India: The Threat in the Northeast - Part II

By Frank Hyland & Animesh Roul


This column is another in the ongoing series on the terrorist threat to India and the surrounding region by Frank Hyland and Animesh Roul.

All seven of India’s northeastern states have been plagued by militancy, with the states of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur remaining the most violence-prone states of India, after Jammu & Kashmir State (J&K).

Assam: In 2007, Assam witnessed more civilian casualties - 286 (65%) out of 439 total casualties (State Police Source) due to terrorist attacks, in comparison with the more infamous J&K which garners far more of the media coverage around the world.

The United Liberation of Front of Assam, or Asom, (ULFA) is blamed for perpetrating most of the terrorist strikes targeted at State-run Oil and Tea infrastructures, non-indigenous migrant workers and Indian security forces. It also triggered sabotage attacks on oil pipelines and communication lines. The recent arrests of ULFA militants (one of them identified as Manoj Tamuly of ULFA’s 709 battalion) and their subsequent interrogation revealed that the group has developed a ‘Plane Hijacking Unit’ under the patronage of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID). Its cadres had undergone training near the India-Bhutan border and at least fifteen ULFA cadres had moved to bordering Bangladesh, Myanmar or Nepal. ISID has been trying its best to make the Northeast a hub of Islamic terrorism, along with its Bangladesh counterpart, DGFI. Police sources also claimed that ULFA works hand in hand with Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jihadi Islami (HuJI) in its latest hijack planning. The latest foiled plan as per Tamuly’s confession was that the group had planned to hijack a plane from Borjhar and to take it to an undisclosed location in Pakistan. The ULFA has been bringing in weapons and explosives through Bangladesh by taking advantage of the porous international border. Assam police have found that it uses river channels to ship arms cargo to its cadre inside Assam State. ULFA, along with a lesser known outfit -- the Karbi Longri National Liberation Front (KLNLF), unleashed deadly attacks across Sibsagar, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Dhemaji districts in early January 2007, killing nearly 70 people, mostly from neighboring Bihar state.

ULFA has been fighting for an independent homeland in Assam since 1979. It operates several camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar and its top leaders are presently based in Bangladesh. The growing affinity of ULFA for Islam has been evident, as it is patronized by ISID and has actively associated with Islamic groups such as the Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam (MULFA) and Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA).

Another tribal militant group based in Assam’s Golaghat, Kokhrajhar and Karbi Anglong districts is the All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA). The AANLA claims to be fighting for tribals and their rehabilitation. Headed by David Tirkey a tribal from central Indian State of Jharkhand, AANLA has achieved a name for itself by attacking oil tankers moving through the state, train networks, and by resorting to high profile abductions for ransom. AANLA has carried out a number of attacks on railway infrastructure targets. In December 2007, AANLA triggered an explosion aboard the Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express train in Assam's Golaghat. Five people were killed and four others were injured in that incident. A week before that event, AANLA targeted another train (Kamrup Express) near Bokajan in the Karbi Anglong district. State Intelligence sources have claimed that the outfit has operational linkages with Naga outfit NSCN-IM and ULFA.

Manipur: According to one estimate, in Manipur there were some 550 incidents of terrorist violence in the region, with nearly 130 civilian deaths recorded in 2007. More than 15 tribal militant outfits with transnational linkages are active in Manipur. Groups such as the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), the People's Liberation Army (PLA), and the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) which have been spearheading violence in the state for years, have formed an umbrella organization called the Manipur Peoples’ Liberation Front (MPLF). The major Kuki militant groups operating in Manipur are the Kuki National Front-President (KNF-P), the Kuki National Front-Military Council (KNF-MC), the Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA), the United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF), and the Kuki Liberation Army (KLA). The Manipur-based Islamic militant group People's United Liberation Front (PULF) also has ties with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba and with ISID.

Nagaland: In Nagaland, efforts have been underway to bring two warring Naga militant groups -- the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) together. Factional Violence between the two rival groups intensified in 2007. The NSCN-K, with bases in Myanmar, has been blamed for recruiting people and taking them to camps in that country for training. Early this month, the group reportedly abducted over 50 youths in Arunachal Pradesh; however, many of them later escaped. Under the leadership of S. S. Khaplang, NSCN-K strives for the establishment of a ‘Greater Nagaland’ comprising Naga-dominated areas in the region. NSCN-K, which opposes any kind of utilization (what it terms exploitation) of natural resources of the State, recently warned the oil exploration consortium -- composed of the Canadian firm Canoro Resources Ltd and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) of India -- against developing oil fields in Nagaland. The State-run ONGC had suspended its operations in 1994 following threats from NSCN-IM. The Indian government is currently observing a truce with both groups and is in talks with NSCN-IM, though the government has admitted the pace of the peace talks has slowed recently. However, India’s National Security Adviser M. K Narayanan has stated that the peace parleys can move forward only if the Naga group agrees to accept a solution with the broad parameters of Indian union, promising maximum autonomy and freedom.

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