SS Khaplang: 75-year-old, head of NSCN-K in Nagaland, is emerging as the most wanted militant leader in NE

A 75-year-old has emerged as the most dreaded militant leader in the north-east. He spearheaded the 4 June attack on the Indian Army which has been called the most brazen and daring ambush on the Indian Army in the last 20 years.

Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang, chief of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland, has changed the face of insurgency in the North East.

Born in April 1940 in Waktham village just east of Myanmar’s Pangsau Pass, Khaplang is the youngest of his 10 siblings and is also leading the newly-formed  United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFW). UNLFW claimed responsibility of the 4 June ambush in Manipur.

Hailing from Hemi Naga tribe of Myanmar, Khaplang has two homes -- one in China's Yunan province and one in Myanmar. According to a report in The Indian Express, Khaplang has three sons and a daughter and they are settled far from the rebellion. The seeds of insurgency were sown very early in Khaplang's life after he witnessed events of the World War II as a child.

 SS Khaplang: 75-year-old, head of NSCN-K in Nagaland, is emerging as the most wanted militant leader in NE

SS Khaplang. Image courtesy: IBNLive (screengrab)

According to another article in The Indian Express, Khaplang floated Naga Defence Force in 1964. In 1965, Khaplang went on to become the vice-chairman and then the chairman of Eastern Naga Revolutionary Council. According to the report, Khaplang during this period assisted young recruits to go to China for training and it was then when he grew closer to Thuingaleng Muivah, an MA from Gauhati University.

The two later collaborated and formed one of the strongest factions in northeast -- Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland. The alliance was a strategic step taken by Khaplang so that the rebels from across the Burmese border can easily infiltrate into the Indian territory. And thanks to Khaplang, the main insurgent group was able to build base in the Burmese side.

The outfit became so strong that it was almost running a parallel government, not only in Nagaland, but also in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. But the partnership did not last for too long.

In 1988, the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) was formed after it broke out from NSCN (Isak-Muivah), Thuingaleng Muivah. "Clan rivalries between the Konyaks of Nagaland’s northernmost Mon district, and the Tangkhul Nagas of Manipur’s Ukhrul district, which dominated the NSCN (IM), is cited as one of the main reasons for the split," IE reported.

The Khaplang faction's main demand was independence of Nagaland. Experts suggest Khaplang did not care enough for the other states of Northeast. There is also a suggestion that the split actually happened because of Muivah's insistence on a tough moral code of conduct for his followers and a stop to opium use and liquor.

In his book Between David and Goliath, Frans Welman has noted that Khaplang was a rebel who, as a vice-chairman of NSCN, got flak for his lack of financial and moral responsibility. Instigated by a commander of another insurgent group (Kachin), Khaplang attacked the NSCN headquarters in April 1988 and killed almost 60 people on the spot.

Objective of the NSCN-K is the formation of a ‘greater Nagaland’ comprising of the Naga dominated areas of the neighbouring states within India and adjoining areas in Myanmar, a Times of India report said.

Apart from heading NSCN(Khaplang) and UNLFW, Khaplang is also referred "President" of the 'Government of the People's Republic of Nagalim."

According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, NSCN-K is accounted for killing of 62 civilians and 26 security personnel during the period 1992 to 2000 but suffered heavily in that period, losing 245 of its men. Indian Army's attack in Myanmar was the latest blow to the insurgent outfit.

Khaplang has emerged as one of the most important insurgent leader in the northeast in the past two decades. His recent and biggest success was being able to bring five other rebel groups -- United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent), Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), Kamatapur Liberation Organization (KLO) and National Democratic Front of Boroland (Songbijit) -- under one umbrella and coalesced to form UNLFW.

However, Khaplang signed a truce deal with the Indian government on 27 April, 2001. While the government has had 80 rounds of peace talks with the NSCN-IM, Khaplang has not been invited even once. While the Indian government was trying to broke peace, Khaplang refused to budge and went back to his demand of an independent Northeast and the Naga-inhabited areas in Myanmar.

Tired of waiting, Khaplang repealed the ceasefire agreement in April 2015. The Telegraph noted in one of their articles that Khaplang has come to an understanding with the Tatmadaw (Myanmar's armed forces), even securing permission to host his allies from the Northeast. He enjoys freedom and autonomy to run his own government. But such a scenario is difficult to imagine in India's Northeast.

Abrogation of the ceasefire was followed by six attacks on Indian forces – in Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal, including the one that took killed 18 security personnel in Manipur's Chandel district on 4 June.

Updated Date: Jun 12, 2015 08:03:39 IST