ULFA Leader Anup Chetia’s Return Will Aid Assam Peace Process
ULFA ‘general secretary’ Anup Chetia has been handed over to India by the Bangladesh authorities. His repatriation has come six months before Assam’s Assembly elections and is likely to aid the flagging peace process. It will also weaken the resolve of Paresh Barua, the ULFA ‘command-in-chief’, to continue to wage war against India with Chinese help from the jungles of Myanmar.
Though India’s north-eastern states have still not been fully integrated with the national mainstream, they had been relatively peaceful until recently. Suddenly, they have witnessed renewed violence and the reason is clear. In May 2015, Paresh Baruah’s ULFA (Independent) and the NSCN(K) joined hands with seven other militant organisations to form the United National Liberation Front of West South-East Asia. The meeting, held in the Sagaing region of Myanmar, was reportedly facilitated by Chinese intelligence.
Decades of Turmoil
Several of India’s north-eastern states have been in a state of turmoil for 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-east are mostly home grown, some of these have developed links with Pakistan’s ISI and international terrorist organisations like the LeT and HuJI.
After supporting the insurgencies for a long time, the Chinese stopped doing so in the 1980s. By bringing together various extremist organisations under one umbrella recently, they have resumed their interference in India’s internal affairs in the north-east.
Due to porous borders, the militants often took shelter in Bangladesh and Bhutan in the past. After the governments of these two countries joined hands with India to fight the extremists, various Indian insurgent groups have been operating from bases in Myanmar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Dhaka visit in June 2015 and the ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh will further help improve security coordination.
The government of Myanmar also does not encourage or support Indian militant groups, but it does not have full control over large tracts of its borders, including areas across India’s borders.
Cauldron of Conflict
The intensity of instability varies from state to state. In Nagaland, a tenuous peace prevailed till recently due to the ceasefire that held for 14 years. However, various Naga and Manipuri factions remained engaged in a fierce internecine struggle for power in both these states. Political negotiations with the Naga leaders were continuing when, in early-April 2015, the NSCN(K) unilaterally abrogated the ceasefire.
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. In Mizoram, which has seen many years of relative calm, subterranean tensions have been simmering for some time, but have not been addressed satisfactorily.
In Assam, the fightback against ULFA terrorists has achieved success over the last five years, after the government of Sheikh Hasina and the Bangladesh security forces extended cooperation necessary for launching joint operations.
The Bodo (NDFB) extremists have lost several senior cadres in recent encounters with the army. This extremist organisation appears to have reached a discernible level of strategic fatigue. It may soon opt for negotiations with the government to buy time for resuscitation.
Conflict resolution in the north-east received a major boost when ULFA ‘chairman’ Arabinda Rajkhowa was handed over by the Bangladesh government in December 2009. On September 3, 2011, the group signed the Suspension of Operations pact with the Centre and agreed to hold formal talks after a violent insurgent movement that lasted 32 years.
Rajkhowa presented a ‘charter of demands’ in which the ULFA represented that a solution to their demands was not possible under the provisions of the existing Constitution. ULFA’s other demands included discussions on its “struggle and their genuineness,” a status report from the government on missing ULFA leaders and cadres and socio-economic issues.
Though Paresh Baruah’s estranged faction remains opposed to the negotiations, Anup Chetia’s repatriation will be seen as a positive development by the ULFA cadres and will, therefore, help calm the atmosphere before the elections.
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 India’s counter-insurgency campaign.
(The writer is former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi)