Geography and social stratagem of Assam disallow ULFA from pursuing a strategy of high voltage militancy. This has always been the basic consideration for it to adopt a posture of controlled confrontation with the security forces so as to tire them out in a prolonged game of hide and seek. But this itself is not adequate as the security forces can not only heal its wounds but replace its wounded limbs from its vast reservoir. Therefore ULFA must reduce this capability of the security forces. And the only way to do this is to tie down security forces over an extended space, not only transcending into the entire northeast but cutting across to other regions of the country.
I reminded him of ULFAs strategy of achieving an independent Assam through weakening the centre by having tie-ups with other militant organizations in various other states of India. He angrily burst out, “That is rubbish. A figment of imagination! In any case, should it ever happen, we dont need the ULFA, then”.
Thus, ULFA would develop and fasten its ties with other militant organizations, flourishing in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, UP, Bihar, Punjab, J&K, West Bengal and the sister states of the northeast. It would also open up channels with international organizations that support and prop up such militancy. It is already believed to have established links with the ISI. All this is being done to offset its military disadvantage against the security forces. It is this major factor which forces it to adopt a ‘bleeding-war-hypothesis’ as its principal strategy against the security forces of India. It is in keeping with the ISI strategy of ‘bleeding India to death through thousand cuts’.
The ‘bleeding war hypothesis’ of ULFA hinges upon certain basic pre-requisites. These are:-
- ‘Military will and capability’ to cause sufficient attrition to security forces, which is prohibitive in cost over a longer period of time.
- Enlarge the space of engagement with the security forces from the Brahmaputra Valley to the entire Northeast and to other parts of the country, thus rendering security forces incapable of rest and replenishment.
- Preserve and sustain itself for an infinite period of struggle which will manifest itself in the form of :-
- Attempt to gain international recognition.
- Militarization and regimentation of Assamese society selectively, and also to ensure continuous flow of mentally hardened and extremely motivated youth towards it.
- Infiltrate political and administrative echelons of the state government to reduce effectiveness of the security forces.
- Wage ‘no-holds-barred’ Psy-war against the security forces through its over-ground organizations. It will entail an extensive use of print and electronic media.
The Army could pick-up ULFA cadres without really disturbing the haystack which upset the applecart of ULFA strategy. Constant running and hiding had demoralized its carders, who after sheer frustration, surrendered in large numbers.
The recent spurt in ULFA activities and its professed and pronounced aggression against the armed forces is in fact an extension of its past strategy of compelling the Army to go needle searching in the hay stack. The only difference is while earlier the needle lay hidden and inactive; this time it is moving inside the haystack and actively pricking the searchers. ULFA had realized the drawbacks of total passivity in the earlier rounds with the army. Therefore it was bound to apply the corrections. The present spate of its violent activities against the Army is aimed at making the needle-search a painful experience to impose caution on the Army operations. It will not be however a head – on collusion with the Army, but controlled violence.
When we say controlled violence, it means ULFA will pick up soft targets in isolated places. Spraying bullets on Army personnel visiting public places and markets will be the key to this. They may also blow off a single vehicle here and there. The aim is to keep causing slow pin-pricks to provoke the Army to lose control and turn the hay stack upside down. This is what the Army has to quard against. The pin-pricking against soft targets of the Army has number of objectives.
The first is to build a spirit of ‘Ramboism’ amongst its cadres, which has been hitherto lacking due to its compulsions of social psyche of the youth. It will also have far-reaching consequences for the Assamese society in the long run. The thought-regimentation and militarization of the people by altering the basic character of the people is hard to achieve. Come peace and prosperity, they will manifestly exhibit their distinct features of peace – fun and frolic, dance and music. All the same, ULFA’s game plan is to change this fundamental character of Assamese society.
