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Everyone is clueless on Assam
October 30, 2008
Available police statistics of incidents involving explosions and civilian casualties caused by the United Liberation Front of Asom since 2002 are given below:
The figures of civilians killed in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 include civilians killed by explosions as well as in attacks not involving IEDs. The figures for 2006 and 2007 refer to only civilians killed by IEDs. While there was a large number of incidents involving IEDs, the number of civilians killed per incident was low as compared to incidents involving IEDs caused by jihadi terrorists in other parts of India. This could be attributed to the fact that the explosive material used by the ULFA -- much of it procured from Bangladesh -- was of low quality as compared to the material available to the jihadi terrorists, whether procured from Pakistan or Bangladesh. The expertise in the use of IEDs imparted to ULFA in the training camps in Bangladesh was also of inferior quality as compared to the expertise imparted to the jihadi terrorists -- whether in Pakistan or Bangladesh.
A defining characteristic of the incidents involving the use of IEDs targeting civilians in Assam was that many of the incidents specifically targeted non-Assamese civilians while taking care not to target Assamese-speaking civilians and illegal Bangladeshi migrants. Jihadi terrorists in other parts of India make no distinction. They kill civilians indiscriminately -- without worrying about their religion, ethnic or linguistic origin.
Jihadi terrorism, as distinguished from the ethnic terrorism of the ULFA kind, has also started making inroads in Assam. According to the Assam police, the following jihadi organisations are now active in Assam: the Muslim Liberation Tigers of Assam; the Independent Liberation Army of Assam; the People United Liberation Front; the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, whose Pakistani counterpart is a founding member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front; and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, whose Pakistani counterpart is also a member of the IIF. According to them, the activities of all these organisations are co-ordinated by the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen of Bangladesh, which organised hundreds of simultaneous explosions of crude devices all over Bangladesh on August 17, 2005.
Some HuM cadres, along with two Pakistani nationals, were arrested in August 1999. Forty-two HuM cadres, including some trained in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, surrendered till 2006-end. Four HuJI cadres trained in Bangladesh surrendered in August 2004. One HuJI cadre was arrested in February 2004. Till 2006-end, 370 jihadi terrorists belonging to different organisations had been arrested and 128 had surrendered.
The security forces in Assam have been putting up a determined fight against ULFA, killing 1,128 cadres from 1991 to 2006-end and arresting 11,173 during the same period; 8,465 others surrendered. The result: decrease in cadre strength; erosion of its support base in the population; decrease in recruitment and fund collection; and shortage of arms and ammunition.
In view of these developments, ULFA started following a new modus operandi with the following features: decrease in specific targeted violence; increase in indiscriminate violence directed at soft targets; targeting of vital installations in remote areas; attacks on security forces when and where possible; and use of unconscious third persons not suspected by the police for having the IEDs planted in public places. The use of such unconscious third persons has been increasing.
However, the ULFA still has an estimated hard core of 800 trained cadres and another 1,500 untrained cadres. There are no signs of any weakening of its morale and motivation. Its command and control orchestrated from Bangladesh is intact. Any effective counter-terrorism strategy in Assam has to have the conventional components such as improving intelligence collection, analysis and assessment and co-ordinated follow-up action; improving the capability and resources of the police; strengthened physical security; and a well-tested crisis management drill. In addition, it must have a strong anti-illegal immigration component -- to prevent any further illegal immigration from Bangladesh and the identification, arrests and deportation of those who have already illegally entered India.
Obviously, for electoral reasons, there is a reluctance on the part of the government to deal effectively with illegal immigration. This is likely to prove suicidal. Muslims constitute about 32 per cent of the population of Assam today. If the problem of illegal immigration from Bangladesh is not tackled, there is a real danger that in another 50 years, Assam might turn into a Muslim-majority state.
Pakistan, Bangladesh and China have an interest in keeping Assam destabilised -- each for its own reason. The interest of Pakistan and Bangladesh is in facilitating the emergence of a Muslim majority state and seek its ultimate secession from India. The interest of China is in weakening the Indian capability to protect Arunachal Pradesh in the likelihood of the unresolved border dispute over Arunachal Pradesh one day leading to a confrontation between India and China.
The previous government headed by A B Vajpayee was strong on rhetoric relating to terrorism, but weak in action. Its successor government is weak in rhetoric as well as action. It seems to believe that confidence-building measures with neighbours who are sponsoring terrorism against India and the peace process would pay dividends in improving the terrorism situation on the ground. This is unlikely to happen. Lack of determination to act strongly and in time is already costing us heavily and will cost even more heavily in future.
from the Chapter titled Assam: Terrorism [Images] & 'Silent Unarmed Invasion' in my book Terrorism: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow published by Lancer Publishers (www.lancerpublishers.com), Delhi [Images], in June 2008
More than 50 persons are feared to have died and more than a hundred injured in over 10 blasts that were simultaneously orchestrated in Guwahati, the capital of Assam, and in the districts of Barpeta and Kokrajhar on October 30. The picture regarding the exact number of explosions and the places where they took place is still confusing. Some reports put the number of explosions as high as 18. At least four of the blasts took place in Guwahati.
The people of Assam are no strangers to serial blasts carried out from time to time by the ULFA and jihadi organisations of Pakistani and Bangladeshi vintage, which have made inroads into the state by taking advantage of the uncontrolled illegal immigration into the state from Bangladesh They have been operating separately of each other when possible and in co-ordination with each other, when necessary.
Assam has been the nerve-centre of a cocktail of terrorist organisations -- ethnic and jihadi -- who have been systematically eating at the vitals of this state, which is key for protecting the integrity of India from the designs of Pakistan, Bangladesh and China. But nobody has had the time to pay attention to the alarming ground situation in this key state -- neither the Congress nor the Bharatiya Janata Party or any other party. Taking advantage of the lack of serious attention from the Government of India and the mainstream political parties, this cocktail of terrorists has been spreading havoc in the state.
"My heart goes out to the people of Assam," said Jawaharlal Nehru in a broadcast to the people of Assam as the Chinese troops were marching in in 1962. He did nothing to protect them before the Chinese invaded. His government and its successors did precious little to protect this right arm of India and its people either from the Chinese in the event of another war or from the terrorist organisations of various hues which have come up in the state since the 1980s. Who is whose surrogate? Who is the surrogate of Pakistan? Who is the surrogate of Bangladesh? Who is the surrogate of China? Is there a joint co-ordination by Pakistan, Bangladesh and China to undermine the control of the Indian state? Nobody knows the answer.
Everyone is clueless -- the intelligence agencies, the police, the security forces, the political class. There is hardly any realisation of the seriousness of the situation in Assam. One can understand inadequacies and even incompetence, but one is alarmed by the total disinterest in Delhi in what is going on in Assam.
It is too early to say who was involved in the explosions of October 29 -- ULFA only or ULFA plus? One has to wait for the results of the investigation, but from the large number of casualties and the widespread nature of the attacks, one thing is already clear -- there has been a worrisome increase in the lethality of the explosives available to the terrorists and their ability to use them effectively.
Public opinion has to force the governments at the Centre and in the state and the political class as a whole to act before it is too late.
The writer is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com
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