China and Naga Rebels
The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed in the early 1980s by Isak Chisi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah, and S.S. Khaplang in a sign of displeasure with the terms of the Shillong Accord, signed by the then Naga National Council (NNC) with the government of India. Differences later surfaced within the organization over the issue of initiating dialogue with the Indian government. As a result, the NSCN split into two factions in 1988—the NSCN-K in honour of its leader, Khaplang, and the NSCN-IM, led by Isak and Muivah.
The NSCN-IM has a reported strength of around 4,500 fighters and is believed to raise funds primarily through drug trafficking from Burma and by selling weapons and other military equipment to other regional insurgent groups. Nagas live in several states besides their own, Nagaland, and have fought a six-decade insurgency for an autonomous ‘Greater Nagaland’ including parts of Manipur, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh. An estimated 100,000 people have died in violence tied to that conflict. A ceasefire with the government has largely held since 1997, but successive rounds of peace talks have yet to produce lasting results.
Chinese support for Naga rebels isn’t a new phenomenon. Following the 1962 Indo-China conflict, and facilitated by Pakistani intelligence in Dacca, Kughato Sukhai, the self-proclaimed Naga prime minister, wrote to Chinese leaders alleging persecution and oppression by India and called on China to ‘honour and follow their principle of safeguarding and upholding the cause of any suppressed nation of Mongolian stock.’
In November 1966, China covertly trained and procured weapons for a 300-strong contingent of Naga rebels in support of Maoist revolution. The group returned to India in January 1968 and established a camp in the Jotsoma jungles. When Indian forces attacked their haven in June that year, they reportedly recovered Chinese weapons and a trail of documents leading back to Chinese support. China apparently curtailed support for Indian insurgents starting in the late 1980s following Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 visit to China. However, the Indian military has strongly suspected that Chinese intelligence agencies have in fact been continuing to support Indian rebels covertly, although until recently it had little evidence to prove this.
An Intelligence Windfall
Shimray’s arrest proved to be a windfall for Indian intelligence, which had been pursuing him for years. Indian authorities reportedly caught a break in September 2010 when Shimray’s whereabouts were traced to Bangkok. However, under international law, they couldn’t arrest him until he set foot in Indian territory. A tip came that Shimray would need to travel from Thailand to get his visa renewed and visit his interlocutors in Manipur and Nagaland, but would first have to pass through Nepal. On September 27, Shimray took a Royal Nepal Airlines flight to Kathmandu and made his way across the Indian border into Bihar, where Indian authorities arrested him at a rail station.