Turmoil in Assam: Serious security implications for NE region

Back in 1962, when we moved into NEFA ( Now Arunachal ), the road from Rupa to Sela and beyond was under construction with a large number of local labourers.

One of our serious apprehensions was that some of these could well be enemy agents passing information of our movements and deployment to the enemy. In Nagaland, at that time, it needed two complete brigades simply to secure the road from Dimapur to Imphal. Since those distant days, despite the srmy’s best efforts, the potential for strife and discord in the area has only increased.

Even after the Bangladeshi influx into West Bengal, Assam and Tripura in 1947 and 1971, rationalised as natural consequences of partition and Pakistani atrocities in Bangladesh, influx of illegal immigrants into Assam has continued unabated, encouraged and abetted by politicians seeking to build vote banks. So much so that the original inhabitants of Assam are being reduced to a minority in their own land. This has resulted in frequent clashes between the indigenous people and illegal immigrants who have since  spread to all the North East states resulting not only in ethnic volatility but seriously jeopardising peace in the region. Much of the immigrants are Bangladeshi muslims seeking job opportunities and a better life.

Despite this grim situation, some development work was becoming visible after a belated recognition that North East India is the key to our Look East Policy. Perhaps also because China had started to aggressively claim what it called South Tibet.

It is only during the last one decade that people from the North Eastern states had started to be seen in numbers in our universities and work places. Socio-cultural assimilation had just started to happen.

And now suddenly, ethnic clashes in Assam’s Bodoland have resulted in a 1947-like situation in at least 13 districts of Assam. To make it worse, the problem has been given a communal colour. One of our MPs from Hyderabad has effectively invited the muslim community to an ominous third wave of radicalisation. Inimical elements in Pakistan have added a new dimension to proxy warfare through rumours circulated on the web, aimed at  destabilising the social cohesion between communities.

Inciting locals

Opposition parties have targeted the Congress for encouraging illegal immigration while the ruling dispensation has blamed the opposition for inciting the locals towards taking law into their own hands.

To any keen observer of the North East situation, this has not come as a surprise. However, the perilous implications this has for national security, have by and large been ignored both by the governments of Assam as well as the Union government.

North Eastern India is surrounded by not-so-friendly neighbours. China not only claims Arunachal Pradesh but has made significant inroads into Myanmar and Nepal. China also overlooks Bhutan and Sikkim. One Chinese think tank has already hinted at China’s ability to balkanise India obviously through its significant influence with regional separatist movements and Maoists.

Pakistan has wielded much influence with leaders of separatist movements in the region with scores of ISI sponsored outfits working actively in various areas of Assam and Arunachal. Pakistan’s potential for mischief is extremely high, with innumerable ISI trained sleeper cells believed to be lying in wait for a suitable opportunity.

Organisations like Huji in Bangladesh are rabidly anti-Indian, and have played an active role in spreading terrorism deep within India. The ISI – Huji nexus goes deep and wide.  Our relations with Bangladesh are currently on the mend but its political history betrays the tentative nature of this relationship. Good can evaporate rapidly with a change of government in Dacca. The nature of Sino-Pak collaboration against India is all too well known to merit further emphasis.

Should Indian forces be required  to launch defensive operations in Arunachal, they will need to secure their back and flanks. Complete control over the concentration areas and logistic lines of communication is absolutely necessary for successful conduct of military operations. Disturbances in any of the NE states will deny ability to withdraw forces from counter insurgency commitments. More civil and military resources will be needed to maintain law and order and secure movement of men and materials for war.

The threat of sabotage is manifold and wide spread because immigrants from Bangladesh have spread over the entire region and some of them are known to be working for Huji and ISI.  Anti sabotage operations will require large contingents of military forces to guard railway tracks, bottlenecks, crossing points across Brahamaputra and to guard convoys, and vulnerable areas like airfields and ordinance depots etc .
The narrow corridor connecting Assam to the rest of India; commonly known as the Chicken’s Neck, runs between Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim to the North and Bangladesh to the South. With Maoism taking deep roots in Nepal and the problem of illegal immigrants at its worst in this belt, security of the Chicken’s neck is seriously jeopardised.

It is through this corridor that all forces and all logistics have to pass before reaching Arunachal. Should this area be populated by unsympathetic or unfriendly and possibly hostile groups, any military operation in NE India will be very adversely impacted. Not only through espionage, but even more seriously through sabotage and blockades.
And what happens if the Chicken’s Neck is throttled by an unfriendly Bangladesh aided by Pakistani and Chinese infiltrators. NE India is at risk of being severed away from the main land even without the Chinese having to intervening militarily.

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