Saturday, July 28, 2012

Separatist groups add fuel to Assam fire

As the North-East State is rocked by ethnic violence, insurgent groups from across the borders and their allies here must be strongly prevented from fanning the flames.

By all accounts, the law and order situation in Assam has deteriorated to such an extent that governance in accordance with the Constitution of India is in peril. The nation, which was a shocked witness to the unimpeded molestation of a teen-aged girl in one of the main thoroughfares to the State capital, Guwahati, for more than half-an-hour earlier this month, now has to see large-scale rioting, arson and murder ravaging Kokrajhar and Chirang districts, with violence spilling over the neighbouring district of Dhubri. Over 50 people have already been killed and around 2,00,000 have flocked to refugee camps.

The State Government’s utter inability to control crime and large-scale civil disorder, which these two developments underline, is shocking and deplorable enough. What makes the situation most alarming is the fact that Assam and some other States of north-eastern India have a history of insurgency fuelled by Pakistan and Bangladesh under the various military regimes and the Government headed by Begum Khaleda Zia. Things have improved considerably since Bangladesh’s present Awami League Government, headed by Sheikh Hasina, came to power in January, 2009.  She has demolished the camps and sanctuaries that insurgent groups had established in Bangladesh and ended the support and assistance they received from the Government in Dhaka. Pressure from her Government had even driven principal leaders of insurgent groups into positions from where Indian security forces could arrest them easily.

Among those arrested are Arabinda Rajkhowa, chairman and founder of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom, the latter’s ‘deputy commander-in-chief’, Raju Baruah, self-styled foreign and finance secretaries, Shashadhar Choudhury and Chitrabon Hazarika respectively, vice-president Pradeep Gogoi, and publicity chief Mithinga Daimaray. The ULFA and other insurgent groups, however, have by no means been crushed. Their foreign patrons continue to be active. The opponents of Ms Sheikh Hasina, routed in the last general election in Bangladesh in December 2008, are once again flexing their political muscles.

There have been reports for quite some time that Islamist fundamentalist groups, several of them linked to the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, have been active in the State for more than two decades. A report by Surajit Talukdar and Swapan Kumar Paul of Newsfile in The Pioneer of November 6, 2003, listed as many as 15 of them. These included Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Muslim United Tigers of Assam, Islamic Liberation Front of Assam, Islamic Sevak Sangh, Muslim Security Force of Assam, Muslim Liberation Front, Muslim Liberation Tigers of Assam, Muslim Security Council of Assam, Muslim Security Force, Muslim Tiger Force, Muslim Volunteer Force, United Reformation Protest of Assam and Adam Sena.

Each of these groups has a distinct role. The Islamic Sevak Sangh helps terrorists and potential terrorists to cross the India-Bangladesh border while the HuJI in Bangladesh organises their training in Bangladesh and Burma. The Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam and the People’s United Liberation Front of Manipur, which is also active in south Assam and which has incorporated the Manipur-based Islamic National Front, have been campaigning to set up an ‘Islamic homeland’ which will be ruled by sharia’h law and Islamic values and enforce the Islamic dress code. It would include parts of north-eastern India, Burma and Bangladesh. Significantly, the MULTA and the PULF have been expanding their activities among the Muslim populations of Nagaland and Meghalaya where tensions have been simmering dangerously for quite some time.

The Taliban-Al Qaeda-ISI link is most clearly manifest in the case of the HuJI, which the US Department of State designated in March 2008 as a ‘Foreign Terrorist Organisation’. The most sinister of all the organisations mentioned above, it has a pan-Islamic network. The unit active in Assam is an extension of the HuJIB. In Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror, Rohan Gunaratna states, “The Bangladeshi authorities now believe that Al Qaeda had founded it.” Most significantly, he further states, “The group also operates in north-eastern India in tandem with several small Islamist groupings. Osama is said to have sent his private secretary to attend a meeting of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami in Bangladesh to draft a strategy to intensify their violent campaign in that region.”

It is significant that Gunaratna states that the HUJIB was formed in 1992 to recruit volunteers to fight in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Begum Khaldea Zia was then the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Indeed, the activities of the HUIB and other Islamist groups in that country received massive support from Bangladesh when Begum Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party was in power in two stints from 1991-96 and 2001, the second time as the overwhelmingly dominant partner in a coalition Government in which the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh exercised an influence far in excess of its parliamentary strength. Pathologically anti-Indian, it has been the matrix of all fundamental terrorist organisations in Bangladesh like HUJIB, Hizbut Tawhid, Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh and the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh.

The Taliban-Al Qaeda-ISI-linked terrorist organisations active in north-eastern India have been active among the region’s Muslim population. The latter has been rapidly growing in number since Independence in 1947 because, more than anything else, of the growing influx from Bangladesh. This is a problem which the Congress Governments at the Centre and Assam have allowed to grow untrammelled largely because of vote-bank politics. In fact, both appear to have connived in the process as evidenced by the enactment of a pathetically weak Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act of 1983 ,which was set aside by the Supreme Court in 2005.

The first priority in the present instance is obviously the immediate restoration of law and order. This will require firm and scrupulously even-handed action against both Bodos and Muslims engaged in murder, looting, arson and rioting, and their leaders. That done, both the Centre and the State Government will have to unearth and destroy the Taliban-Al Qaeda-linked secessionist terrorist network in north-eastern India.

 Bangladesh’s cooperation will be crucial to the success of the effort both to do this and stanch flow of illegal migrants. Fortunately, Bangladesh has now a Government which is friendly towards India. While securing its assistance, India must also address Dhaka’s concerns. It is a shame that New Delhi has not been able to sign the Teesta water sharing treaty with Bangladesh because of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s opposition.