Dr Namrata Goswami – Naga Framework Agreement and ‘Shared Sovereignty’

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Naga Framework Agreement and ‘Shared Sovereignty’ by Dr Namrata Goswami, Senior Analyst and Minerva Grantee.

On August 3, 2015, there was sudden excitement in Naga inhabited areas. After decades of conflict (ongoing since 1918), and becoming violent since 1956, when the A Z Phizo led Naga National Council (NNC) went underground, there was a sudden flare of hope for peaceful resolution of the 97 years old conflict. With the signing of the 2015 framework agreement between the National Socialist Council of Nagalim led by Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu (NSCN-IM), and the Government of India, a commitment was undertaken to resolve the violent differences to bring about peace to these conflict-affected areas. To be sure, efforts to resolve the Naga conflict had been tried before. In 1964, a Nagaland Peace Mission was established and it succeeded in signing a ceasefire with the NNC.[1] However, differences started cropping up between different Naga tribes, and the ceasefire broke down. In 1975, a Shillong Accord was signed with the NNC but NNC leaders like Thuingaleng Muivah, Isak Swu and S S Khaplang viewed that accord as a complete ‘sell-out’ to the Indian government, broke away from the NNC and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980. Muivah, Swu and Khaplang had their differences over leadership styles that ensued into a violent quarrel in the Patkai hills between Muivah and Khaplang, with Muivah barely surviving that ordeal. Subsequently, the NSCN broke into two factions-NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) in 1988. A decade of bloody conflict was followed by ceasefires between both groups and the Government of India in 1997 and 2001 respectively.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, NSCN (IM) General Secretary, Thuingaleng Muivah, NSA, Ajit Doval and others at the signing ceremony of historic peace accord between Government of India & NSCN, in New Delhi. (Source; PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, NSCN (IM) General Secretary, Thuingaleng Muivah, NSA, Ajit Doval and others at the signing ceremony of historic peace accord between Government of India & NSCN, in New Delhi. (Source; PTI)

The Muivah-Swu led NSCN emerged dominant and the Indian government held several rounds of negotiations with them since 1997. The issues that have brought the two sides together are a desire to end the violence, given the society that the NSCN (IM) represents wants peace. There are, however, several issues that create divisions; first, the NSCN (IM) demands a sovereign Nagalim, to include territories from neighboring states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur, where Naga communities reside. Both these demands are difficult to be met. The sovereignty demand challenges the unity and territorial integrity of India. The demand for territorial unification throws up two challenges; first, in order to change any territory in Northeast India, the Union government has to acquire the consent of the states, which is unlikely to be given. Second, the Naga inhabited areas are not geographically contiguous and have other communities residing there as well, to include Kukis, Meiteis, Dimasas, Karbis, and they have their separate political demands. Moreover, divisions exist between Konyak Nagas, NSCN (K)’s major societal component, and Tangkhuls, who are represented by the NSCN (IM). This complicates the question of representation with Konyaks believing that they are represented by the NSCN (K) and not by the NSCN (IM). Angami Nagas usually believe they are represented by the NNC, which is led by Phizo’s daughter, Adino. The issue of political representation therefore has to be resolved between the Naga tribal communities.

The 2015 Naga framework agreement has thrown up many sceptics as well. There has been hand-wringing amongst security analysts, Naga community leaders and academics, of what the framework agreement amounts to. Some accuse the NSCN (IM) of selling out to the government on the Naga cause;[2] others suspect that the Naga framework agreement is just an empty piece of paper, with nothing promised.[3] Some point out that there is actually no resolution in sight. The lack of clarity, from both the Government and the NSCN (IM), has only added to the anxieties. A growing perspective amongst those who study the Naga issue is that the framework agreement enables groups like the NSCN (IM) to continue with their parallel governments, including recruitment and training, procurement of illegal weapons and running extortion networks. This perspective has been vindicated by May 8, 2017 arrest of nine NSCN (IM) cadres by the 36 Assam Rifles, with a huge cache of illegal weapons, to include AK-47 and 56 rifles.[4] Furthermore, the NSCN (IM) continues to levy taxes on local people. These taxes are ‘cut at source’ for government employees, at a rate of 24 per cent annually, depending on the salary bracket. Recently, the NSCN (IM) announced that it was reducing the taxes from 24 to 12 per cent annually (1 per cent of salary per month).[5] Ironically, resident Naga tribes are exempted from paying taxes to the state and Central governments.[6] The annual budget of the NSCN (IM) is Rs. 180 crores (2016-2017).[7] While most view NSCN (IM) taxes as ‘coercive extortions’, the non-payment of which could result in severe physical harm, the NSCN (IM) describes these ‘taxes’ as necessary to continue their fight for the Naga cause.[8] NSCN (IM) narrative and presence has legitimacy to the extent that the entire democratically elected Nagaland State Assembly of 60 members offered to resign to make way for lasting peace in Nagaland.

