SS Khaplang and the Naga insurgency in India and Myanmar

The well-planned and deadly June 4 attack on an Indian army convoy by the militants of the newly set up United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFWSEA) masterminded by SS Khaplang was not mitigated by the June 9 controversial cross-border attack by the Indian army on the Myanmar-based militants. India’s current strategy of attempting a solution of the long-lasting Naga insurgency by talking to only one of the stakeholders, (National Socialist Council of Nagaland NSCN-IM) led by Isak Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah and ignoring the NSCN-K led by SS Khaplang, who has long been part of the Naga movement along with NSCN-IM may be considered exclusionary and self-serving.

The undivided NSCN, led by the ‘triadic’ leadership of SS (Shangwang Shangyung) Khaplang, Isak Chisu Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah was set up on January 31 1980 to fight uncompromisingly for “securing the independence of the contiguous Naga-inhabited regions of India and Myanmar.” The Indian and Myanmar Naga territories were thus brought under a single leadership for the first time.

SS Khaplang (l.)

SS Khaplang (l.)

The eponymous Government of the People’s Republic of Nagaland (GPRN) along with an armed wing were also to be set up. However, in 1988, when Muivah unilaterally raised the issue of talks with India without informing Khaplang or other important Naga groups, the Khaplang group rebelled and was forced to set up the rival NSCN-K to continue the uncompromising fight for independence and sovereignty.

In 1997, Isak and Muivah (NSCN-IM) opted for ceasefire and negotiations with India within the four corners of the Indian Constitution. Though the Naga movement was indivisible between India and Myanmar with the Nagas of both countries facing similar problems in contiguous areas, Khaplang was sought to be excluded from the negotiations under pressure from the NSCN-IM on the argument was that Isak and Muivah were Indian Nagas while Khaplang was a Myanmar national. The argument defied the fact that Naga social and political life in India and Myanmar cut across international boundaries and that the leadership too was for all practical purposes transnational. This “divide and rule” approach was useful for the Indian authorities since they could avoid discussion of the tougher issue of sovereignty that Khaplang held primary.

On March 27 2015, Khaplang scrapped the tactical ceasefire agreement that he had earlier had with India and resumed violent actions in India’s northeast. He also brought into existence the new political instrument of struggle, the UNLFWSEA, whose militants carried out the devastating June 4 attack on the Indian army convoy in the Chandel district of Manipur. The attack constituted a powerful demonstration of the ability of Khaplang to upset the secret negotiations between India and the NSCN-IM for the resolution of the festering Naga insurgency.

The social and political background of SS Khaplang was brought out by Bertil Lintner in his “Great Game East: India, China and the Struggle for Asia’ s Most volatile Frontier,” 2012. This is carried forward by Rajeev Bhattacharyya in his “Rendezvous with Rebels, 2014,” a book which calls for separate treatment. The life and work of Khaplang in India and Myanmar and his complicated relationship of cooperation and conflict with his comrades Isak Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah are indeed the stuff of a fascinating drama.

Khaplang was born in 1940 and was baptised in 1955. He went to the Baptist school in Myitkyina in Myanmar. He is said to have spent his early life in Margherita in Assam. No political movement could emerge among Myanmar Nagas till the mid-1960s, given low literacy and absence of a common religion such as Christianity.

Inspired by Kachin rebels, Khaplang and a few other Nagas set up the Naga Defence Force (NDF) in 1964. In 1968, he became leader of the Eastern Naga Revolutionary Council (ENRC). He was then 28 and was reasonably educated. The Naga National Council (NNC) mission to China in the late 1960s led to closer relationship between Khaplang and the Naga leadership from the Indian side of the Myanmar border.

In 1972, ENRC became the Eastern Naga National Council (ENNC) emphasising a new partnership between Indian and Myanmar Nagas. After the Shillong peace accord of 1975, the Indian Naga militants who opposed it, led by Swu and Muivah, were being hunted by the Indian security forces. They needed the support and sanctuary provided by the Khaplang and the Myanmar Nagas who fully cooperated in the setting up of sanctuaries. After a fierce struggle supported by Khaplang, Swu and Muivah established their presence in the then “Burmese” Naga Hills. Khaplang became the vice chairman of the NSCN when it was set up in 1980.

