Northeast: the future prospects

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    By Brig (Dr) SP Sinha
    Issue: Book Excerpt: Lost Opportunities | Date: 09 March, 2011


    It is always difficult to predict the future course of events. Nonetheless, there are some trends that are discernible. One such is the illegal immigration from Bangladesh, which will continue to be the major concern. AASU has once again begun to highlight the failure of both the central and state governments to check infiltration.

    The judgement of the Supreme Court of India, which has held that IMDT Act - 1983 as ultra vires of the constitution, is a shot in the arm for those who have been demanding its repeal. But how this verdict is implemented on ground is still to be seen.

    Political parties in order to protect their vote bank have already started to find ways to subvert the verdict.

    Illegal Immigration
    Despite the partial fencing of the 4,096 km long and porous India-Bangladesh border, illegal infiltration continues. Unlike in the East, the Punjab border is fully fenced and lighted. The inter-post distance in Punjab is two km and each post has a minimum strength of two platoons. In West Bengal, Assam and Tripura the inter post distance is anything from seven to nine km and each post has only one platoon. There are a number of villages located right on the border and some even beyond the fence.

    The area in front is left wide open for the villagers and infiltrators to pass through. In Assam the construction of the fence was entrusted to the state PWD in the nineties. The then Chief Minister, who had won the elections on the immigrant vote, diverted the funds for the fence for other works, which delayed the construction of the fence for years.1

    The continuance of infiltration will create social tension and conflict on a much larger scale than experienced before. One recent example will suffice. On April 24, 2005, members of a small club in Dibrugarh called Chiring-Chapori Yuva Manch (Chiring-Chapori is the name of an area in Upper Assam) distributed pamphlets to residents, urging them not to employ Bangladeshi migrants. It soon spread like a wild fire and turned into a campaign.

    Picking up from where Dibrugarh club left, local units of AASU in Tinsukia, Sibsagar, Golaghat and Jorhat issued statements asking Bangladeshis who came after 1971 to voluntarily leave; the result, over 5,000 that did not belong to these districts left. For Gogoi, the Chief Minister, all who left were Indian citizen. One doesn’t require much foresight to see the contours of the emerging social conflict.

    Islamic Fundamentalism
    In the recent years, there has been a disturbing growth of Islamic militancy in the North-east. The phenomenon has gained ground after the American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. The juxtaposition of illegal Bangladeshi immigration that now consists mainly of Muslims, and the rising Islamic militancy is an emerging phenomenon, which has frightening consequences for India. North-east is profoundly affected by the events and trends in Bangladesh. According to Bertil Linter: “A revolution is taking place in Bangladesh that threatens trouble for the region and beyond if left unchallenged.

    Islamic fundamentalism, religious intolerance, militant groups with links to international terrorist groups, a powerful military with ties with militants, mushrooming of Islamic schools churning out radical students, middle class apathy, poverty and lawlessness, all are combining to transform the nation.”2 The world was put on warning when Islamic fundamentalists exploded bombs in 63 different towns and districts of Bangladesh almost simultaneously on August 16, 2005 killing two and injuring 138. The banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen with links to al Qaeda is suspected to be behind the explosions. The scale and coordination of the explosions have raised a number of questions for India’s North-east.
    The army has been warning that the Naga rebels are using the cease-fire for consolidating their position. In many parts of Nagaland and Manipur, the insurgents run a parallel government and have levied household taxes.
    The ethnic insurgencies are being slowly replaced or overtaken by Islamic militancy. The killings by ULFA of non-Assamese, mostly Biharis, in the last two months of the year 2000, points to a pattern; providing working space for Bangladeshi Muslims by replacing Biharis and other non-skilled workers from Orissa, West Bengal and Nepal.

    Rise of Terrorism
    The nature of insurgency has undergone profound changes in the past two decades. The romance of operating from jungle hideouts as revolutionaries no longer attracts the new generation of recruits. Insurgencies in the North-east are increasingly criminalised and terror has become the main weapon of the insurgents. Gone are the days when political mobilisation and guerrilla warfare defined the early insurgencies in Nagaland and Mizoram.

