The main problem in the North East remains. In spite of the Central Government’s efforts, alienation of the people and perceived grievances still continue. These get multiplied many times as and when reports of molestation and rape of girls from the region and humiliation to North East youth in other parts of the country are reported. These incidents get more than due publicity in electronic and print media of the North East. Such incidents make the North Easterners feel that they are still discriminated against – economically, politically and socially. But all the allegations are not true. The Central Government has provided crores of rupees to all the North East states for development projects. Some of these states survive only on Central Government largesse. The slow implementation of projects cannot be blamed on the Centre alone. Problems such as corruption, bureaucratic delays, power shortages and poor work culture delay completion of projects. Besides, the activities of militants, extremists and Anti-National Elements (ANE) further complicate the situation.
North East India, sharing boundaries with five countries, has tremendous strategic significance for the nation…
North East India, sharing boundaries with five countries, some of them not friendly with India, has tremendous strategic significance for the nation. This coupled with prevailing insurgency, terrorism as well as ethnic conflicts in some areas of the region as well as being the fulcrum for India’s “Look East” Policy (or “Act East” Policy as enunciated by Prime Minister Modi) deserves special attention from the Centre as well as from civil society.
However, there have been distinct changes in the pattern of unrest and conflicts since 1956 when the first armed struggle in the North East by the Naga rebels commenced in the Naga Hill district of erstwhile Assam. Some of the changes are positive but many are negative. The region which consisted of only one state Assam and two Union territories Tripura and Manipur in the 1950s now comprises seven states known as “The Seven Sisters”. The Seven Sisters unfortunately do not have the best of relations due to mutually conflicting interests.
If one goes by the classical definition of insurgency as an armed struggle by a section of people against the lawfully constituted government, it can be concluded that classical insurgency has almost ceased to exist in the region. The most important element of an insurgent movement is the popular support which has greatly eroded in the recent past.
The situation has been brought under control by coordinated efforts of the Indian Army, Paramilitary Forces, State Police and Intelligence Agencies. Unfortunately, the political leadership at the Centre as well as the state though could have provided much better vision and direction. The contribution of civil society, student organisations, NGOs, intellectuals and media cannot be over emphasized. But much is needed to be done for sustainable peace in this strategic region. The fissiparous tendencies exhibited by some tribes as well as multi-directional aspiration of various ethnic groups have added new dimensions to the internal security situation.
In Manipur, of the more than 50 small or big extremist groups, many are in Suspension of Operations (SoO) with the Central Government.
Extremism, terrorism, gun-running and other forms of criminal activities have over taken classical insurgency. Insurgents in earlier decades followed an established code of conduct. Strictly speaking, the situation is under control in most parts of the region, except for in Manipur, parts of Northern Assam and some areas around the Assam-Arunachal and Assam-Meghalaya borders.
Yet it will not be correct to state that the overall situation in the region has dramatically improved in the recent past. The population especially in the remote areas has not yet gained requisite confidence in the administration as well as law enforcing agencies. In fact, extortion, kidnapping, killing, intimidation and gun-running have increased many times. Militants, terrorists, surrendered militants and disgruntled youth are indulging in nefarious activities. Unfortunately, many of these activities are mostly in the domain of “Law and Order” and beyond the purview of the Army. The army is deployed in some states for carrying out Counter Insurgency operations
On paper, things look much better. In Nagaland, all the three major insurgent groups are in Ceasefire with the Government of India. The mother of all groups NSCN (IM) was the first to join the Ceasefire process in 1997. In Manipur, of the more than 50 small or big extremist groups, many are in Suspension of Operations (SoO) with the Central Government. But the most dominant groups i.e. the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) still retain sufficient potency to carry out violent activities. In Assam, except the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) (NDFB (S)) and the United Liberation Front of Assam – Anti Talk (ULFA (AT)), most of the smaller groups are dormant. Even ULFA (AT) has not been able to show its presence.
Of course, the group led by Paresh Baruah, does draw the attention of the media and Government by killing unarmed and innocent civilians. They are also involved in extortion, particularly in Upper Assam. The strength of the group is now under 300 and many of the members are reluctant foot soldiers, who, given a suitable opportunity, are likely to surrender and join the mainstream. Similarly, Mizoram, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh are relatively peaceful. In Meghalaya, the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) has been indulging in terror activities in some areas.
Extremism, terrorism, gun-running and other forms of criminal activities have over taken classical insurgency…
But the main problem in the North East remains. In spite of the Central Government’s efforts, alienation of the people and perceived grievances still continue. These get multiplied many times as and when reports of molestation and rape of girls from the region and humiliation to North East youth in other parts of the country are reported. These incidents get more than due publicity in electronic and print media of the North East. Such incidents make the North Easterners feel that they are still discriminated against – economically, politically and socially. But all the allegations are not true. The Central Government has provided crores of rupees to all the North East states for development projects. Some of these states survive only on Central Government largesse. The slow, implementation of projects cannot be blamed on the Centre alone. Problems such as corruption, bureaucratic delays, power shortages and poor work culture delay implementation of projects. Besides, the activities of militants, extremists and Anti-National Elements (ANE) further complicate the situation.
The Naga militant groups have taken full advantage of the Ceasefire. All the Naga groups, primarily the NSCN (IM) are running parallel Governments in the state and are trying to increase their area of influence. The annual budget of the underground groups keeps increasing every year. The NSCN (IM) budget for 2013-2014 was pegged at Rs 113 crore of which Rs 57 crore was earmarked for the Naga Army, the military wing of NSCN (IM). What is the need for fresh recruitment, arms procurement while the talks reportedly are progressing towards a final solution?