The “Burmese” Naga Hills, a wild and untamed area, came to be called “Eastern Nagaland.” In 1988, Khaplang broke with Swu and Muivah because of ideological differences and the brutality NSCN practised against the less advanced Eastern Nagas. He attacked NSCN headquarters fiercely. Swu and Muivah fled to Manipur and then with the help of leading Assamese rebel group ULFA, settled down in Margherita in Assam till they could return to Nagaland. The old base area across the border from Nagaland remained with Khaplang. In 1991, Khaplang, ever an Indo-Myanmar rebel set up the Indo-Burmese Revolutionary Front (IBRF) indicating his commitment to both India and Myanmar. Indian intelligence agents met NSCN-IM leaders in 1996. A move for a political settlement of the Naga conflict began in 1997 with ceasefire and secret talks in several international venues, which continued for several years culminating in the looming possibility of a final settlement in 2015.  Khaplang was isolated but has stuck to his position of no compromise on the issue of sovereignty for the Naga people.

On April 17 2015, SS Khaplang, affectionately called “Baba,” remarkably young at 75 and active in India and Myanmar, set up United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFWSEA) consisting of the region’s multiple rebel groups in the Sagaing Division of Myanmar with a view to waging a united struggle for the liberation of indigenous tribal lands and groups.  The Indian intelligence agencies not only failed to anticipate June 4 militant attack on the army convoy in Manipur but also failed to assess the capacity of Khaplang to upset the apple cart of negotiations between India and the NSCN-IM.

The emergence of the new political formation under the wings of Khaplang is likely to cost the government of India heavily. Poor statesmanship in dealing with the Naga insurgency, involving India and Myanmar, stands sharply exposed. The attempt to fracture the NSCN (K) and to weaken its ability to stand up to divisive tactics has proved inadequate. Three splinter groups have emerged: NSCN-K (Unification); (NSCN-Kholey-Khitovi); and NSCN (Reformation) set up by the recently expelled NSCN-K activist and former negotiator with the government Myanmar Wangtin Naga and his colleague P. Thikhak. Khaplang may be a Myanmar national but he has a mixed Indo-Myanmar Naga identity, which it is fool hardy to ignore. He has emerged today not just as the leader of the Indian and Myanmar Nagas but also as the leader and champion of a broader coalition of regional militant forces, which are uniting to fight for independence from India.

Khaplang has concluded a mutually convenient ceasefire with the government of Myanmar, which has accepted his autonomy and authority as the undisputed head of the Government of the People’s Republic of Nagaland (GPRN) in the Sagaing area. NSCN (K) is among the many militant groups who have entered into peace deals with the government of Myanmar ahead of the forthcoming elections in that country described by Bertil Lintner as the ‘cockpit of anarchy’. Khaplang is unlikely to be disturbed by Myanmar in order to please India.

Kadayam Subramanian was Director General of Police in India’s Northeast. He is a writer and scholar and was Director of the Research and Policy Division of the Government of India’s ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi)

(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Categories: Asia Times News & Features, South Asia

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  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    The Naga separatists are one of the oldest secessionist movements in India. The Naga people did not want to be part of India when the Mahatma was demanding Home rule. Long before India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, the Naga people clearly stated they wanted to have their own nation, independent of either India or Pakistan. The militant secessionist movement is an ongoing issue from a failed demand that occurred during the British Raj
    One aspect of the North Eastern states of India and the many separatist movements in that region is that many of them are Christian separatist movements. This is true in the case of the Indian states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura. In Tripura the Baptist Church actively supports the militants.
    During the many decades fighting the Indian army tens of thousands have died in these confrontations. The North East Indian separatists are one of the few Christian based militant secessionist movements in the world.

  • Maria Adams

    Thank you, BW. …and, I thought that India exercised freedom of religion, so, although Naga may have many legitimate reasons for secession, doesn’t that mean that Christianity isn’t among their motives for secession? The Indian government allows them to practice Christianity, right?

