The illicit proliferation and misuse of small arms is among the most pressing security threats that have affected a large number of countries. Thousands of people are killed or wounded every year in conflicts that are fought primarily with these weapons. Proliferation has gradually increased in the Indian subcontinent, fuelled by a host of factors, including the spread of low-intensity conflicts.
Indias Northeast is one of the most affected zones since the maximum number of insurgent outfits are found in this region”¦
India’s Northeast is one of the most affected zones since the maximum number of insurgent outfits are found in this region, which is in addition to a variety of transnational criminal activities that have increased the demand for small arms. More demand for small arms is matched by an equally prompt supply from different sources supported by an intricate web of relations and agreements that cut across regions, communities and countries. The failure of governments to come together and chalk out coordinated efforts in the region has also contributed to this problem.
Ambiguity shrouds the definition of “small arms.” The closest the United Nations has come to an official definition is contained in an agreement reached in 2005 that defined small arms and light weapons as any “man-portable lethal weapon that expels or launches, or designed to expel or launch, or may be readily converted to expel or launch a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of an explosive.” It adds that a small arm is a weapon designed for individual use, such as inter alia, revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, submachine guns, assault rifles and light machine guns.
The failure of governments to come together and chalk out coordinated efforts in the region has also contributed to this problem.
Light weapons are designed for use by two or three persons serving as a crew although some may be carried and used by a single person. They include heavy machine guns, hand-held underbarrel and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft guns, portable anti-tank guns, recoilless rifles, portable launchers of anti-tank missile and rocket systems, portable launchers of anti-aircraft missile systems and mortars of a calibre less than 100 millimetres.1
According to another definition, any firearm that can be fired manually and whose calibre is below 12.67 mm is called a small arm. India’s Northeast and the adjoining areas have witnessed proliferation of not only small arms but grenades as well, which are in fact more easily available. The supply of Chinese arms through Bangladesh has become somewhat irregular since 2006 (which is also why the Myanmar routes have become more active) after the military-backed regime assumed power in Dhaka. But grenades continue to be supplied from districts in Bangladesh bordering Dhubri and Garo Hills and according to some sources, indigenous manufacture has also started at locations on both sides of the border.
Development funds have been increased to all the seven states, but embezzlement continues and scams are dug out at regular intervals.
As such, a discussion on proliferation would be incomplete without including a discussion of grenades, which in fact have been used more frequently than small arms in attacks by militants in the Northeast. The two items are inseparable as both are ferried by the same agents along the same routes and released from the same destinations, barring a few exceptions.
New Delhi’s so-called multipronged approach to tackling insurgency in the Northeast, which is intricately related to the increasing demand for small arms, suffers from fundamental flaws. For one, not all movements in the region are imbued with a separatist hue but are essentially the outcome of unemployment and alienation. The outfits in Assam’s hill districts and those from the Kuki-Chin-Mizo communities in Manipur and Mizoram are glaring examples. A majority of them have already come over ground through ceasefire agreements with the government.
So, unemployment should have been tackled on a war footing, development projects completed in a time-bound manner and greater transparency ensured at all levels of administration. Development funds have been increased to all the seven states, but embezzlement continues and scams are dug out at regular intervals. On 30 May 2009, Mohit Hojai, the chief executive member of North Cachar Hills in Assam, was arrested along with a joint director, R. H. Khan for misappropriation of development funds and giving a share to militants. (This case, incidentally, has been handed over to the National Investigation Agency for investigation)