Monday, October 18, 2004

India: Assessment - Cross-border terror on Eastern front

It was obvious since then that the ULFA and NDFB would launch retaliatory strikes at a time and place of their choosing. The ULFA also wanted to demonstrate that it retained its strike capability. There was also a desire to avenge the humiliation suffered in Bhutan. A major incident of arms seizure in Chittagong on April 2, 2004, should not be lost sight of. A huge consignment of Korean, Italian, Chinese and US-made weaponry, including 690 T56-1 sub-machine guns, 600 T56-2 sub-machine guns, 150 T-69 rocket launchers, 840 rockets, etc — enough to equip an infantry brigade — were recovered. Bangladesh never came out clean on who sent the consignment or who were its beneficiaries. Jane’s Intelligence Review has disclosed that ‘‘the purchases were financed by a foreign intelligence service seeking to destabilise India’s North-east’’, and that the shipment involved ULFA’s military chief Paresh Barua and NSCN’s chief procurement officer Anthony Shimray.


Cross-border terror on eastern front
Prakash Singh

The recent ULFA, NDFB attacks were well-planned and designed to show their defiance of the Indian State

The North-east is in a state of ferment again. It started with the Manorama incident on July 11; it is nearly three months, but unrest continues. Apart from the decision to send in more forces, the Centre has not taken any bold initiatives and passed on the buck to the state. And so, we are in a state of drift in the sensitive state of Manipur. On August 15, the ULFA struck in a big way when they triggered off blasts at Dhemaji in Assam, killing 13 people, mostly school-children. This was followed by a chain of explosions on August 26. Now, on October 2, there have been blasts at Dhubri, Bongaigaon, Kokrajhar, Darrang, Udalgiri, Sonitpur, Sibsagar and other places.

Nagaland was also rocked by violence at its commercial hub of Dimapur. The toll in the incidents was about 70, with about 200 sustaining injuries.

Two things should be obvious to any discerning observer. One, that the strikes on October 2 were the result of careful planning and coordination among some of the major insurgent groups operating in the North-east. There was definitely a conspiracy to have simultaneous strikes at a number of places in Assam and Nagaland. Two, that the insurgents had deliberately chosen August 15 and thereafter October 2 for attacks. It was to show their disrespect for days sacrosanct to the rest of Indians and also their defiance of the Indian State. The ULFA and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) are have since acknowledged their involvement in the attacks.

These two very groups had, towards the end of December 2003, asked the Chinese Government for shelter and medical facilities when their cadres were fleeing from Bhutan. An appeal, signed jointly by Arabinda Rajkhowa, ULFA chairman, and Ranjan Daimari, NDFB chairman, requested China to allow members of the ULFA, NDFB, and Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) safe passage ‘‘to save their lives’’. China, of course, had ignored the appeal.

It was obvious since then that the ULFA and NDFB would launch retaliatory strikes at a time and place of their choosing. The ULFA also wanted to demonstrate that it retained its strike capability. There was also a desire to avenge the humiliation suffered in Bhutan. As for the NDFB, it was finding itself marginalised ever since the formation of the Bodoland Territorial Council on December 7, 2003, which followed the surrender of cadres of the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) at Kokrajhar. The NDFB stands for ‘Bodo Hadat’ — an independent Bodoland.

A major incident of arms seizure in Chittagong on April 2, 2004, should not be lost sight of. A huge consignment of Korean, Italian, Chinese and US-made weaponry, including 690 T56-1 sub-machine guns, 600 T56-2 sub-machine guns, 150 T-69 rocket launchers, 840 rockets, etc — enough to equip an infantry brigade — were recovered. Bangladesh never came out clean on who sent the consignment or who were its beneficiaries. Jane’s Intelligence Review has disclosed that ‘‘the purchases were financed by a foreign intelligence service seeking to destabilise India’s North-east’’, and that the shipment involved ULFA’s military chief Paresh Barua and NSCN’s chief procurement officer Anthony Shimray.

It is obvious that some other consignments would have gone undetected. The essential point is that Bangladesh is acting as conduit for the supply of weapons to groups in the North-east. It was but natural for the outfits to demonstrate the lethality of their newly-acquired weapons through violence. The flare-up in the North-east calls for a judicious combination of short-term and long-term measures. To start with, the security forces should go hammer and tongs against the outfits responsible for the incidents. The police force should be energised and given sophisticated equipment. Coordinated measures will have to be made in all the affected north-eastern states. Unified Commands should function at state capitals. Rebel leaders should be detained for long periods, if necessary, by enacting a provision on the lines of UK’s Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act, 2001. The IMDT Act should be repealed. An identity card scheme should be introduced in the sparsely-populated states without any delay. The utilisation of funds earmarked for development should be closely monitored.

To defuse the situation in Manipur, we could apply the POTA formula — in other words, repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and introduce another law which, while retaining the essential provisions of the old law, would contain safeguards, including penal provisions, against its misuse. This would meet the demands of the people and also provide the necessary legal cover to the armed forces.

From a long-term point of view, the Government will have to ensure that Myanmar and Bangladesh do not provide sanctuaries, and definitely not training facilities or armaments to wage war against the Indian State. Myanmar has helped in the past, and so getting its cooperation would not be difficult. The problem would be with Bangladesh, which refuses to acknowledge the presence of rebel camps in its territory. Enough is enough. We should be able to tell Bangladesh in very firm language that we mean business, that they should withdraw whatever facilities they have extended to the ISI in their country to spread subversion in the North-east, that they must round up the rebels and hand them over to us, and dismantle their camps — or else, face the consequences.

The writer is former DGP of Assam and ex-director general of the BSF

Indian Express 15/10/2004