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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 105

New dimensions to insurgency in the North-east

By Vinod Vedi - Syndicate Features

The flux in the counter-insurgency situation in the North-east is acquiring new dimensions by the day with the leading lights of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M) arriving in India in the X’Mas season and interesting signs and signals emanating from the nations on the periphery that have long been sanctuaries for insurgents from India.

That general secretary of the NSCN (I-M) Thuingaleng Muivah and chairman Isak Chishi Swu should decide to make a second visit so soon after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had undercut any expectation of merger of Naga-dominated areas of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh into the “Nagalim” of their dreams by stating categorically that there would be no such integration is an indicator that “flexibility” is operational and alive.

However, factors outside the periphery of India could obtrude on the Naga situation as well as on the many other insurgencies in the North-east. One is the overt hesitation on the part of the Myanmar military regime to crack down on the bases and sanctuaries of militants on its soil a la Bhutan some years ago. Instead, it has agreed to a mechanism for joint interrogation of cross border terrorists, smugglers and drug traffickers through what is to be called “Police Liaison Post”.

On the face of it this appears to be forward movement in handling cross border crime but it is unlikely to address India’s concerns over militants of different hues using Myanmar territory for terrorist activities in the contiguous Indian States. The reason being the absolutely porous nature of the India-Myanmar border. The mountainous and thickly forested terrain is not amenable to establishing police liaison posts through which travellers can be apprehended and interrogated. It will, forever, remain a static fixture around which activities detrimental to India can continue to swirl unabated. This arrangement is a far cry from what India had hoped would happen -- a full-scale military operation of the kind launched by the Royal Bhutan Army against sanctuaries established by the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the KLO, and Bodo ultras in southern Bhutan some years ago.

For some time there was talk of “joint operations” on both sides of the border so that militants can be killed or captured by troops operating in unison. In this scenario what was envisaged was a “hammer and anvil” operation. That apparently is not to be and what is proposed to be done through the police liaison post is to elicit information from those who may be intercepted through “police action” rather than military operations.

Police liaison posts presuppose border crossing points with road networks on either side. Such arrangements are few on the India-Myanmar border and in any case will not be used by militants bent on keeping their activities surreptitious. The message this arrangement sends out is that Myanmar is half-hearted in acceding to India’s requests for a crackdown on anti-India activities from its soil.

Simultaneously, India’s expectation that the next regime in Bangladesh, hopefully headed by Sheikh Hasina Wajed of the Awami League and its 19-party coalition, would put an end to the approximately 150 camps from where anti-India insurgents operate could prove pyrrhic. The alliance between the Awami League and Islamic fundamentalist political entity named the Khelafat-e-Majlish could inhibit the hitherto pro-India Awami League in its dealings with New Delhi.

Clearly the Awami League has succumbed to the increasingly pervasive compulsions of Islamic fundamentalism sweeping Bangladesh. Dhaka under Begum Khaleda Zia and the Islamist parties aligned with her encouraged the fundamentalists to flourish and Pakistan has taken full advantage of the situation. If Awami League led alliance comes to power, the feeling is growing that there could be another exodus of Bangladeshi Hindus, harassed by atrocities, into India.

The Bangladesh connection in cross border terrorism has brought to the fore a new phenomenon. The arrest of three Manipuri youth in Delhi recently with explosives and weapons shows that the Pakistan Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) which is hyperactive in Bangladesh under Begum Khaleda Zia has managed to indoctrinate indigenous ethnic elements in order to camouflage its activities in India.

The effect of these developments on its periphery could harden attitudes in insurgent groups like the ULFA and the NSCN. Against ULFA India had been pressing Burma to act militarily on its side of the border but the police liaison post arrangement has scotched that possibility. It can be expected that ULFA will be overjoyed and step up its cross border terrorism and India will have to brace itself against bomb blasts in crowded localities and attacks on its oil installations in the north-east.

Also, although the ceasefire with the NSCN (I-M) has held for the past decade, there would be a sense of relief amongst the Naga ultras that Myanmar is not about to attack its base camps on its soil. This could embolden it in its dealing with India and add new kinks in the dialogue for recognition of Naga “sub-nationalism”. India has been pressing for NSCN to accept arrangements within the four walls of the Indian Constitution which is flexible enough to allow a large a measure of autonomy.

In the context of insurgencies and separatist movements in the north-east the Government of India must draw appropriate lessons from the Myanmar and Bangladesh developments. The basic fact must be recognised is that it is only through its own efforts that it can expect to achieve a modicum of success. It must, therefore, redouble the creation of the barbed wire fence on the border with Bangladesh so that, as on the western front with Pakistan, cross border terrorism can be curbed by its own security agencies. Expectations that Myanmar and Bangladesh will cooperate in counter-insurgency operations to the extent India wants are not likely to fructify in the near future.

The fact that the ceasefire with the NSCN (I-M) had threatened to evaporate after a couple of short-term extensions but for the dialogue on the extent of sub-nationalism the Indian Constitution can accommodate indicates that secessionism is still the underlying factor in both NSCN and ULFA positions. One will learn soon enough from Muivah and Isak Swu how they interpret the developments with Myanmar and Bangladesh.

- Syndicate Features -

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