The Declined Destiny of Northeast Indian Insurgency and Its Effect on CHT

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Sarder Ali Haider

The Government of India (GOI) is almost in control of long term insurgency in the Northeast. Over the years this insurgency situation had been giving birth of new unrest in different dimensions. A huge number of security forces in different capacities are deployed in the Northeast region to bring stability[1]. Besides the enormous effort of the security forces, the political moves in different times paid a good dividend on this aspect. There are notable eighteen insurgent groups operating in the Northeast States of India since long. With the passage of time these groups are divided into multi-fractions due to different ideology and internal interest. Basically all these groups had a common demand of autonomy and ethnic rights. However after exploiting numerous political move, maximum of these groups have reached to a conjoint understanding. The ethnic groups have been given some special rights and prospects that brought them to move towards the peace process.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh shares a common boundary with Tripura and Mizoram among the Northeast Indian states. Though the Government of Bangladesh (GOB) has signed a peace accord with the majority

Photo-1: CHT and Northeast India

fractions of ethnic community, still there are four tribal regional parties; those are maintaining separate armed groups. These armed groups are using modern automatic weapons now a days. Various sources confirm that the main entry route of all those illegal modern weapons is through Northeast Indian states. It is also learnt that basically the origination of these illegal weapons is China[1]. Normally the illegal arms dealers are doing necessary arrangements to reach those weapons to the appropriate places. These illegal arms dealers use the route through Myanmar’s Wa state and Kachin state to reach in the various states of Northeast India[2]. From there, those are reaching to CHT through various hands. The present declining state of insurgency in Northeast India has got multidimensional effect on CHT situation. There might be a sudden huge arms flow in CHT as a good number of insurgents are likely to sell their arms to the interested customers covertly just before surrendering to the GOI. There might be more other issues which need to be addressed with a proactive approach.

In different states of Northeast India, the mentionable insurgent groups are as follows[1]:

  • Arunachal Pradesh- National Liberation Council of Taniland (NLCT)
  • Assam- United Liberation Front of Assam(ULFA), National Democratic Front of Bodoland(NDFB), Karbi Longri N.C. Hills Liberation Front(KLNLF), United People’s Democratic Solidarity(UPDS), Dima Halam Daoga (DHD), Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO), Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA)
  • Manipur- United National Liberation Front (UNLF), People’s Liberation Army of Manipur (PLA), People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP)
  • Nagaland- National Socialist Council of Nagaland(NSCN- IM), National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang(NSCN-K)
  • Tripura- National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF)
  • Meghalaya- Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), Achik National Volunteers Council (ANVC), Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA)
  • Mizoram- Hmar People’s Convention-Democracy(HPC-D)

The insurgent groups maintain internal coordination to assist each other. In maximum cases, as the opponent is the government security forces, they find a reasonable cause for creating some alliance as per their requirement. The groups under those alliances are as follows:

  • CorCom- The insurgent groups of similar ideology created an alliance CorCOM (Coordination Committee). Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak-Pro (PREPAK-Pro), Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF), United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and United People’s Party of Kangleipak (UPPK) are within CorCom alliance[2].
  • Western Southeast Asia (WESEA) Forum- The Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak-Pro (PREPAK-Pro), Revolutionary People’s Front(RPF), United National Liberation Front, Manipur (UNLF),Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council of Meghalaya (HNLC), Kamtapur Liberation Organization(KLO), National Democratic Front of Bodoland(NDFB), United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) formed WESEA forum.
  • United National Liberation Front of WESEA- Nine insurgent groups of Northeast India including the NSCN (Khaplang) and the ULFA faction led by Paresh Baruah have reached to an understanding of forming a new unified front known as United National Liberation Front of WESEA (UNLFW) in early 2015. Besides the NSCN (K) and ULFA, the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), Kanglei Yawol Kunna Lup (KYKL), the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit faction) (NDFB) are included in this alliance.
  • All Muslim United Liberation Forum of Assam (AMULFA) is an organization that rejects separatism in favor of sharia law. The Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) is one of the affiliates of AMULFA.

The above mentioned maximum parties used to maintain a strong military strength in their respective areas during last two decades of the previous century. But in course of time these parties have become feeble due to number of fractions that has been created as a result of internal clash. Moreover, in the recent years, the interested super power countries are more concern about their economic development. The insurgent groups are not getting the financial and military support like earlier[3].