The second objective of ULFA is to make ‘needle – searching’ a difficult task as compared to earlier Army operations. In so doing, it wants to conserve and preserve itself for a protracted war. Its earlier approach of ‘total passivity’, after initial hiccups made Army operations easier. The Army could pick-up ULFA cadres without really disturbing the haystack which upset the applecart of ULFA strategy. Constant running and hiding had demoralized its carders, who after sheer frustration, surrendered in large numbers. Most of them were well-trained and ULFA had spent lakhs of rupees on their training.
As per a study in the late 90s there are 12.4 lakhs unemployed youth in Assam. These people are easy targets for exploitation. Unemployment and poor economic condition facilitate militancy.
What good was the training if they had to play hide and seek with the security forces? What more, most of the regional and district level leadership had got neutralized. It was a big setback to the ULFA. This time around it wants to avoid losing its cadres. It is a matter of survival for the ULFA. There will be no fourth resurrection for it. Its survival lies in prolonged struggle. And when at a future date, if it ever happens, the central government loses its grip over the states and the Indian Union weakens, ULFA would be there with its cadres to fill the void in Assam. Till that happens, the ULFA must carry on waging a slow and steady battle with the security forces.
The third objective of soft-target approach against the Army is to boost its public image. In the earlier engagements with the Army, people raised doubts on ULFA’s capabilities. Therefore, in a careful manner it would like to reverse this impression. An incident here or there would be highlighted in the media and much would be made out of these incidents. Take the case of few isolated killings of some unlucky officers in the recent past. Local press and national media have already starting glorifying ULFA. In fact what ULFA is looking forward through this soft-target-killing is to establish its credibility in the eyes of other militant organizations and more particularly their master, i.e. ISI. In the bargain, if encounter takes place, then a few ULFA cadres killed would be made martyrs, which it is desperately looking for, to not only rally the people around its organization, but also tell other militant organisation that it can sacrifice for its cause. A few youth sacrificed would not dry up its source of recruitments.
As per a study (Lakdawala Study) in the late 90s there are 12.4 lakhs unemployed youth in Assam. These people are easy targets for exploitation. Unemployment and poor economic condition facilitate militancy. As Lakdawala Study tells us, Assam, for that matter the entire Northeast region, abounds in this. Surely, the Army can not tackle this. With the help of the civil administration and then Chief Minister, late Mr Hiteshwar Saikia, I did manage to help out a needy few. Incidentally, it was Mr Hiteshwar Saikia who took up a case with the Planning Commission and got Rs 110 Crores earmarked for the resettlement and rehabilitation of SULFA (Surrendered ULFA). Sadly enough Mr. Hiteshwar Saikia is no more today, but one must admit that he understood ULFA strategy thoroughly and knew their handicaps and compulsions very well. A number of times he discussed with me the ULFA’s likely methods and intentions. On one occasion in March 1992, he was particularly incensed with ULFA for its volte-face on talks with Central Government.
To implement its strategy of “˜war of attrition and “˜war of nerves ULFA may face practical problems, as bestowed upon it by the disadvantages of geography and social structure of Assam. In order to overcome these, it will seek ties with other militant organisations in the region and also broaden its relations with foreign India-baiter outfits.
At a dinner, the Chief Minister discussed the ULFA issue with me for an hour. He asked me bluntly as to whether ULFA would surrender by 31 March 1992. In fact the same very day I had been tipped off by my sources inside the ULFA that Arbindo Raj Khowa had decided to go back on his offer of talks. I told him that Golap Barua alias Anup Chetia along with Pardeep Gogoi alias Samiran Gohain had crossed over to Bangladesh recently. I said, in no uncertain terms, that ULFA would now back out. He got furious. One could see anguish on his face. He lashed out at ULFA leadership. He said: “These ULFA boys do not understand that they can not achieve their aim. They can only create hardships for the people of Assam. Where will they get such a large quantity of arms and ammunition from to fight the Army? And how will they bring it into Assam? With such geographical handicaps, will they be ever able to face the might of the Army? They are mistaken if they think they can carve out Vietnam-type or Afghanistan-type victories. The case there was different. Assam is neither Afghanistan nor Vietnam, and Indian Army is not an occupation army.