Even the NSCN (IM) leader, Phungthing Shimrang, has been quoted as calling it a “headache”. This was in the aftermath of the 2001 incident at Imphal in which protestors stormed the state legislature and set fire to it following the Bangkok agreement between NSCN (IM) and New Delhi which announced that the ceasefire agreement between the two would be without territorial limits. To this day, this continues to be a bone of contention. While New Delhi says that the Bangkok agreement has been scrapped, the NSCN (IM) claims it’s not.
So beyond the wider political agenda (of all parties involved), it is obvious that there is something that exists to permit misinterpretation of the ceasefire texts. And as long as there is room for misinterpretation, the ground rules can never be applied in total. It is not yet known if the MHA has released the correct interpretation or not. From the look of things, it is highly unlikely that it has. But what is for certain is that the ceasefire texts cannot be left open to misinterpretation. The loopholes must be plugged. The sooner, the better.