Homeland Security

ULFA's niche war
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Issue Vol 24.1 Jan-Mar2009 | Date : 15 Nov , 2010

This was realized by Mizos rebels when I was governor there.  This has been realized by the Naga rebels, too. In fact the ULFA – highhandedness has given rise to Bodo and Karbi problems.  They will break up Assam into penny packets as has happened over the past few decades after the independence.  Why don’t they get their heads in the right place and realize that a landlocked valley of Brahmaputra can never be a separate nation.  And it is never in the interests of Assam.”  I intervened to say, “Sir, but ULFA boys feel they would get an independent state of Assam if India breaks up like the Soviet Union.”  He cut me short, “Don’t draw wrong conclusions.  India and Soviet Union are totally different entities.  India may have its problems of emotional integration, but the question of its unity was settled 45 years back, not through the force of the gun but by the voluntary acceptance of the union by people of all hue and cries.  Remember how Mr Gopinath Bardoloi saved Assam from going over to Pakistan in 1947. Do these boys understand this?

If Assam had any single advantage of becoming an independent nation, Mr Gopinath Bardoloi would have been the first man to press for it.  It is the sad part of Assamese history and Indian history too, correct me if I am wrong, that we lost our freedom in the past because we were multitudes of smaller independent states that were subdued and subjugated one by one by foreign invaders.  ULFA has wrong sense of history”.  I again reminded him of ULFA’s 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 don’t need the ULFA, then”.

Narcotics and militancy have both caused upheavals to the societies of the region. There are reports that the Northeast region is fast becoming a breeding place of the dreaded HIV-virus. The militants perhaps do not realize the harm they are causing to their people through such nefarious activities.

I thought he was a bit angry with himself too. He said that he had taken a decision in haste when he accepted ULFA’s offer for talks in January 1992. He felt it was a decoy by ULFA to get out of the dire situation it had got into due to the success of Operation Rhino. It maneuvered for time when it was in the final stages of extinction. I couldn’t agree more with him. He asked me what if ULFA does not accept to surrender by 31 March 1992. I said spontaneously, “Let us break it up, Sir. I know people who would like to surrender. They may not be top level leaders of ULFA but they are the ground commanders and if they surrender it will break its spinal chord”. Thus, were sown the seeds of the SULFA, who formed a steering panel and made a unilateral declaration on 31 March 1992.

Incidentally, on 29 March 1992, Arbindo Raj Khowa had announced that ULFA would no more talk to the central government and continue its armed struggle. Two days earlier, i.e. on 27 march 1992, two of the ULFA leaders from our area, spoke to Mr Hiteshwar Saikia on the telephone from my office in Lichubari (Jorhat) in the presence of District Collector (DC) of Jorhat and Superintendent of Police. A draft resolution was prepared which was to be passed by the steering committee of SULFA on 31st March 1992. A copy of resolution to be adopted was handed over to me by a source of mine on 27 March 1992.

All said and done, Mr Hiteshwar Saikia was never happy with himself for having allowed ULFA to get off the hook. But under the circumstances this was the best course of action for him. He knew  that one day the ULFA menace would rock the Brahmaputra valley again. He was therefore very keen to make SULFA strong so as to pit them against ULFA when it resurfaces. But his death orphaned SULFA. He used to often say that the next resurrection of ULFA would be more ugly and violent. He wanted it to be checked and controlled by the people of Assam through SULFA. He never wanted Army to be launched in such a big manner as it was done during Bajrang and Rhino. He maintained that the Army, if at all re-deployed, must be for a very short duration to carry out a surgical operation when the situation becomes uncontrollable. He saw inherent dangers in the prolonged stay of the Army. He told me once, “Isn’t it ironical that I, who, brought the Army in, want it to go out but ULFA doesn’t”. I was surprised.

I asked him,” Sir! Are you unhappy with the Army?” “NO” he said emphatically,” but longer you stay deployed in Assam it creates a psychological irritation amongst the people and helps the ULFA cause. Army is trained, equipped and organized to fight the external enemy and not law and order problems of terrorism and militancy. Though it may be supported from outside, yet it involves our own people – however misguided, but they can not be treated as the enemy. This needs minimum use of force. This needs almost restraint by all. Here, the battlefield is your own home and not the enemy territory. Overuse of force causes damage to own property and own people. You can not be restrained for long. It is not your fault. You are trained to fight and kill or be killed. We don’t want that either. Terrorism and militancy need restraint and minimum use of force. You get provoked very easily which leads to some administrative complications”.