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    You missed my point. These militants are always written up as “tribal” militants but not Christian militants. Nagaland has the largest “Baptist” state in the world. Nagaland has more Baptists than the US state of Mississippi.
    From Presbyterians, Catholics and Baptists dominate the states I commented. In Tripura the Baptist church actively supports the militant separatist movement.
    This aspect has not been highlighted to the world. It is a Christian militant movement against the Brahmin Hindu New Delhi. If these were Hindu militants in a Christian nation or Muslim militants in a predominantly Muslim nation we would know about it.
    so when these militants die in Indian operations such as
    Operation Bajrang (November 1990)
    Operation Rhino (Sept. 1991)
    Operation Clear (December 2003)
    Operation Rhino 2 Thousands of Christians are killed. I am sure the Christian world would like to know that.

  • DavePh

    LOL, so you run away from our previous discussion on ‘India’s master plan for the Indian Ocean’ because you could not answer the question of Sri Lankan State Terrorism and HR violations against their own SL Tamil Citizens… Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

    Now I get it, how come you are Bernard…Wijeysingha. So now Christianity is your argument? In New Delhi, it has been 11 years since a Brahmin has ruled, actually, a Brahmin has ruled India for only some 23 years of of 67 years of Independence, and people still regard it as one of the best periods.

    You are basically an Anti-India element, whose full time job is getting on various discussion boards to do anti-India propaganda. You will indeed find me on most of them challenging your motivated and ill-intent arguments. Of course you are still nursing your wounds that Sri Lanka has been getting drubbing from India, and SL is unable to bring in any force to play…including China. HA HA HA

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    The Nehru/ Gandhi dynasty are Kashmiri Brahmins. You may want to check the caste of India’s many chief ministers and the ruling elite. my name is my business. I see your name is Dave. if that is your name it comes from David. which is Jewish as in King David and very Christian. If not you are hiding your true identity and are in no position to point fingers. the rest of you diatribe is what people call rubbish. Nice try. the Ha ha. is really childish. Get over it. “Dave”

  • DavePh

    Bernard, After marrying Feroz Gandhi, Indira Gandhi became a Parsi, she became PM only in 1966. So she had ceased to be a Brahmin by then… You talked about Brahmin ruling from New Delhi? Brahmins are also part and parcel of the Citizens of India like Narendra Modi who is from backward class, Dr. Manmohan Singh who was a Sikh and leader of the opposition Ms. Sonia Gandhi who is Parsi/Christian (which ever is your pick), and they all have a right to be a PM, CM, Governor or any post if they are qualified or elected.

    Remember that INDIA is not Sri Lanka who does ethnic cleansing of SL Tamils, their minority like Hitler did to Jews.

    My name is not David, it is pronounced as D’ave and my religion is INDIA, and that should be sufficient for you. The problem with you “TROLL” is that you think you know every thing, and have an adverse constipated Opinion on India, because we have plugged Sri Lanka where it hurts the most.

    Rubbish – are exactly your amateur attempts to get back at India are, which is laughable. I can see you trying to derive oxygen from someone writing on ATIMES, and post summaries that are anti India. If you spit at Sun, it will fall on your face, so keep the wipes handy…LOOL

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    I disagree. Not only is the Nehru/Gandhi dynasty are seen as Kashmiri Brahmins but many chief ministers are Brahmins. that was one of the issues the British Empire did when they broke the strangle hold of the horrible Caste system which in its practice is more dehumanizing than
    or any horror perpetrated by man upon man
    That was one of the main issues why Jinnah wanted a separate land for the Muslims for to paraphrase him “I do not want the Muslims to be subjugated by the Brahmins after they have been subjugated by the British” or words to that.
    Now 180 Million Indian Muslims live a life no better than a Dalit or an Adivasi. they are one of the most oppressed minorities in India. Jinnah and the British were right about the Hindu Caste system. It is an abomination upon the human race.
    As for my name YOU brought it up so you are the one who has to deal with that issue. Yes most of what you say is nothing but rubbish and I never invited you to comment on my comment. You did..

  • DavePh

    Burn-ard….I can not but laugh again at your amateurish attempts…. Your country actually tried to enslave the whole population of Sri Lankan Tamils and failed, you are the last person to talk about anyone else on this Earth. You can say Indira Gandhi was originally Kashmiri Brahmin, thats about it. I added 17 years of Nehru and 6 of Vajpayee to be about 23 years.

    India had 2 Muslim Presidents, Dr. Kalam elected by the BJP. India had Mulsim, Sikh and Christian COAS, a Christian Defense minister for 10 years. We value qualification and not the religion for positions of eminence. Of course I can not imagine that a bigoted Christian like you would understand that.