    In future, attacks on innocent civilians, explosions in trains and public transport, kidnapping for ransom and use of mines and IED will increase. The easy availability of arms and explosives will further facilitate this trend.

    The Demand for Nagalim
    Naga’s demand for the creation of Greater Nagaland, called Nagalim, which will constitute not only the four hill districts of Manipur, but also parts of Assam, Arunachal and even Myanmar, is the major hurdle in the ongoing peace talks between the Centre and NSCN (IM). Neither Assam nor Manipur will allow any diminution of their present boundaries. The ongoing peace process is already faltering on this issue. The army has been warning that the Naga rebels are using the cease-fire for consolidating their position. In many parts of Nagaland and Manipur, the insurgents run a parallel government and have levied household taxes.

    The recent advertisement in the local newspapers for recruitment in the underground government is a clear violation of the cease-fire agreement and reinforces army’s apprehension that NSCN (IM) has taken advantage of the cease-fire to spread its influence. The government will do well to prepare to cope with such a situation, if the talks fail.

    Narco-Terrorism
    The biggest challenge to the security of the North-east in future will come from narco-terrorism. No insurgent group can sustain itself for long without regular flow of funds. North-east has emerged as a major transit route for narcotics trade and gunrunning. An indicator of the scale of narco-trade is the high incidence of drug abuse, mainly in Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya.

    Most of the narcotics trade is through Moreh in Manipur; the Naga-Kuki clashes are direct consequence of insurgent groups trying to control the road from Moreh to Imphal to facilitate illegal trade. The demand for funds will fuel illegal trade in narcotics in a big way in future.

    Pakistan’s Alternative Proxy War
    Pakistan’s proxy war in Kashmir, which started in 1989, has run its course and failed in achieving its objective. But it hasn’t given up hope. According to a recent study by the government, Pakistan has launched a new operation to redouble its destabilising work in India through Bangladesh. Pakistan was developing Bangladesh as the new base for its anti-India operations, and it is reported that it has already shifted almost 200 terrorist training camps from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to Bangladesh.3

    The Chinese Shadow
    The Chinese stopped supporting insurgency in the North-east in 1979. But intelligence reports indicate that the Chinese support has not fully dried up. Speaking in the Parliament on December 13, 2000, Minister of State of Home, Mr ID Swamy said that SULFA had disclosed that some of their colleagues crossed over to China from Bhutan and established contact with the Chinese in 1993.4 A confidential IB report to the Home Ministry, the Chinese military have spread their area of operations in all seven states of the North-east and are running a parallel administration with the help of local militants.

    The report also said that 60 to 70 percent of illegal arms are being supplied to the rebels by the Chinese military.5 Furthermore, in the year 2000, Indian intelligence disclosed that NSCN (IM) had revived the Chinese connection, which was believed to have snapped in the 1980s. Reports have also indicated that the NSCN (IM) has a full-fledged liaison office in Chinese territory across the border with Arunachal.6 There are reports of ISI spying and collecting information about troops deployed in the North-east.7 Who benefits from this intelligence? There is a view that China may be using channels established by the ISI for its own use. This cannot be easily discarded and needs to be carefully watched and analysed.

    In India there is once again a new romanticism about China. In the prevailing geo-political scenario, China has inevitably to be an adversary. As long as India is silent about Tibet, it is fine with China. The day India shows any inclination to speak for the Tibetans, the Chinese are poised to destabilise the North-east.

    Notes and References
    EN Rammohan, “Bangladesh and India’s Security”, paper presented at the USI National Security Seminar 2004 on “India and its Neighbour other than Pakistan” at New Delhi on 9-10 November 2004.
    Bertil Linter, “Bangladesh a Cocoon of Terror”, Far Eastern Review, April 4, 2002.
    Arun Shourie, Will the Iron Fence Save a Tree Hollowed by Termites: Defence Imperatives Beyond the Military, (New Delhi, Asa Publishers, 2005), p. 205.
    The Indian Express, New Delhi, December 14, 2001.
    The Statesman, New Delhi, December 20, 2000, p. 5.
    The Pioneer, New Delhi, February 22, 2001.
    Arun Shourie, n. 3, p. 204.

    IndianDefenceReview
     
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