It is, however, the common person who suffers the most from perpetual conflict of this nature. Due to the presence of armed groups, the local industries have failed to take off. Even those interested in local entrepreneurship ventures are afraid due to the demand for ‘protection money’ from the several Naga armed groups. Existing business owners have to pay ‘protection money’ to the armed groups.[9] Local markets in Dimapur, Nagaland’s main town, pays a percentage of their profit to the armed groups as ‘business tax’. Armed groups issue ‘work permits’ to those from outside the state to work in Nagaland for a fee. As a result, Nagaland lacks entrepreneurship, employment opportunities, tourism facilities, and worst still, is a highly corrupt economy. Ironically, the armed groups appear entrepreneurial with their several money-making ventures, but of course, for a cause. State institutions routinely take bribes from local people to do their jobs, which is then shared with armed groups. This atmosphere is emboldened by the fact that an armed group can collect money in a systematic manner with zero retribution from law enforcement. The common people I spoke to in Naga areas, hopes that such systemic corruption by armed groups, comes to a halt when the final peace agreement is signed. Most Naga families, who can afford to, send their children outside of Nagaland to study or to seek work, to ensure they do not fall prey to armed groups. Addressing the issue of taxes or ‘protection money’ demanded by armed groups like NSCN (IM) should be a part of the final peace agreement. Significantly, the Naga peace agreement may end the violence, and the NSCN (IM) could turn itself into a political party, similar to the Mizo National Front (MNF) in the neighboring state of Mizoram who joined the democratic political process. The MNF leader Laldenga went on to become Chief Minister of the state. This would depend on Muivah (83 at the time of this writing) and younger leaders like Phunthing Shimrang, Muivah’s nephew, believed to be next in line for NSCN (IM) leadership.

Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah (NSCN-IM)
Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah (NSCN-IM)

Nevertheless, the timing of the 2015 framework agreement was important. Isak Chisi Swu, who died in June 2016, at least survived to see the signing of the framework agreement. According to R N Ravi, Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) chief and Interlocuter for the Naga talks, “Swu played a historic role in the framework agreement. It was his idea. His departure is a big loss. For the last several months he has not been actively participating in the talks as he was in hospital. Sometime in March-April, he said now that we have a fundamental understanding on core issues, why don’t we sign the agreement?”[10] Many have criticized the Naga framework agreement, without realizing that Swu (86), unwell and hospitalized in Delhi at that time, hoped an agreement of some sort would be signed, as time was running out on him. Swu, soft spoken, deeply religious and ever the gentleman, enjoyed a deep legitimacy due to his decades long struggle for the Naga cause since 1958 (56 years). Muivah and Ravi, by signing a framework agreement, in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, honored Swu’s last wishes. That is something emotive and poignant, and the significance of that should not be lost on the Naga population.

