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Imperiled Frontiers: Security Scenario in Northeast India

Imperiled Frontiers: Security Scenario in Northeast India

Author: Upasana Mahanta
Publication: Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Northeast India
Date: September 17, 2007
URL: http://www.ipcs.org/North_east_articles2.jsp?action=showView&kValue=2395&country=1016&status=article&mod=a&portal=pakistan

Report of Seminar held at the IPCS on 17 September 2007

Jaideep Saikia, Security Analyst, Guwahati

The enchanted frontiers of the Northeast with a 4,500 km long international boundary is connected to the rest of mainland India only by a narrow corridor known as the 'chicken's neck'. Of the neighbouring countries surrounding Northeast India, China continues to be influenced by 1962, particularly because of the non-delineation of the LAC (Line of Actual Control) facilitating Chinese claims over Arunachal Pradesh despite CBMs. Another area of concern is infrastructure development in Tibet. Moreover remnants of aid policy to the Northeast militants have paved the way for the criminal mafia of China's Yunnan province. Myanmar has been known to have sheltered many Northeast militant groups. Despite assurances that it might do a sort of Bhutan on the Northeast militants, there has only been cosmetic action by Myanmar so far.

Coming to the internal affairs of the Northeast, Manipur stands out as the most violent state with continued hostile action by underground groups. There is growing polarization between the hill and the valley and New Delhi's 'proximity' to Muivah alienates the Meiteis. One may witness a growing Islamic resurgence in the state. In Tripura, which is a kind of success story, one may observe disunity in unified state action. It has also emerged as an important hub of operations of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Bangladeshi Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) operations. Violence encouraged by the ISI-DGFI combine is expected ahead of the Assembly polls. In Nagaland, the immediate NSCN (IM) concern is the integration of "Nagalim." A NSCN (IM) hand is suspected in the recent Assam-Nagaland border skirmishes. The rivalry between NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) continues. Meanwhile, New Delhi's "wear-it-down" policy in Nagaland seems to be ineffective with an uneasy truce and ceasefire that has resulted in extortion, recruitment, arms procurement, generating 'non-Indians' and endangering the alliances for "coalition of the willing". Further, the twelve legislators in Tirap and Changlang have led an active political subterfuge in Itanagar. Finally, there is the trouble brewing in the Garo Hills in Meghalaya.

In Assam, the burning question is 'Swadhin Asom or Brihot Bangladesh?' There is a growing Islamic presence in the region with the ISI planning to engineer joint ULFA-MFO (Muslim fundamentalist organizations) operations. ULFA continues to maintain silence on the illegal migrant issue and the outfit no longer resists ISI dictates to destroy oil installations or target non-combatants. As per ULFA's organizational structure, the return of Raju Baruah who had gone missing post-Bhutan operations and who is supposedly very close to the ISI is very significant. One may observe that the ULFA's operations procedure has been divided between rural insurgency and urban terrorism, thus cleverly maintaining a safe haven in rural areas. In ULFA's strategy, extortion emerges as the prime objective. 90 per cent of the people do not report such extortion demands and people are actually paying up in places like Siliguri/Kolkata. However, in this context, there is an interesting study by scholar Ruchi Bhattacharya where it is pointed out that the level of violence has actually gone down in areas where people pay up. The propaganda machinery of ULFA is also on an all time high. Militarily, ULFA has active liaison with the Bangladesh Army, DGFI, ground liaison with KNLF and a faction of the NDFB, and arms running nexus with left-wing groups including the People's War Group (PWG). ULFA is now utilizing mercenaries - women, school and college dropouts as arms couriers and for extortion and grenade attacks. It no longer makes a distinction between communities while killing. The message is "You are being punished for New Delhi's insensitivity".