    So what is Catholic, Baptist, Evangelic, Protestant, Lutheran and myriad of different path in Christianity – But different Casts who discriminate against each other??? Look in the mirror Burnard…you can not take the Wijeyasingha out of you, unless you disown your Buddhist ancestry, which also has many different paths like Hinyan, Mahayan and more…Sri Lankan Buddhist monks were involved in killing SL Tamils, like they are involved in killing Rohingyas in Mynmar…and with that goes your bigoted argument down the gutter.

    I don’t need an invitation or your permission to comment on a public discussion forum, especially those comments that are motivated and ill-intended towards my country… I can see my challenging your falsehood is causing you sever constipation, but I will keep plugging where appropriate… you can count on that…

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    The caste system defines a human by his or her birth. Pariahs who are really “outcasts and do not even belong to this insidious caste system, many of whom are relegated to disposing the human waste of millions of upper Caste Hindus. Hinduism is the only faith with “human toilets’. Maybe that is one reason toilets are not catching on in Hindu India.
    It is worse than slavery for that human even if he or she becomes a Doctor or Lawyer cannot marry into an upper caste person. that person is “unclean” His or her soul is unclean for life. I cannot explain that to a Pariah child of maybe 7 or 8 years old that his or her future is less than a toilet and that the Brahmins because of their caste can do almost anything to a Pariah girl including gang r*pe her or sell her. That also goes to the treatment of tribals and Muslims. the the depth of the horror of your Hindu India sees no end. Communist China is a paradise in comparison. The Gulags of Russia are a blessing in comparison to the oceans of suffering caused by your Hindu Caste system. It is vile, it is barbaric and Hindu India should face the full brunt of the civilized world. If South Africa had to face so much for Apartheid, Hindu India should be banned from the civilized world for letting the horror go on.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    One more thing
    India CANNOT claim to be a Democracy and practice the Caste system. they are incompatible.
    A Democratic system DEMANDS that all citizens are treated equally
    the Caste system DEMANDS that humans are treated unequally simply by birth.
    As long as the caste system is live and well in India she is anything but a Democracy.

  • DavePh

    Burn-hard…only fools can talk nonsense like you do. Hinduism is the cradle of Civilization at least 8,000 years old, but of course a bigot like you won’t know or understand that… Cast system was more to hold your own clan together and the British used it against us to divide and rule. The cast system was abolished at the time of Independence, and all Citizens are equal in the eyes of the law. The constitution of India was written by Dr. Ambedkar who himself was a Dalit… He converted to Buddhism but his followers did not? Why because exceptions do not make norms…

    Counting someone else misdeeds doesn’t absolve you of your countries sins of ethnic cleansing of Sri Lankan Tamils. The murders, [email protected], molestation of children by Sri Lankan Army is worst then what Hitler did to Jews.

    Now you talk about the [email protected] and murder of Sri Lankan Tamil children by your Rajapksha Gastapo army. Lets see how long he hides from ICJ and The Hague…Let see if you have any arguments to defend them.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    The days of lying are over Dave. This is the age of Information and the age of the internet. anyone can find out about India’s caste system it is alive and well. You cannot hoodwink people with this kind of propaganda. too many articles even in Indian papers, cover inter caste wars. government sanctioned quotas for “backward castes”, brutality on lower castes and the 300 miliion Pariahs or outcasts. anyone in any part of the world who has access to the internet can learn about the nightmare of Hindu India’s caste system.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Finally Dave you are now back peddling. You first justified the caste system and I quote you from your comment above:
    “.. You talked about Brahmin ruling from New Delhi? Brahmins are also part and parcel of the Citizens of India like Narendra Modi…”

    You admit of the caste system and support it here. then in your last comment you deny it. You are showing what a fake you are.

  • DavePh

    Burnard….LOL, I am not supporting cast system, I just made it known what it was. But that was in post modern era, and gradually it is becoming less of an issue.

    But, You tell me when are you hanging your RACIST former President Rajapaksha for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleaning of Sri Lankan Tamils which included Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

    By not ever responding even once to the crime, you show you are not only fake but actually a conniver.

