SS Khaplang passes away at 77: NSCN-K leader's death could split group in three, says expert

National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) may split into three factions following the death of its leader Sangwang Sangnyu Khaplang, providing Indian security forces with an advantageous position to contain the insurgency in the region, as per GM Srivastava, a security expert.

The former Assam DGP’s speculation sheds new light on the ongoing debate on what Khaplang's demise would entail for the Naga peace process – initiated by the Indian government with NSCN-K’s rival group NSCN-IM.

Srivastava said that the lack of a suitable leader in the outfit is likely to trigger a power tussle, resulting in its split and thus weakening it.

File image of SS Khaplang. Image courtesy: IBNLive (screengrab)

File image of SS Khaplang. Image courtesy: IBNLive (screengrab)

"Khaplang was a revered leader among the Nagas. But there is hardly anyone in NSCN-K with an equal stature. Anyone claiming his position as the chairman of the group is likely to be contested," he added.

Being one of the three figures who are seen as representations of the idea of 'One-People-One-Naga nation', Khaplang commanded both fear and respect from both the sides of India-Myanmar border. The other two were Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu, leaders of the NSCN-IM group.

Only recently, Nagaland chief minister Shurhozelie Liezietsu received flak from the media for eulogising Khaplang – a separatist leader.

But similar condolence messages poured in the media from across the state soon after, silencing critics of the chief minister.

On the other side of the border, Khaplang enjoyed supreme command over the Naga areas of Myanmar. The Myanmar government had also granted him a small territory.

"Interestingly, while Khaplang’s relations with India splintered, in his last years, ties with Naypyidaw improved to the point that he was given a semi-autonomous patch of territory in the Taga region, near the India-Myanmar border," Sanjoy Hazarika, director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi, wrote for The Wire.

Srivastava said that though reports suggest the outfit has appointed Khango Konyak as the new chief, differences may crop up soon about whether a Naga from India or one from Myanmar should head the group.

"The final outcome will depend on which section has more number of people," he said.

North East Today reported that Konyak was appointed the head of the outfit after Khaplang’s death as he was the second-in-command. Khango, who is from Nagaland, may not be accepted as leader by the Myanmarese Nagas.

Khaplang was a Hemi Naga of Myanmarese origin and had strong influence in Myanmar, which is unlikely to be enjoyed by a leader of Indian origin.

"This divide in the outfit may result in (formation of) one group resorting to talks with the Indian government with the other likely to refrain. The third group will remain with the conglomerate of the terror goups, jointly known as United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia," Srivastava said.

He also added that it is the right time for the Indian security agencies to claim an advantageous position in containing insurgency in the region.

"Insurgency in the North East region will never remain the same in the absence of Khaplang," he added.

The Indian government seems to be playing a pro-active role in causing the split in NSCN-K. Soon after Khaplang’s death, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju promised rehabilitation to the Indain Nagas in the outfit.

“We appeal that all Indian Nagas in NSCN-K should surrender and return to the mainstream. We will rehabilitate them. We (Indian government) are giving rehabilitation packages," Rijiju said.

The government of India signed a ceasefire agreement with both the insurgent groups NSCN-IM and NSCN-K in the year 1997 and 2001 respectively.

But the NSCN-K group unilaterally abrogated the ceasefire agreement in the year 2015 and launched an attack on the Indian security forces at the India-Myanmar border, killing 18 Indian soldiers.

In spite of the fact that the Government of India signed a memorandum of agreement for peace talks with NSCN-IM, a thriving NSCN-K posed a challenge to the peace process.

In April 2015, Khaplang along with Paresh Baruah, chief of the United Liberation Front of Assam, formed the United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia, which has been launching attacks on the Indian security forces. The group which is a conglomerate of five separatist groups was headed by Khaplang himself.

Khaplang also accommodated insurgent groups in his territory in Myanmar.

Updated Date: Jun 13, 2017 18:24 PM

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