Political solution must

The re-emergence of Chinese support for militant movements inimical to India's interests is an ominous development.

Political solution must
In the worst attack on the army in over two decades, 18 soldiers were killed and 11 were injured in an ambush in Manipur in the first week of June 2015. Militants belonging to SS Khaplang’s NSCN (K) and the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), a Meitei outfit formed in 1994, are suspected to have laid the ambush. Apparently, they came from a camp in Myanmar.

It had been reported about  a month ago that Paresh Baruah’s United Liberation Front of Assam-Independent and NSCN (K) have joined hands with seven other militant organisations active in India’s North-East to form the United National Liberation Front of West South-east Asia. The meeting took place in the Sagaing region of Myanmar under the watchful eyes of Chinese intelligence personnel.

Several of Northeastern states have been in a state of turmoil for many decades. The primary cause of strife is an unstable internal security environment that has been compounded by political and economic neglect. While the militant movements in the north-eastern states are mostly home grown, some of these have developed links with Pakistan’s ISI and terrorist organisations like the LeT and HuJI.

 Due to porous borders, the militants found it worthwhile to seek shelter in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Bhutan. After the governments of the two countries joined hands with India to fight these extremists, they have been operating from bases in Myanmar with support from China.

 Various Indian insurgent groups have found it convenient to operate out of bases in the weakly controlled areas in Myanmar, but the government of Myanmar does not encourage or support them. In November 2001, the Myanmar army had raided several bases of Manipuri rebels and had rounded up almost 200 rebels and recovered 1,500 weapons.

  The intensity of instability varies from state to state. In Nagaland, peace had prevailed till recently due to the cease-fire that had held for 14 years. However, it was only a tenuous peace and various Naga and Manipuri factions remained engaged in a fierce internecine struggle for power in both these states. Political negotiations with the Naga leaders for a final settlement had made some progress when, in early-April 2015, the NSCN (K) unilaterally abrogated the cease-fire.

In Tripura, where AFSPA has been denotified, violent incidents tend to break out at regular intervals and invariably lead to demands for the deployment of the army and other security forces. In Mizoram, which has seen many years of relative calm, subterranean tensions have been simmering for some time and may again rise to the surface if these are not addressed satisfactorily.

In Assam, the situation has improved a great deal over the last five years. The government of Sheikh Hasina and the Bangladesh security forces extended the cooperation that was necessary for the launch of joint operations to apprehend the ULFA terrorists active against India. The Bodo (NDFB) extremists have lost several senior cadres in recent encounters with the army and this extremist organisation appears to have reached a discernible level of strategic fatigue. The NDFB may soon opt for negotiations with the government so as to buy time for resuscitation.

 The vibrant culture of the beautiful Brahmaputra basin, which gave birth to an ancient civilisation and was once a flourishing centre of trade, has been torn asunder by militancy and terrorism. Sporadic acts of violence, a gun culture, extortion and kidnappings are now common occurrences, even though the security forces have succeeded in maintaining a semblance of normalcy.

Unless a political solution is found to solve the underlying socio-economic problems and to ameliorate the “hearts and minds” challenge of alienation from the national mainstream, full blown-militancy could again bounce back without warning. The funds earmarked by the Central government for development must trickle down to the people in a transparent and accountable manner and not disappear without a trace.

Over a period of more than half a century, the Indian army has successfully conducted a difficult counter-insurgency campaign in the Northeastern states despite adverse terrain and weather conditions, logistics difficulties and political flip-flops. Military operations against the terrorists who are still active must continue unfettered.

 Don’t repeat mistakes

 The mistakes made in the early 1990s must not be repeated. When the situation had deteriorated, Operation Bajrang was launched but was soon called off as it became inconvenient for the newly elected government to have the army deployed in the state. Six months later, Operation Rhino had to be launched. The tendency of successive state governments to scale down army operations for political reasons as soon as the situation seemingly improves results in major setback for the conduct of sustained counter-insurgency operations. The security forces need time to become effective and establish a counter-insurgency grid, including humint (human intelligence) networks to gain actionable intelligence.

Policymakers and those who are responsible for governance must introspect and understand why India has repeatedly failed to counter the long-festering militancy in the North East. The root causes, which are mainly socio-political and socio-economic in nature, must be addressed.

The nation cannot sustain a high growth rate over a long period if a major region is not part of the success story. High opportunity costs are imposed on the national economy due to unrealised revenues and taxes. India’s quest to ‘act east’ and enhance its trade with ASEAN countries through the land route will also remain a non-starter unless durable peace returns to the region.

 Finally, the re-emergence of Chinese support for militant movements inimical to India’s interests after almost 30 years of apparent non-interference is an ominous development. In case the Chinese succeed in getting the new front that they have forged to coordinate operations and intelligence, it will pose a fresh challenge for our counter-insurgency campaign.

(The writer is former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi)

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