Saturday, October 23, 2004

India: Analysis - ULFA the "Jihadi B-Team"

An oft-heard claim today, however, is about insurgency in the Northeast as a single, unified entity. Advocates of the case argue it on two counts. They point out that the insurgent movements of the region have bases inside Bangladesh. They also point to the growth of 'Islamic' and 'anti-India' fundamentalism in Bangladesh over the recent period. BJP publicist Balbir K. Punj explains: "ULFA is the rebel child of the Assam agitation, one of whose objectives was to deport the 'foreigners' (euphemism for Bangladeshi infiltrators). But then ULFA became jihad's B-team, and ended up advocating the menace it was formed to fight against. Since long [ago], its cadres are being trained by the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan), and its camps are located in Bangladesh. ULFA encourages more infiltrators to settle in the Northeast, which will swamp the entire region."
New Danger from India's Northeast
J. Sri Raman

It is all quiet on India's northeastern front. This, however, can be the lull before the storm. Or several storms in the seven strife-torn hill-States, bordering Bangladesh, that make up the region.

Storms had preceded the uneasy lull, too. Further flare-ups in the region (which Indians call the Northeast) may have frightening repercussions for South Asia and its peace prospects.

Waiting for such flare-ups with ill-concealed impatience are forces in India who are sworn enemies of South Asian peace.

We have taken note, in these columns before, of the convulsions the region has just gone through. August 15, the Independence Day of India, ironically, witnessed two tragic incidents that illustrated the trauma of the Northeast. One of these was the outrageous blast in Dhemaji, a small town in the region's biggest State of Assam, which tore to shreds 15 schoolchildren on an I-Day parade. The other was the self-immolation of a youth in Imphal, capital of the neighboring State of Manipur, after the alleged rape and murder of a suspected separatist by Indian army personnel.

The two incidents and their aftermaths illustrated also the Northeast's diversity in disaffection. The fiery Manipur protest fueled a Statewide popular protest against a draconian law that legitimized army excesses against the people - a protest against official terror. The Assam outrage provoked an all-Assam eruption against separatist terrorism, especially against the excesses of the infamous United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).

Not only are the militant movements of different States in the Northeast against domination by New Delhi unlike each other. Quite a few of them are opposed to each other as well. The Manipur movement, for example, acquired a new militancy, with an agreement between the previous federal government and the insurgents of neighboring Nagaland: New Delhi promised inclusion of bordering Manipuri areas in Nagaland, inviting an instant protest. In Assam, for another instance, there should be little love lost between the ULFA insurgents, who stand for a "sovereign" Assam, and the Bodoland partisans, who seek a separate nation of that name carved out of the "country" of the former's cult.

An oft-heard claim today, however, is about insurgency in the Northeast as a single, unified entity. Advocates of the case argue it on two counts. They point out that the insurgent movements of the region have bases inside Bangladesh. They also point to the growth of 'Islamic' and 'anti-India' fundamentalism in Bangladesh over the recent period.

True, insurgents of the Northeast do seem to have found safer bases across the porous India-Bangladesh border. True too, that, as part of a South Asia pattern as also in a predictable reaction to the anti-'Islamic' offensive unleashed on Afghanistan and Iraq, Bangladesh has witnessed a rapid spurt in belligerent fundamentalism over recent years. Forces in India, now stressing these facts in a systematic campaign, are not out to further the cause of South Asian peace.

They are trying to use the Northeast developments to neutralize what little progress may have been achieved in the process of India-Pakistan dialogue on issues including Kashmir. Nuclear hawk K. Subrahmanyam, former head of the National Security Council, provides a sample of the ploy in a recent newspaper article. Noting the "quiet optimism" on the "western (India-Pakistan) front" along with the deterioration in the Northeast, he says: "A professional intelligence assessor will raise the question whether these two developments in the west and east of India are totally unrelated."

Adds he: "Observers of the global terrorism scene are of the view that there are linkages between Al-Qaida activities in Iraq, in Pakistan, in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. There is also a well-informed opinion that many jehadis have obtained safe haven in Bangladesh and are in touch with a number of Indian insurgent organizations operating in the Northeast."

Commending the US for "putting all the pressure it can on the Pakistan government to control the jehadis," he asks: "In such circumstances, would it not be reasonable to expect that the jehadis are driven to encourage their terrorist associates to strike at northeast India?" Waxing sarcastic, he adds: "This scenario may be dismissed as mere speculation by liberals who want to see no evil, hear no evil, or speak no evil."

India's far right, of course, is ever eager to see, hear, and speak nothing but evil about any attempt to promote relations with 'Islamic' neighbors and do everything to nullify any progress that might have been achieved in this process. The out-of-power Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has jumped with alacrity at the opportunity the Northeast scenario offers. The party is even prepared to forget all its past fondness for the ULFA.

BJP publicist Balbir K. Punj explains: "ULFA is the rebel child of the Assam agitation, one of whose objectives was to deport the 'foreigners' (euphemism for Bangladeshi infiltrators). But then ULFA became jihad's B-team, and ended up advocating the menace it was formed to fight against. Since long [ago], its cadres are being trained by the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan), and its camps are located in Bangladesh. ULFA encourages more infiltrators to settle in the Northeast, which will swamp the entire region."

All this ties in well indeed with the BJP's current efforts to unleash a virulent campaign against "demographic invasion" from Bangladesh. This can combine well again with the party's obscene campaign against the Indian Muslims' population growth.

Developments in India's Northeast dictate concerted efforts by peace-loving forces of all South Asian countries to combat varieties of fascism and fundamentalism that feed upon each other.

TruthOut 23/10/2004