Monday, October 04, 2004

India: Recent Bombings - Wake-Up calls from the North-East

[Since 1956, the North-East has been a major cauldron of insurgency/terrorism due to feelings of ethnic separatism among its inhabitants. The area provides all that terrorists/insurgents need for keeping alive their movement--- sanctuaries in Bhutan, Myanmar, the pre-1971 East Pakistan and the post-1971 Bangladesh; facilities for across the border training and procurement of arms and ammunition; State-sponsorship from the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Bangladesh; a regular flow of funds from the smugglers of narcotics from the Golden Triangle; and an ineffective administration in North Myanmar.]

WAKE-UP CALL FROM THE NORTH-EAST
by B.Raman

Twenty-six persons were killed and over a hundred injured by two explosions in Dimapur, the only railway station in Nagaland in India's North-East, on October 2, 2004, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The same day, in a series of co-ordinated attacks in different places in Assam, also in the North-East, involving the use of hand-held weapons, hand-granades and explosives,19 persons were killed.

2. While the needle of suspicion points strongly in the direction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) in respect of the incidents in Assam, the indicators regarding Dimapur are still weak. There is a greater possibility that the Dimapur explosions were also carried out by the NDFB and not by any of the two Naga insurgent organisations---the National Socialist Council of Nagalad (NSCN-- Issac Swu-Muivah) or the NSCN (Khaplang). Both these oreganisations have been observing a cease-fire and the NSCN (I-M) has entered into negotiations with the authorities for finding a political solution to their grievances. The talks have not broken down or reached a dead end, though they have been progressing very slowly, and it does not make sense for them to indulge in such acts of terrorism. Moreover, the NSCN (I-M) is reported to have promptly denied any involvement and offered a reward for anyone, who would help them identify those responsible for the explosions.

3. While there is no strong reason so far to suspect the involvement of any of the two Naga insurgent organisations in the blasts, one cannot rule out the involvement of rogue elements in either of these organisations, out of the control of the leadership, either alone or in collusion with the NDFB, because of their impatience over the perceived slow progress towards a peaceful settlement. In the past, the 1,000-strong NDFB has had a networking relationship with the NSCN (I-M) and the cadres of the two organisations had known and helped each other ---definitely logistically and probably operationally.

4. An intriguing question is why were the strikes organised on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. To achieve a greater impact, insurgent and terrorist organisations often time their violent acts to coincide with important anniversaries of symbolic significance such as the Indian Independence Day, the Republic Day, the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh by a Hindu mob in December, 1992 etc.

5. Rarely has any insurgent or terrorist organisation timed its acts to coincide with Gandhi's birth anniversary. It does not make sense. However, the anniversary of the militancy of the NDFB falls on October 3. Hence, the inference is that it was the NDFB, which probably organised all the terrorist strikes in Assam as well as in Dimapur to mark its anniversary and that it timed them for October 2 instead of October 3 because it might have felt that the security would be tight on October 3.

6. Presuming the NDFB was involved in these terrorist strikes, through them it has sought to send a clear message to the people of the Bodo community in Assam as well as to the Government of India and that is that it is quite alive and kicking and its motivation and capability for action remain as strong as ever despite the dismantling of its sanctuaries and terrorist infrastructure in Bhutan by the Bhutan Government, at the instance of the Government of India, in December last year.

7. The Bodos are a major tribe from the plains of Assam, who have been in a state of ferment since 1967 due to feelings of discrimination against them by the majority Assamese. This ferment, particularly amongst the Bodo youth, led to the formation of two militant organisations. One called the Bodo Security Force (BSF) led by one Ranjan Daimari came to notice in 1989. It was subsequently re-baptised as the NDFB. The second, founded by Prem Singh Brahma, is called the Bodo Liberation Tigers Force (BLTF). While the NDFB advocates an independent Bodoland, the BLTF wants a separate State of Bodoland within the Indian Union.

8. A major problem in finding a solution to the demands of the Bodos has been that villages of Assam, where the Bodos are in a majority, do not constitute a contiguous stretch of territory. What they look upon as the territory of Bodoland is interspersed with many non-Bodo villages.

9. On February 20, 1993, when Mr. Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister, the Governments of India and Assam reached an agreement with the Bodo leaders for setting up a Bodo Autonomous Council (BAC) within the State of Assam with considerable powers of autonomy for the Bodos. But, difficulties arose in its implementation due to disagreements between the two Governments and the Bodo leaders over what villages would come under the jurisdiction of the BAC. This led to the Bodo insurgents stepping up their violence, particularly against non-Bodo villagers living in the villages claimed by them.

10. Since 1956, the North-East has been a major cauldron of insurgency/terrorism due to feelings of ethnic separatism among its inhabitants. The area provides all that terrorists/insurgents need for keeping alive their movement--- sanctuaries in Bhutan, Myanmar, the pre-1971 East Pakistan and the post-1971 Bangladesh; facilities for across the border training and procurement of arms and ammunition; State-sponsorship from the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Bangladesh; a regular flow of funds from the smugglers of narcotics from the Golden Triangle; and an ineffective administration in North Myanmar.

11. To these have been added in recent years, the increasing presence of bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) in adjoining Bangladesh territory through the intermediary of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami (HUJI). As the US steps up its anti-terrorist watch and operations in the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia triangle, pro-bin Laden terrorists of various hues have been making a beeline for Bangladesh for the last two years, without any action being taken against them by the Begum Khalida Zia Government. They do not like India and would be only too happy to help the insurgents and terrorists of our North-East, if they are not already doing so.In the context of their presence in Bangladesh territory, an ominous development has been the reported coming into being of an organisation called the Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam to work for a separate State consisting of the six districts of Assam where the Muslims are in a majority due to large-scale illegal migration of Muslims from Bangladesh.

12. The terrorism situation in Assam due to the activities of the United Liberation Front of Asom ( ULFA), with sanctuaries and State patronage in Bangladesh, and other organisations continues to be as worrisome as ever, despite claims to the contrary from the Government. The situation in Manipur, where large sections of the youth, if not the entire youth, is in a state of virtual revolt against the Government, demanding the withdrawal of the Army Special Powers Act, is a serious cause for concern.

13. There is not much evidence of strong action by the Government to break the nexus between the narcotics smugglers and the various insurgent and terrorist groups and to stop the continuing illegal migration of Muslims from Bangladesh and to identify and expel those who have already settled down in our territory. In the name of promoting secularism, the Government has been closing its eyes to the serious threat to our national security posed by these illegal settlers.

14.I had visited Assam in August last year after a gap of 10 years. There is definitely more economic activity, but the economic development there is comparatively poor as compared to that in the rest of India. One is told that so is the case ---or even worse--in other areas of the North-East. All the hype from the Government about special economic packages for different States of the region is far from being translated into ground reality.

15. The North-East needs the urgent attention of our policy-makers and national security managers. Unfortunately, this has not been forthcoming. There is an active volcano over there. It is waiting to explode.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. -

South Asia Analyst Group 04/10/2004