"Although National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) has not executed any high profile attacks on Security Forces (SFs) since 1997, it has maintained or developed linkages with groups and entities inimical to Indian security interest. In the latest development, a report dated April 6, 2019, citing the National Investigation Agency (NIA), noted that some cadres of NSCN-IM were supplying smuggled weaponry from Myanmar to a Left Wing Extremist (LWE) group. According to NIA, NSCN-IM militants were in touch with the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), a LWE group operating in Bihar and Jharkhand. TPC is a splinter group of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), which has been involved in clashes with SFs as well as in factional clashes with the parent CPI-Maoist.
The NSCN-IM – Maoist nexus is not a new phenomenon. In 2017, reports indicated that the then NSCN-IM ‘army chief’ Phungthing Shimrang [currently an executive member of the steering committee, which is involved in negotiations with Government of India (GoI)] had stated that NSCN-IM)had trained Peoples War Group (PWG) cadres (period not specified). PWG had merged with the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCC) in 2004, to form CPI-Maoist.
On May 9, 2010, the then Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai had stated that CPI-Maoist was in touch with NSCN-IM, and that Thuingaleng Muivah had disclosed that CPI-Maoist members met with NSCN-IM at the Hebron camp in Dimapur, seeking help in arms procurement.
NSCN-IM has, over time, had linkages with a multitude of regional insurgent groups. By propping up and linking with a numerous such formations in the Northeast and elsewhere, NSCN-IM has managed to spread its influence beyond Naga dominated areas and organisations. In the Northeast, NSCN-IM has propped up militant groups in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Manipur.
NSCN-IM also reportedly has had connections with groups operating beyond Indian frontiers, including links with Maoists from Nepal; as well as the Karen National Union (KNU) and Kachin Independence Army (KIA), both Myanmar-based militant formations, who also act as transit agents for small arms from China via Myanmar.
NSCN-IM has long engaged with intelligence agencies of neighbouring countries, including Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). In 2008, even while it was engaging in talks with GoI, an ISI agent met with NSCN-IM leaders in Bangkok and offered military training if they broke the ongoing cease fire.
NSCN-IM has also established linkages with the Peoples’ Security Bureau, China’s intelligence agency. According to a 2010 NIA charge sheet, NSCN-IM was regularly procuring weapons from a Chinese state-owned company, North China Industries Company (NORICO). According to Antony Shimray (currently the ‘commander in chief’ of NSCN-IM, earlier a key purchaser of arms arrested by authorities in 2010 and released on bail in 2016), NSCN-IM had appointed Kholose Swu Sumi as the permanent representative of NSCN-IM to China in 2008.
The ban on NSCN-IM has not been extended after 2002, but the group has used the ceasefire agreement to its advantage, increasing its cadre strength from about 3,000 in 1997 (when the cease fire agreement was signed) to a currently estimated 5,000. Moreover, the group continues to replenish its arsenal. Antony Shimray was arrested in 2010 as he was in the process of finalising a purchase order for NSCN-IM from China, which included more than 450 AK Rifles. In a more recent incident which indicated NSCN-IM’s continuing efforts in this direction, in March 2018, an NSCN-IM militant was arrested at New Delhi airport while attempting to smuggle in pistol-carbine conversion units.
NSCN-IM has become a transregional militant group, with its linkages stretching from the Indian heartland to Nepal, Myanmar and China, and has become an ‘influencer’ for a number of insurgencies in the Northeast and beyond. As the group continues to engage with India’s rivals and has often acted as their proxy, the group has become a medium for external actors as well, directly impacting on India’s internal security. These issues would have further ramifications in view of the reports that indicate that the 5,000 NSCN-IM armed cadres could be drafted into Border Security Force (BSF) or other Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs) in the eventual peace settlement.
The inconclusive negotiations, where an end state is yet to crystallize, can at least be partially attributed to NSCN-IM’s continuing engagement with various state and non-state actors inimical to the Indian interest, as the group seeks to strengthen its hand in negotiations with GoI. At the same time, GoI’s inability to resolve this oldest insurgency in India and its snail-paced approach to conflict resolution has contributed equally to current uncertainties. It is crucial to understand that the dwindling violence in the Northeast is no guarantee of peace or long-term stability.