Nearly a year later, after Swu’s demise, the NSCN (IM)  in a press release on May 9, 2017 stated that they have accepted the idea of ‘shared sovereignty’ and to co-exist with India.[11] The concept of ‘shared sovereignty’, as understood from the IM’s perspective, could imply that the NSCN (IM) may share in Indian Central government initiatives. This has resulted in an increase in local recruitment to the outfit (from 2000 to 5000) with new NSCN (IM) recruits aiming to be inducted into a Central Service.[12] Theoretically, however, the idea of ‘shared sovereignty’ is far more complex, rather than simply sharing a national government initiative between two in-country national or local entities. Shared sovereignty is defined as “the creation of two new institutions—de facto trusteeships and shared sovereignty arrangements with regional and international organizations or, in some cases, more powerful and better governed states—to help improve governance in these countries”.[13] Given national governments have been unable or unwilling to develop the status of some sections of their population, due to incompetence or lack of material resources, which denies the population access to healthcare, education, limits to individual physical liberty and safety, poor economic well-being, the only viable way, as per the idea of ‘share sovereignty’ is to include these areas within an international organization or trusteeship that partners with the national government to improve the lives of the common people. Shared sovereignty could result in multi-level governance where responsibility is shared towards foreign affairs, domestic policy, law and order and economics.

So, the serious policy question that arises with the NSCN (IM)’s acceptance of “shared sovereignty” is: what does it amount to, legally and constitutionally? For one, it could suggest that the NSCN (IM) now accepts their future within India, but enjoy an empowered status of crafting their own policies for the Naga areas. This kind of empowerment, however, was already granted when Nagaland became a state in 1963 and enjoyed its own state assembly which has the power to craft laws for Nagaland. Or does the concept of ‘shared sovereignty’ mean that the NSCN (IM) will evolve into an institution that would share in the development of Naga areas. For this to work, the outfit would have to enjoy vast resources, which cannot be based on ‘taxing or extorting’ from the very people they claim to work for or develop. Consequently, the NSCN (IM) will have to enjoy the capacity to attract external resources. Let us be clear. The idea of ‘shared sovereignty’ understood internationally, is not Nagaland sharing sovereignty with Assam. That’s a given and rather obvious, since they both fall within Indian territory. ‘Shared sovereignty’ implies that external actors, to mean foreign entities, are involved in some of the domestic authority structures of the state. To be precise,

NSCN (IM) Naga Republic Day celebration, Council Headquarter Hebron, Dimapur. Photo by Caisii Mao

Shared-sovereignty institutions require three pre-conditions: (1) there must be international sovereignty, (2) the agreement must be voluntary, and (3) the arrangement must not ask the third party to contribute large resources. Under this arrangement, state actors have the authority to enter into agreements that would compromise their Westphalian sovereignty, with the goal of improving domestic sovereignty. While states preserve their authority to enter voluntary agreements, they cede their autonomy by pooling their resources into a multilateral organization or their commitments into an international treaty, which then become vehicles for international collective action.[14]

This contrast with the general understanding of sovereignty, which has been dominated by the Westphalian notion of sovereignty since 1648, to imply that states are autonomous entities that govern their internal territory, and enjoy legal jurisdiction over their territory.[15] So, if NSCN (IM) is counted as a foreign entity, then it could share sovereignty with the Indian government over Naga inhabited areas. That would imply there are certain shared norms that are developed that will be shared between the Indian government and the NSCN (IM). Shared sovereignty in Naga areas would mean that the state is no longer the sole authority in policy making, but that function is shared with the NSCN (IM), NGOS, community leaders, amounting to a supra-state structure encompassing all these actors. Given Nagas live across internal state borders in India, this institutional arrangement does make sense. To make this work would however require a strong consensus on the kind of future that is most desired; whether the NSCN (IM) is accepted as a representative body across Naga inhabited areas (this is contested), and if they are democratically elected by those who they claim to represent.

For now, the framework agreement gives us a general sense that the NSCN (IM) has agreed to give up violence and accept the path towards institutional non-violent change. To work out complicated issues like ‘shared sovereignty’ may take more time, and should be legally vetted so that conflict does not raise its head again. The devil lies in the details of how encompassing institutional change will be worked out.

All views expressed in this article are solely that of the author.

End Notes

[1] “Text of the Peace Mission’s Proposal”, SATP, at  http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/nagaland/documents/papers/text_the_peace_mission.htm (Accessed on May 17, 2017).

[2] Author discussions with Naga activists, New Delhi, August 2015.