The declined trends of the insurgent groups of Northeast India have been underway following the Operations Rhino and Bajrang by the Indian Security Forces[4]. In 1990, India launched Operations Rhino and Bajrang against the insurgent groups of Assam. Constant military pressure compelled the insurgent groups to relocate their camps in Bhutan. Though during 1990, Bhutan used to keep liaison with United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) for getting assistance in eviction of the ethnic Lhotshampa population[5]. But gradually Bhutan government became aware of a large number of insurgent camps on its southern border with India. The insurgent groups ULFA, NDFB, Bodo Liberation Tigers Force (BLTF) and Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO) used to maintain those camps. There were also presence of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) in those areas sometimes. India applied diplomatic pressure on Bhutan and also offered military support in eliminating the insurgents from its territory. The government of Bhutan initially pursued a peaceful solution, opening dialogue with the insurgent groups. Five rounds of talks were held with ULFA and three rounds with NDFB. In June 2001, ULFA agreed to close down four of its camps but later on it was identified that those were just relocated in another place. Bhutan government got alarmed as the dialogue could not produce any significant result. On 14 July 2003, military intervention was approved by the National Assembly of Bhutan. On 13 December 2003, the Bhutan government issued a two-day ultimatum to the insurgents. On 15 December 2003, after expiry of the offered ultimatum, Operation All Clear -the first operation ever conducted by the Royal Bhutan Army was launched with a support of Indian army. The Royal Bhutan Army successfully took full control of its territory by first week of January 2004. There were a good number of insurgent casualties and capture of several senior ULFA commanders. A Large number of insurgents fled away and obliged to extricate their all 30 camps and 35 observation posts. However despite the Royal Bhutan Army’s effort, the Northeast Indian insurgents always pursued for the opportunities to take shelter in Bhutan. Considering the situation, Royal Bhutan Police and Royal Bhutan Army personnel undertook numerous actions against those insurgents in 2008 to 2011 and effectively could evict the presence of the insurgents.

The insurgent groups of Nagaland and Manipur are known to be more aggressive than others. The Naga peoples’ demand for a state by unifying all the Naga-inhabited areas in the North East of India and Northern Myanmar which the people of the area proposed as “Nagalim”[6].

Photo-2: Nagalim

However, Myanmar Government has approved ‘Naga Self-Administered Zone’ as in their constitution in 2008[1]. This self-administered zone consisting of three townships in the Sagaing Region, Myanmar; Lahe Township, Leshi Township, and Nanyun Township. Those three townships were administratively part of Hkamti District prior to the creation of the Naga Self-Administered Zone.

Photo-3: Naga Self-Administered Zone

The insurgent groups of Nagaland and Manipur had been taking shelter in Myanmar since long. The relationship between the insurgent groups of Northeast India and Myanmar was started in late 1960s[1]. China had been providing military training to the Naga insurgents in Yunnan province of China from January, 1967 to at least up to 1976[2]. During this training it was believed that the armed group activists used to move though Myanmar. In 1968, the then GOI accused China for providing military assistance to the Naga insurgents but China did not cooperate with India at that time[3]. However, these military movements of Naga people created a strong tie with Myanmar with an advantage of almost similar ethnicity and culture. The Naga insurgent groups recruited more activists and started taking shelter across the Naga Hills in Myanmar since the early 1980s, which continued even after the split of NSCN into the Khaplang and Isak-Muivah factions in 1988[4]. The more number of fractions within the insurgent groups created, the job of the security forces became comparatively easy. Even though neutralizing the Naga ethnic people who all used to be known as ‘Head Hunters’ during the early days of previous century was really difficult[5]. However, besides the continuous operational activities of the security forces, the political strategies also worked a lot to bring stability in the Northeast. However, in 2011-12, as many as nine insurgent groups of India’s Assam and Manipur were found to have a presence in Sagaing Region, Myanmar[6]. It is located in the ecologically sensitive Hukwang Valley, west of the Chindwin River along the border of Kachin.  It is a wide expanse of semi-forested terrain interspersed with villages settled by Pangmi Nagas from the hills.

Photo-4: Sagaing Region in Myanmar

There was presence of approximately 3,000 armed group activists from different insurgent groups of Northeast India in the Sagaing region. The available training facilities were being utilized by all the insurgent groups. The central headquarters of NSCN (K) was also located in Sagaing Region. The armed groups of different insurgent parties of Northeast India took shelter in a radius of 12-15 km from the NSCN (K)’s central headquarters. There were four huts for all the insurgent groups. The bigger ones belong to the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and People’s Liberation Army (PLA), both of which are from Manipur. All the groups used to maintain (still maintaining) cordial ties with each other and the groups within one alliance used to support each other. Efforts were also on at that time to establish a new coalition that might be known as the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia in 2015[1]. There was hardly any presence of the Myanmar army in that region and also around India-Myanmar border. After the agreement with the Government of Myanmar in 2012, the government officials distributed solar panels and funds for construction of water reservoirs in some villages. Burmese teachers had also begun to teach the language to Naga children in the hills in the improvised classrooms across several villages.

In course of time, the priority of regional interests was diverted towards more of economic side. The insurgent groups of Northeast India stationed in Myanmar had been undergoing numerous crisis. NSCN (K) and the other outfits from India’s Northeast are inter-dependent to each other in Myanmar. The Naga people in that region are basically poor in resources. Illegal taxes collected from the villages in Northern Sagaing Division were not enough to run the armed groups. Assessing the situation NSCN (K) had to keep good coordination with other insurgent groups of Northeast India. The groups of Northeast India have been assured of an amiable environment at a location beyond the reach of the Indian security forces.

