Author- Col (Retd) Anil Bhat
For many years, India has been facing terrorist attacks from many terrorist groups ranging from the Pakistani / Pakistan supported spread all over India, to those insurgent groups of the North East, all actively supported by its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Since a couple of years, China also is an active support to the insurgents of North East India. This year too police and security agencies were busy preparing to preempt or prevent insurgent attacks in many states, including those in the North East, which China is reported to be trying to unite.
Two features by this writer published in The Asian Age this year, Defang ULFA to ensure peace talks’ success (Jan 25, 2011) and Northeast Terror Groups’ Red links (Mar 07, 2011) elaborated on the continuing anti-Indian activities of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), National Socialist Council of Nagaland/Nagalim – Issac-Muivah group (NSCN-IM) and some of the Manipur –based Meitei insurgent groups hiding and shuttling between China and Myanmar.
Ever since the Awami League headed by Sheikh Hasina assumed charge in Bangladesh, all North Eastern insurgent groups’ elements camping there since many years were apprehended and handed over to India by Bangladeshi authorities, or caught by Indian security forces/National Investigation Agency (NIA) or escaped to Myanmar / China.
Both, ULFA’s anti-talks faction under Paresh Baruah and the NSCN-IM have been given sanctuary and substantial support by China to arm themselves and to supply arms to Naxal-Maoists operating in other Indian states, even as ULFA’s pro-talks faction and NSCN-IM continue talks with the Centre.
The latest development of China uniting Meitei groups with Baruah’s faction should not at all come as a surprise. Whether Chinese intelligence has taken over what ISI was doing actively from Bangladesh for almost two decades during Khalida Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s tenure, or assisting its latent elements still operating there, Indian security forces need to be all the more guarded.
Some significant details are about China’s latest attempts at beefing up Paresh Baruah’s 28 battalion of ULFA, with many Meitei groups for some fresh attacks in Assam. Authoritative security sources disclosed that the Khaplang faction of NSCN and elusive ULFA chief Paresh Baruah are playing the key role from their hideouts at Taga in Burma and that at least eight insurgent groups of Manipur have already joined hands. These are the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and its associate Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), the Revolutionary Peoples’ Front (RPF), the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), Peoples’ Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (Prepak), Prepak (Pro), the United People’s Party of Kangleipak (UPPK), and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP).
For ULFA’s martyr’s day on July 27, security agencies in Assam found the presence of PLA rebels in ULFA’s hit squad moving around out to strike in Upper Assam’s Sibsagar, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts. Paresh Baruah succeeded in pushing a group of 17 heavily armed rebels; including eight hardcore cadres of PLA to create mayhem in Assam. This is the first time that PLA rebels have been sent to help ULFA in Assam. The ULFA and PLA rebels, armed with sophisticated weapons, have been assigned specific task of targeting the oil installations, gas pipelines, business establishments and security forces. Security sources also pointed out that PLA and ULFA cadres are highly professional and capable of taking on security forces. Sources said that armed cadres were sent from Taga camp in Burma.
Many inputs about the Chinese connection came from Anthony Shimray of NSCN-IM and Raj Kumar Meghen of the UNLF arrested by National Investigation Agency (NIA), both of who had participated in meetings with Chinese intelligence agencies operatives following requests from both these groups for support including sophisticated weapons.
For facilitating this unification move, the anti-talk faction of ULFA and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) made a lot of structural changes in the organizational set up of their outfits besides setting up a mobile military headquarters at Taga in Burma. Security sources pointed out that Maoists leaders who are also in touch with PLA and ULFA are suspected to have been playing the role of catalyst in unifying the armed rebels of northeast, as jointly their strength would cross over to 10,000 cadres.
As regards Myanmar/Burma, time and again commitments were made by it to India to deny its space and support but somehow never has it worked for too long. In 1995 a joint military operation by India and Myanmar had code-named Golden Bird launched against NE insurgent-insurgent groups was abandoned by the latter after Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nehru Peace Prize for International Understanding. Myanmar resumed its military operation against insurgents from February 2000 to May 2001 mainly because of the construction of the 160 kms long Indo-Myanmar Friendship Road by Indian Army’s Border Roads Organisation connecting Manipur’s border town of Moreh with Kalewa on the Chindwin river in Myanmar, completed in In February 2001.Later in October 2004, during his visit to India, General Than Shwe assured cooperation by way of participation in joint operations, which were conducted in 2005 and 2006. Unfortunately the operation proved ineffective for obvious lack of commitment on the part of Myanmar. India’s further engagement in recent years of the military junta internationally isolated following economic sanctions by the western countries has meant fulfilling a long list of military weapons, equipment and even clothing. India has also leased a helicopter squadron and offered help in maintaining Russian military equipment’s of the Myanmarese army. Myanmar showing greater commitment to take on anti-Indian insurgents taking shelter in its territory has again amounted military assistance from India to start operations. During his April 2010 visit to Shillong to attend Bay of Bengal Initiative for the Multi-Sectorial Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) meet Myanmar’s ambassador to India U Kyi Thein said that Myanmar has requested India for requisite military assistance for coordinated action against the insurgents holed up in Myanmar, which India has agreed to provide, though he refused to elaborate the details.
According to former GOC, 3 Corps, Lt. Gen. N.K.Singh, there are about 40 militant camps belonging to various North Eastern insurgent groups in Myanmar, which has 1,643 kms of unfenced border with Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram. Paresh Baruah’s ULFA group in Myanmar is according to some reports as much as 800 cadres armed with a sizeable arsenal of arms and explosives. He had organized a blast outside the Congress headquarters in Guwahati in the run-up to the Assembly election earlier this year.
Myanmar has its own share of insurgency problems. Rebel outfits like Kachin Independent Army (KIA) and Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) are active in its upper region. Because of strong presence of these various rebel outfits, the political writ of Yangon does not prevail in several parts of the upper Myanmar. The situation has been further complicated by widespread poverty, lack of education and connectivity. Unless all these problems are solved, it would be difficult for Yangon to rein in the area. Now the connectivity over the Indo-Myanmar friendship road will make it easier to tackle the militants who operate out of jungle bases in the North-West Myanmar adjacent to Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram.
The Centre has alerted the Assam government of attempts by the ULFA plus PLA group to carry out terror strikes in the state. Intelligence inputs have warned that with ULFA faction led by Arabinda Rajkhowa holding formal talks with the government, Baruah may go for a big strike in the in near future to send out the firm message about who is in control.
All the developments mentioned, yet again underscore the need to nab Paresh Baruah, which will result in a spin-off of a number of advantages in dealing with insurgency and terrorism in the North Eastern region. Given the improved relations with and cooperation by Bangladesh, improved output of the NIA and some assertive negotiation with Myanmar, – that should not be impossible.
Col. Anil Bhat (Retd) is the Editor, WordSword Features & Media. He is a syndicated strategic affairs columnist and Defence analyst based in New Delhi. He can be reached at [email protected]