[3] Sudeep Chakraborty, “Naga Framework Agreement Remains an Inside Job Between the Signatories”, The Hindustan Times, July 4, 2016 at http://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/the-naga-framework-agreement-remains-an-inside-job-between-the-signatories/story-nEuhzTpOTJR63U1UJOXp9H.html (Accessed on May 17, 2017).

[4] “Assam Rifles Apprehends 9 NSCN (IM) Cadres “, The Times of India, May 8, 2017 at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kohima/assam-rifles-apprehends-9-nscnim-cadres/articleshow/58568171.cms (Accessed on May 17, 2017).

[5] NSCN-IM Halves Tax on State Government Employees”, The Hindustan Times, April 23, 2017 at http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/nscn-im-halves-tax-on-state-government-employees/story-sXrqTOTvSM9DtX4o4xD2CL.html (Accessed on May 17, 2017).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Author discussions with NSCN (IM) leadership, Dimapur, Nagaland, 2007 and 2013.

[9] Author discussions with business leaders, Manipur and Nagaland, 2013.

[10] Vijaita Singh, “Naga Leader Isak Chisi Swu Passes Away in Delhi Hospital”, The Hindu, June 28, 2016 at http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Naga-leader-Isak-Chisi-Swu-passes-away-in-Delhi-hospital/article14406865.ece (Accessed on May 17, 2017).

[11] Vijaita Singh, “NSCN-IM Settles for “Shared Sovereignty”, The Hindu, May 19, 2017 at http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/nscn-im-settles-for-shared-sovereignty/article18493154.ece (Accessed on May 23, 2017).

[12] Ibid.

[13] Stephan Krasner, “Sharing Sovereignty: New Institutions for Collapsed and Failing States”, International Security, Vol. 29, Issue.2, October 2004, pp. 85-120 at http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/0162288042879940#.WNrTH1UrKUk (Accessed on May 19, 2017).

[14] Hadii M. Mamudu and Donley T. Studlar, “Multilevel Governance and Shared Sovereignty: European Union, Member States, and the FCTC”, Governance, 22 (1), 2009, pp. 73-97, at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2900849/ (Accessed on May 19, 2017). Also see Stephan Krasner, “Stephan D. Krasner, “The Case for Shared Sovereignty”, Journal of Democracy, 16 (1), 2005, pp. 69–83

[15] Mamudu and Studlar, n. 14.


Dr. Namrata Goswami is one of the foremost Indian thinkers on long-term global trends, emerging security challenges, and scenario building. Dr. Goswami is currently a Senior Analyst and Minerva Grantee. She regularly consults with Wikistrat,, and is associated with NATO Partnership for Peace (PfPC) “Emerging Security Challenges” working group.She was formerly Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi where she specialized on ethnic conflicts, insurgency, counter-insurgency and conflict resolution. She has been a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the Congressionally Funded United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington DC, where she explored long-term India-China-US scenarios in order to craft sustainable security frameworks to enable unimpeded human development and security. She was co-lead and editor of two IDSA sponsored works on long-term trends, Imagining Asia in 2030, and Asia 2030 The Unfolding Future.


Her latest book published by Pentagon Press, New Delhi is on India’s Approach to Asia, Strategy, Geopolitics and Responsibility, 2016.  In 2015, she published with Routledge, London and New York, her book on Indian National Security and Counterinsurgency: The Use of Force Vs. Non Violent Response in which she explored the contrasting influence of Kautilya, India’s classical realist thinker vis-a-vis Gandhi’s prohibition on a violent response.  In 2012-2013, Dr, Goswami received the Fulbright-Nehru Senior Fellowship supporting her work on China-India border. She also received the “Executive Leadership Certificate” sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the National Defense University, Washington DC, and the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, Hawaii in 2013. She has been a Visiting Fellow at the Peace Research Institute, Oslo, Norway, the La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia and the University of Heidelberg, Germany. Dr. Goswami is part of a renowned group of international experts exploring emerging security challenges such as 3-D printing, human self-modification and longevity, trans-national insurgencies, combating violent extremism, hybrid war and asteroid threats in the NATO sponsored “Partnership for Peace Consortium”. Her philosophy for life is one of the immortal quotes of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”.

© Dr Namrata Goswami

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