All of the three militant groups namely NSCN (K), NSCN (KK) and NSCN (M) are trying to enhance their area of influence and also dominate towns like Dimapur where ‘funds’ are available. Thus, Inter-Factional Clashes (IFC) among the insurgent groups are quite common although there has been some reduction during 2014.
Myanmar continues to be the main base of all North East insurgent groups…
The situation in Manipur is extremely complex. The Meities, who constitute 56 per cent of the state’s population of almost thirty lakh, occupy only ten per cent of the geographical area particularly the valley region. The Nagas, with a population of approximately seven lakh, reside in the hilly areas of the State and are deeply suspicious of the Meities. The Kukis who are sandwiched between the Nagas and the Meities constitute 7.5 per cent of the population and are demanding a separate Kuki State.
Myanmar continues to be the main base for all North East insurgent groups particularly of the Valley Based Insurgent Groups (VBIGs). Taking advantage of their nexus with low level Myanmar Army (MA) and Intelligence personnel, the VBIGS operate with immunity inside Myanmar. Secondly, the area in Myanmar adjacent to Arunachal and Nagaland hardly has any presence of Security Forces. Most of major militant groups (ULFA, NDFB, VBIG, NSCN (K)) are based in these remote and inaccessible areas. These areas are the stronghold of the NSCN (K) supremo Khaplang who is a Hemi Naga from Myanmar. Khaplang, over 80 years of age, is still a dominant force to reckon with.
In May 2012, the Myanmar Government had granted autonomy to NSCN (K) in three districts of Sagaging division which has further bolstered the militant groups having nexus with the NSCN (K) and made it difficult for MA to operate against Indian insurgent groups. Moreover, in spite of the pressure exerted by the Indian Government, the Myanmar Government has not shown the requisite seriousness in dealing with Indian insurgent groups located at Myanmar. Many of these militant groups have close nexus with Kachin Independence Army (KIA) who are fighting for a homeland in Myanmar.
What is greatly worrying is the fact that almost all sophisticated arms being used by insurgent groups are of Chinese origin…
The sincerity of Bangladesh as well as the Bhutan Government in dealing with Indian insurgent groups must be appreciated. These two countries have taken strong action to evict Indian militants from their soil. The ‘All Clear’ operations carried out by the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) in 2003 had given a serious blow to ULFA, NDFB and KLO. It is extremely unlikely that militants will again find sanctuary in Bhutan. Similarly, Sheikh Hasina’s Government has gone out of its way to take action against Indian militants operating from Bangladesh. Nepal has also cooperated with India in this regard. Many important leaders including UNLF supremo R.K Meghan were arrested because of cooperation from the Nepal Government. Thus, except in Myanmar, militants’ support base in foreign countries has greatly reduced.
However, the disturbing input is that the Chinese Intelligence Agency are now reportedly in contact with NE insurgent leaders particularly with the Manipuri as well as with Paresh Baruah of ULFA. Baruah who is on the ‘Wanted List’ of the Bangladesh Government for the Chittagong arms haul case of 2002, reportedly frequents between Myanmar and Yunnan province of China. It is pertinent to note that China had supported the NE groups with arms and training since the 1950s. The last visit of Muviah of NSCN (IM) to China was in 1977.
However, since the 1980s, the Chinese have stopped their support to NE militant groups. Inputs now indicate that there is a reversal of policy. The Chinese Intelligence Agency has reportedly asked the NE militant groups to form a single entity to enable them to get support from China. Moreover, Chinese intelligence personnel have tasked some NE militant leaders to acquire tactical as well as strategic inputs regarding Indian Defence Forces. But what is greatly worrying is the fact that almost all sophisticated arms being used by insurgent groups are of Chinese origin. Whether or not the Chinese government is involved in the supply of arms to insurgent groups, is debatable.
Probably, middle-ranking PLA leaders as well as international smugglers are involved in such arms deals with the North East insurgent groups. These arms not only find their way to various militant groups but also to anti-national elements. Reportedly, Paresh Baruah is the main gun-runner. That is one of the reasons that in spite of depleted strength and support base of ULFA, Paresh Baruah still has relevance. One should not forget that the Chittagong arms seizure in 2002, where seven truck loads of arms and ammunitions seized by Bangladesh Rapid Action Forces, were for ULFA and other North East insurgent groups. All these arms were of Chinese origin. Moreover, it has been reported that Paresh Baruah is attempting to unite the NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) at the behest of Chinese Intelligence Agency
The disturbing input is that the Chinese intelligence Agency is now reportedly in contact with NE insurgent leaders…
The NE people also feel betrayed that the Centre instead of planning holistic solutions to the problems of North East, always get involved in quick-fix solutions. Moreover, many bureaucrats and politicians involved in the dialogue with militant groups are not well aware of the complexities of the region. Hence, most of the accords and deals have ended in failure.
It should not be forgotten that the NE which has eight per cent of the total Indian landmass and about four per cent of the people is full of diversity. There are more than 75 tribes in the region speaking more than 400 dialects and languages. Quick-fix solutions to appease one group do not provide long term solutions. Another very pertinent issue is that tribal affiliations spill across the geographical borders of the states. For example, the Nagas live in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Myanmar besides Nagaland. Exactly for this reason, the NSCN (IM) is demanding for Greater Nagaland (Nagalim), which will include areas of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh as well as Manipur. The present area of Nagaland is 16,500 sq.km. However, if their demand for Greater Nagaland is accepted, the area will become 120,000 sq.km. Obviously, no state will like to give up territory. Hence, a permanent solution is not very easy.
Another very important issue to be noted is that the NE people are extremely sensitive and emotional. The psyche of the people needs to be appreciated before making political statements. There are many instances when a casual statement or even a well-meaning policy has been resented since people have not been taken into confidence. The ‘emotional barrier’ with Delhi is much more than the physical barrier which needs to be factored in before major policies can be formulated.