On 6 December, the union home minister, Amit Shah, called the Indian Army’s recent ambush of 13 civilians in Nagaland’s Mon district a case of “mistaken identity” on the floor of Parliament. Shah said he regretted the deaths on behalf of the Indian government and that it has been decided that “all the agencies would ensure no such unfortunate incident will be repeated before taking any operation against rebels.” Shah told Parliament that the state had set up a special investigation team which would conclude its probe “within a month.” He added that an additional secretary to the north east division of the union home ministry was also sent to the state to “review the situation.”
But a number of signatories to the Naga peace process said that they had no faith in the SIT’s functioning. This was because of the SIT’s limited power and jurisdiction over prosecuting para forces. In addition, the killings has made them suspicious of the government’s intention. It happened at a time when Naga armed and political organisations were expecting a lasting final solution from the Indian government to the longstanding Indo-Naga conflict. Several stakeholders in the peace process said that they felt that the union government’s response to the massacre was a weak attempt to buy time to reach a final agreement. Moreover, according to the stakeholders, the killings also violated the agreements that had already been reached between them and the government. The official statements from the two rebel factions in light of the latest civilian killings—with whom the union government signed separate written agreements in 2015 and 2017 respectively on the terms of negotiations—also suggested that military operations in the state undermined the government’s authority in the ongoing peace process. Armed Naga organisations, as well as student unions, academicians and a human-rights organisation I spoke to were unanimous in their demand for the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958. The AFSPA grants the Indian military extraordinary powers to use force—even to the extent of death—and protection from prosecution in “disturbed areas,” which are notified by the union government.
RN Ravi, the former Indian interlocutor, had informed the state assembly in February that the political talks with rebel groups had concluded and only the signing of a final agreement was to be worked out. One of the signatories to the peace process, on the condition of anonymity, told me that AK Sharma, the current government interlocutor in the peace talks, was able to bring a truce between different rebel groups and worked on a “common draft” for the solution recently. In such a backdrop, signatories to the peace agreement told me that local sentiments would not be very receptive to the government’s maneuvering on the incident and would want nothing less than a lasting peace accord.