The Indian Army is doing a fabulous job in the Northeast. One needs to remember that 90 per cent of Assamese are fighting for sovereign India not a sovereign Assam. The People's Consultative Group (PCG) is not the sole representative of the people of Assam and there needs to be multiple discussion fora. However, by insisting on discussing sovereignty and 'plebiscite,' the ULFA wants to reenact the scenario of Kashmir in the Northeast. There is a need for a contingency plan in the region to engineer the extrication of ULFA from the ISI-DGFI grip. There needs to be diplomatic isolation of ULFA and emphasis on 'direct talks.'

The primary staging ground for ISI-DGFI operations in the Northeast is Bangladesh. It is a safe haven and training-camp ground for the Northeast militants, and has refused to extradite them. It has also emerged as the biggest arms bazaar. The Northeast is being utilized as a gateway to the rest of India. Ethnic separatism is also now paving the way to Islamic terror.

DISCUSSION

Comments/Questions

The ULFA had handpicked all the members of the People's Consultative Group (PCG) to hold discussions with New Delhi. Would the outfit be amenable to the idea of multiple discussion fora as it would be contrary to its interests?

One needs to observe that the formation of PCG coincides with the Indian army operations in Dibru-Saikhowa. PCG filled the political vacuum that was created.

It is significant that in the elections following the attacks on Hindi-speaking minority, BJP, for the first time, won a seat in upper Assam which has hitherto been a Congress stronghold.

Whenever they find themselves in a tight spot, ULFA goes for a ceasefire. Why does New Delhi fall for this ploy every time? By accepting such a ceasefire we are giving an indication that we are a soft state.

There are certain socioeconomic initiatives that the government is undertaking in the Northeast. How fruitful have they been so far?

In Northeast nobody seems to be taking local political forces seriously unlike J&K where there are a whole lot of local political forces playing a role.

The whole idea of military conquest is past history. The Chinese are strengthening economic development on the other side of the border in such a way that we are not able to match up to.

We should learn something from the LTTE scenario, which is not to give in to a cease-fire.

The idea of connectivity with the neighbouring countries is very important. Most of the problems in Northeast India could be addressed if the larger issues with the neighbouring countries are sorted out.

There is some shift in the Bangladesh policy at least on paper. There is a common threat perspective that Bangladesh seems to be noticing.

Why is it that whenever we talk about the peace talks with Northeast insurgents, it is New Delhi that is involved directly and not the respective state? Somehow the state governments do not come into the picture. It has also been argued that the state governments have been infiltrated to a large extent.

Do reports claiming CIA involvement in the Northeast have any truth to it?

The Chinese are not really still influenced by 1962. If anything it is India that still has not gotten over 1962

If the Northeast is being used as a gateway to the rest of India, is there a possibility of ULFA and such groups acting with the ISI actually launching attacks in the Indian heartland?

What is the reason for the ULFA joining hands with ISI? Would this not actually backfire for them?

Is there any nexus between ULFA and other Northeast militant groups? Is there any linkage to drug money?

If there is a symbiotic relationship between the government establishments and the militants - is that such a bad thing

Have Special Operations of a more proactive nature not been tried?

Would a major project such as road/railway/hydel project be beneficial in curbing alienation?

Responses

By multiple discussion forums, the idea is to give way to forums like 'Sahitya Sabha' to hold discussions on the issue. We could have essay writing competitions in various schools across the state on the question of sovereignty and the best essays should be published in leading newspapers. The common people in the state do not want a sovereign state and such exercises would dilute the concept of sovereignty.

Payoffs over a time could be a good thing. But this could degenerate into other forms of subterfuges that would lead to violence.

Special Operations have taken place in the region such as the one against Paresh Baruah in Bangladesh.

The state governments in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh are in a very bad way.

There is an American agenda in the region due to its proximity to China.

Talks with think tanks in China reveal that 1962 is the take off point for further discussions on the border question

The Northeast has so far been considered to be a security zone with not much attention to development.

There is definitely no question of giving in to future ceasefire demands of the militant outfits.

The Bangladesh government lacks the legitimacy to promise anything due to internal political turmoil.

Upasana Mahanta is a Research Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University


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