The Government of Myanmar arranged a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) between the government and representatives of various ethnic insurgent groups, officially known as “ethnic armed organizations” (EAOs)[2]. The draft was agreed upon by a majority of the invited parties on 31 March 2015. But NSCN (K) refused to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA)[3]. However, later on NSCN (K) delegates joined as the observers at the third session of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference held on 11 to 16 July, 2018 at Naypyitaw. But this time Myanmar Government did not allow NSCN (K) to sign the NCA because of its demand for an independent homeland of the Naga-inhabited regions in Myanmar and India. It is to be noted that Myanmar’s Constitution provides a Naga Self-Administered Zone comprising Lahe, Leshi, and Nanyun townships in Sagaing Division, but that provides a nominal autonomy.

There were a gradual rise of tension between the Myanmar Government and the insurgent groups of Northeast India. Moreover, the GOI repeatedly had been requesting Myanmar to dismantle the camps and training facilities of the insurgent groups from its territory. India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) submitted details about the insurgent camps during several occasions earlier. Considering the overall regional situation and the decline state of Northeast Indian insurgent groups, Myanmar Government decided to take over the NSCN (K) headquarters in Sagaing Region in January 2019[4]. Subsequently, Myanmar army operations against the other insurgent groups like ULFA (I) and NDFB (S) were also continued. At the same time, it needs to be noted that smaller organizations like the anti-talks faction of the ULFA, NDFB and PREPAK-Progressive could be highly affected due to the aggressive posture of Myanmar Army in near future.

Present state of the insurgent groups stationed in Sagain Region is so much feeble that NSCN (K) had to instruct to all the groups to avoid any confrontation with Myanmar army. It is more likely that the insurgent camps will be withdrawn and get accommodated across the camps in the hills while more Naga functionaries would be placed in the valley. At present, the state of violence in the Northeast India has been reduced remarkably. Except some movement of HNLC, states like Meghalaya and Tripura are almost free from insurgency now. As a result, Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was abolished from Tripura in 2015 and from Meghalaya in 2018[5]. The maximum insurgents from Arunachal Pradesh have taken a hide to the unknown places.  There is a strong consideration of lifting AFSPA from Assam also.

The effect of Declined Insurgency in Northeast India on Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Bangladesh

CHT, Bangladesh shares a common boundary with Mizoram, Tripura of Northeast states of India and some part of Arakan (Rakhine) state, Myanmar. The ethnic people residing in the bordering areas retain similar culture in maximum cases. At the same time, there are inter-personal relationships among the ethnic people of the bordering areas. Both Bangladesh and India had a soft claim of harboring the insurgencies of the neighboring countries. However, Bangladesh always denied those claims and successfully could demonstrate her tough stand against all kind of insurgency and terrorism. Having stating that there are also tensions of the security forces operating in CHT. Bangladesh has a long history of addressing the insurgency in CHT. Even after the peace accord, four armed groups of different tribal regional parties are operating in CHT. It has been confirmed from the reliable sources that maximum illegal weapons are taking entry in CHT by utilizing the advantages of unguarded border areas and with the help of regional illegal arms dealers. The present declining state of Northeast Indian insurgency is definitely good news from the regional security perspective; Bangladesh will also become an indirect beneficiary of it in the long run. But there might be some short term threat of massive easy arms flow inside the CHT. It is expected that the armed activists of various Northeast Indian insurgent groups are frustrated considering their future. They might try to sell off their arms with a limited price. At the same time, there might be a lot of arms those have been kept as a cache in the bordering remote areas of Northeast India. Whatever may be the state of their arms, the armed groups of tribal regional parties in CHT might be the main buyer of those illegal arms. If the situation goes in that line, there is a possibility of sharp rise of instability in CHT for the time being. The security forces and Border Guard, Bangladesh need to be proactive to gear up their intelligence effort and alertness to prevent illegal arms flow in CHT.

The decline state of the Northeast Indian insurgent groups started through Bhutan’s ‘Operation All Clear’ at the early stage of this century. Meanwhile, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), India’s deep sea port project in Arakan and gradual change of the constitution of Myanmar diverted the focus of interest in the recent years. At the same time the general people of different ethnicity are eager to get the touch of a modern life. The golden time of the leftist appeal are getting faded gradually. The leftist downtrend was started few decades before due to lack of ideology among the senior leaderships of the insurgent groups. Then onwards personal ego and interest got priority; number of fractions were created that turned them weedier. The global and regional interested corner exploited the movements of ethnic ideology. However, still there might be some movements of all those insurgent groups of Northeast India in the upcoming days but there will be lack of ideology and moral courage. There might be some scattered terrorist activities to fulfill the desire of some interested corner; those cannot be termed as an organized movement. The destiny of insurgency in Northeast India is about to count their days for a comprehensive riddance but Bangladesh needs to keep a keen eye on this.

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