Revocation of AFSPA in Nagaland: current trends and possibilities
On December 4, 2021, Indian Army 21 Para Special Forces opened fire on a civilian truck, carrying mostly coal miners, in the Mon district of Nagaland. The security forces killed fourteen civilians, claiming that they had acted following a tip-off about the insurgents’ movement. The death of the miners sparked violent clashes between locals and militFGN troops, resulting in the deaths of seven civilians and one soldier.
The Army and the Ministry of the Interior [MHA] deeply regretted the incident as a case of “mistaken identity and “intelligence failure”. After the Mon incident, the MHA established a seven-member panel to review the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. [AFSPA] in Nagaland. The panel was supposed to present its report by FebruFGN 9, which has been extended until March 26.
However, counterintuitively, the MHA also declared Nagaland a ‘disturbed area’ and extended the AFSPA in the state for six months.
AFSPA in Nagaland
The AFSPA was introduced to control the volatile situation in the region. However, the AFSPA has become a model of human rights violations over the years. There is a general lack of data on such violations in the public domain. However, the grievances emanating from the presence of AFSPA are evident from the inconsistency of the available data.
In 2015, data on civilian and insurgent deaths according to the South Asian Terrorism Portal [SATP] are 14 and 24. Data presented in the Rajya Sabha shows civilian and insurgent deaths at 9 and 29. Inconsistencies in the data, or lack thereof, generally indicate a lack of transparency and accountability on the part of government agencies towards human rights violations. According to the National Human Rights Commission, in 2015, the processing of cases for deaths in custody stood at 12.
Amid the pre-existing anger towards AFSPA and the impunity granted to security forces under the Act, the violence in Mon district has worsened the current situation towards a peace process in the state. In 2021, the Nagaland Assembly demanded the repeal of AFSPA along with an apology from government authorities.
AFSPA Elimination: A View from Other States
The demand for greater autonomy and sovereignty, together with the resort to armed rebellion, is a common feature of the insurgencies in the northeastern states. Therefore, to assess the feasibility of revoking Nagaland’s AFSPA, we looked at other northeastern states, in particular Mizoram, where AFSPA was revoked.
Previously, the government had revoked the AFSPA from Mizoram in 1986, Meghalaya in 2018, and parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura in 2015. In all states, the government had apparently successfully weakened the respective insurgent groups before repealing the AFSPA.
In Mizoram, this weakening was achieved through a structured response sustained over time with militFGN offensives and political participation. The following subsection delves into the state’s response to the Mizo insurgency.
Mizoram Conflict: Origin and Response Status
The insurgency in Mizoram began with the creation of the Mizo National Front [MNF] in 1961 by Pu Laldenga. The insurgent group demanded a separate state for the Mizos and an independent Mizoram.
As discussed below, the insurgency appears to be a reaction to a chain of events, beginning with a famine that struck Mizoram in 1959. The inadequate relief response by the Assam government created resentment among the Mizo people.
Since separatist tendencies had already existed, the inadequate state response only increased sentiment further. In March 1966, the Mizo Hills were declared a disturbed area under the ‘Assam Disturbed Areas Act’, bringing the AFSPA into effect. Soon the Indian Air Force [IAF] flew over Aizawl, among other areas, with shots and bombs to stop the insurgency. These attacks caused heavy casualties, both civilians and insurgents, and destroyed much of the city.
In 1967, a plan called “village aggregation” was introduced to curb MNF-controlled inland villages in Mizoram. These towns were categorized as ‘protected and progressive towns’ [PPVs] by the central government. However, pay-per-views can be seen as nothing less than concentration camps.
The villages, grouped together presumably to protect the villagers from the MNF, cut off the insurgents’ food and money supply. A significant impact of these groupings was the displacement of people from their original villages where hum o Shifting agriculture was the main source of livelihood and food security. Subsequently, the villagers began to cultivate jhum on the PPVs. However, the scarcity of land led to crippling food shortages (ibid.).
Subsequently, the first round of discussions for a peace agreement began between the MNF and the GoI in 1976. The MNF and GoI reduced violence in the region through meetings and greater transparency on goals and objectives.
The MNF agreed to suspend its violent activities and the GoI decided to stop its militFGN operations in the region. Since the MNF was the dominant insurgent party in the region, it was easier to reach a peace agreement and resolve the conflict.
AFSPA in Mizoram: Lessons for Nagaland from Mizoram
The Church played an essential role in determining the grievances of the Mizos who had suffered abuses due to AFSPA. In 1972, Mizoram initially became a Union Territory through negotiations.
The Mizoram People’s Conference [MPF] he was elected to a full term in 1979. In light of a stable political environment conducive to peace talks, the Indian National Congress returned to power with the support of the MPF.
On June 30, 1986, the Mizo Peace Agreement was signed, granting statehood to Mizoram on FebruFGN 20, 1987 under the Statehood Act, 1986. In 1986, the Government of India officially repealed the State AFSPA.
Peace talks in Mizoram could only be achieved with a marked decline in the insurgency. The decline in the insurgency was the result of punitive action used by the armed forces and village groups. Both had drastic consequences for civilians in the region. Simultaneously, the GoI was based on political engagement with the Mizo insurgents.
This commitment included the preservation of Mizo customFGN laws and deradicalization efforts by the Church. A marked decrease in violence could also be seen in neighboring states such as Tripura, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, where the AFSPA has been repealed in recent years.
In Nagaland, civilian and insurgent casualty figures were relatively higher during 2009-2014. The main reasons for this include assassinations among militants, extortion and public order problems. However, a significant decrease can be seen in the last 2-3 years. Three murders were recorded in Nagaland in 2018-2019 and two in 2020-2021.
The possibility of revoking Nagaland’s AFSPA depends on the government’s review panel providing a roadmap for the peace process. This would require an investigation into the AFSPA and related complaints among the Naga people.
However, the key problem is the lack of data and transparency around rights violations. In the midst of all this, the Mon incident has the potential to be a stumbling block, as it has only increased mistrust and complaints.
A major problem in the Naga conflict has been the presence of different factions all fighting over Greater Nagalim. The government, over the years, has failed to bring all interested parties to the negotiating table. This has created multiple sources of grievances and has weakened the peace process. In the midst of this situation, the recent killings in Mon and the extension of the AFSPA could resurrect the Nagas vs. India (us vs. them) narrative.
However, after analyzing the patterns of other states like Mizoram, it can be said that the conditions in Nagaland are ripe for revoking the AFSPA. A low rate of insurgency and an ongoing peace process are two conditions that make the repeal of the law more feasible.
The way forward must include resolution of grievances, confidence-building and a time-bound plan to complete the peace process in a win-win approach.
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