  • DavePh

    Burnard, sure you can find out about India’s cast system. And you can also find out about what the Govt. of India is doing to help poor people. Quotas are sanctioned for backward class people, because they are economically and educationally downtrodden. We need to help them by providing job and education securities. No where else in the World such kind of reservations on massive scales provided.

    So you love to quote from Internet, right? lets see….Christianity, one can also find about burning of women under the pretext of them being Witches, child molestation in Churches and protection provided to such ministers.

    One can see the atrocities Christians committed on the South American and North American Native Indians, so much so that they were wiped out by millions. Millions were forcibly converted to Christianity which is exactly opposite to what Jesus taught.

    Do you remember the Salvation Vouchers “Sold” by Pope ? So one can go out and commit a crime, and then pay the Holy Pope to obtain a salvation voucher…. What a big racket in the name of God!!! So what justification do you have Bigot? Now what do you have to say?

    If you want to cite follies of others, others can do the same to you. So before you foul the air again, think, I just put one more plug in your argument

  • DavePh

    Burnard, converted bigot, I know you are suffering from the classic syndrome of “Holier then thou” illness..

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    I counted the number of comments you have made to me just in this article in the Asia Times. 8. yes EIGHT comments so far. This is not about anything to do with the article. You have followed me in the Hindustan times as well.
    Now this could be the new Hindu something India something issue with you and some other Indian commenters. Either you have taken it upon yourself or it is the new Hindu Militancy in the internet nonsense. I am not playing your game. I will answer one comment after I comment on an article but this back and forth with the
    bad Sri Lanka
    bad Christians
    bad this and bad that
    when ever I make a comment on India. You are not the internet police, you are not some self appointed “guardian” of India. You are nothing to me and I will treat you like that.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Not working Dave. 8 comments to me, on Asia Times. many more on Hindustan Times. Not working anymore. that self appointed internet police attitude of you and others like you, will not work. I will make very clear comments. I am very good at articulating my points. That may make you angry. that may make you try to engage me in the future. I will respond only once,so make it good the next time I am on Asia Times commenting on an article about India. you have lost your goal. I am not taking the bait.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Not working Dave. I am onto you. You think you can follow commenters you see as making comments about India that you do not like. You then engage them and redirect people like me into a circular argument where it leads away from the article. No more dave. the Next time I am commenting on an article about India and you come along, you have only 1 chance to comment to me. I will answer that one comment and ignore the rest.
    Caste system is alive in India. From the Matrimonial ads to Kerala with her “one God, one religion, one caste” in order to free herself from the rest of India.
    Slavery, witch killings, child sacrifice, beggar mafia, all are alive and well in India. long long list . I will fill you in the next time we meet
    on a new article bye bye.

  • DavePh

    Burnard, it is working and I can see the annoyance in your posts. You repeatedly talk about follies of others, but will go around preaching as if you and your piece of dump country Sri Lanka is a paragon of humanity.

    I am very good at dragging the argument back to where I want it to be…Remember that those who live in glass houses, don’t throw stones at others….because people like me will flatten your house in no time..,just like now you are hiding behind fig by citing puny arguments.

    Before you start talking about others, look within, I have just kicked the ball right in your Goal. You are one Goal keeper who wants to keep the ball on the other side and when someone like me comes along and kicks right in, instead of standing in front of the goal and defending, you hide behind the Nets – Crying loud, “I am not playing, the ball is supposed to be in your court”.. the ball is not on the other side. You turn around and cite what the article is about? Who gave you the moral authority? Don’t forget that you are a Citizen of a criminal country which killed 200,000 of its own Citizens, and people like you actively participated in it. And you got galls to lecture us? Go do some tea leaves picking…while we code the Java App on how to Optimize tea production.

  • DavePh

    It is working moron, see your desperate efforts to duck the main question I have been hammering at you and you running away refusing to play…
    Well people are free to choose who to marry, if they want to practice cast preferences its their choice, no one can be forced.

    Sure, we will see how much you can hide from your countries crimes against humanity. At least we do not have a murderer like Sri Lankan Rajapaksha as President, who used state machinery to kill 200,000, [email protected], loot and ethnically cleanse minority from his country, his and people like you, your hands are dripping in blood of innocents… I beat you to pulp amateur, learn to defend before you come again to play.