It is becoming evident that ULFA has modified its strategy from total passivity to controlled aggression. This is a sure indication of a violent phase of militancy in Assam. But given the intellect and the intelligence its leadership has, it will not be foolhardy to engage itself in a total military confrontation with the Army.

I thought he made a very valid observation. But obviously he had Mangaldoi and Nalbari incidents at the back of his mind. In April 1992 the Army launched massive operations to trace out some militants responsible for shoot-out at Mangaldoi and blowing off an Army vehicle at Nalbari. Army did take certain harsh measures which caused inconvenience to the public and there was a huge hue and cry.

The fourth objective of soft-target killing approach of ULFA is to create a feeling amongst the people of what Mr Hiteshwar Saikia called ‘psychological irritation’. There are two ways of doing this. Firstly, through the prolonged stay of the Army and secondly, provoking the Army to intensify its operations. Once the Army does this it will turn the country side upside down. Large scale cordon and search operations, followed by road blocks and frequency to suspected hideouts, will cause inconvenience to general public. Through its acts of soft-target-killing ULFA is inviting the Army to do all this. Prolonged stay of the Army will definitely enhance the ordeals of the people. It is a psychological battle which the ULFA is fighting so as to turn the general public against the Army. Should it happen, ULFA would have gained an upper hand. Therefore it is in the best interests of the Army to avoid large scale and conventional operations. It must go needle-searching in a more pragmatic manner. Key to this is target-based-operations in an inconspicuous manner.

If the soft-target approach is going to be the apple-cart of ULFAs new found strategy then what are the likely targets for this? No doubts as discussed earlier, isolated Army personnel and vehicles would be central to this strategy. But police and civil government officials will also be high on the hit lists, followed by business people and officials of the industry. Disruptions of rail-road communications through blasts and sabotage would be a common feature. Night travel will be made unsafe and insecure. Shoot-outs in the crowded markets or busy highways will be cleverly executed to provoke the Army.

The aim is to bargain for a few civilian causalities and also react to these isolated incidents. Adoption of a reactive strategy will lead to unwanted imposition of harsh measures such as curfews, road bocks and search operations. This will cause hardships to the people, which may be exploited to launch mass agitations and protest-marches. Press will be activated and stories of alleged army atrocities will be freely circulated. Media will be cleverly used to denigrate the security forces.

Local and vernacular press will be the key to this media policy of the ULFA.  National and the English medium press is not what the  matters to ULFA.  To create instant the impressions amongst people, it will always exploit its local contacts with vernacular press, who easily fall prey to intimidation of militants.  Somehow security forces need to evolve a careful policy on its press rebuttals.  Issue of these denials and rebuttals in English form Divisional or Corps Headquarters do not have their desired effects on the local populace.

External security force be trimmed and made capable of fighting Smart and Designer Wars or the Niche War like in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and J&K. In so doing, there is a requirement of great coordination amongst the three services.

To beat ULFA at its game of clever use of the Fourth Estate, unit and sub – unit commanders on the spot must be empowered to develop relations with local press-barons.  A clever psychological campaign must be launched.  Press, both local and national, is always hungry for sensational information. Unit commanders can provide a number of such stories on the militants.  Supported by evidence and facts, these stories can play havoc with ‘The Robin hood’ image of militants.

Thus, it would be apparent that under the present set of conditions, the grand strategy of ULFA appears to follow a two tracked policy of ‘war of nerves’ and ‘war of attrition’ to achieve what it can not do by the force of guns.  The sole purpose is to impose caution on the Army in such a manner that ‘needle-searching’ is made an awesome and unpleasant exercise thereby making the Army idle and ineffective. But the Army has a job to do. If it is inactive, it may remain holed up for a longer period. Inactive and idle soldiers may get involved at times, in certain acts of indiscipline. This may cause friction and may embitter civil-military relations. And when all this happens, the third dimension of ULFA strategy, i.e. to use the press, will unfold itself. Finally, it will like to create similar scenario in the North-East region or even in the rest of country, though it may be a distant dream.

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. Basically there are four problem areas. First, is the uninterrupted flow of arms. Second pertains to the inability of its cadres to take on the Army. Third concern is of financial backing. And the fourth problem area is to sustain its protracted war and internationalize its cause.

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One thought on “ULFA’s niche war

  1. Hahahah such an idiotic post where was central govt after 1971 when bl@@@y Bangladeshis invaded Assam, Where was Army when china invaded north east as@@@@le ra@@y you came to save your people not indigenous people of north east ra@@y f@@k@@s

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