Sunday, March 27, 2011

The trouble with bandhs

Sanjoy Hazarika has written a blog post on the potential for the frequent bandhs (strikes) in northeast India to hamper northeast India-ASEAN connectivity, a concept loudly spruiked by the Indian government. 

This is a good point, and one I have not seen made before.  It is consistent with the view of many scholars of the northeast, that while such connectivity may be desirable, it is far from a panacea for the northeast's woes.  India needs to address serious issues of law and order and governance in the northeast, and refrain from putting all its eggs in the economic development basket.

Hazarika also stresses the importance of environmentally-conscious development, given the potential for the northeast to benefit from tourism.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Chinese intelligence cooperation with NSCN(IM)

The Diplomat this week published an article on links between Chinese intelligence services and northeast Indian rebel groups, particularly the NSCN(IM).  It has been alleged that agents of Chinese intelligence services have done arms deals with the NSCN(IM) and that the NSCN(IM) has established a permanent presence in Kunming, Yunnan Province.  The Kunming representative acts as broker and passes on information about Indian armed forces activities in Arunachal Pradesh, a state China claims as its own.

The comments on the article make for interesting reading as well.

The Diplomat article draws heavily on an earlier article published in Outlook India.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

800 additional police deployed in Assam

The Telegraph reported on Monday that an 800-strong unit of the Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) has been stationed in Guwahati ahead of the state elections and in response to increased violence by ULFA and the NDFB.  CoBRA is a Central Reserve Police Force special force, specialising in guerrilla warfare.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Assam elections: AGP-BJP cooperation

Following the Congress Party's chairman's comments that both the BJP and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) parties have links with ULFA, the AGP's President has accused the Congress Party of complicity in ULFA's actions. 

The AGP and BJP appear to be cooperating to a degree.  The AGP yesterday announced it would not field a candidate in the seat of BJP Assam president Ranjit Dutta and signalled openness to post-poll cooperation.  Meanwhile ULFA's pro-talks faction has announced it will remain neutral in the lead up to the April 4 and 11 elections.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

ULFA revitalisation

The Assam Tribune reported this week that ULFA leader and hardliner Paresh Baruah is working to revitalise the outfit.  This follows a report last week that Maoists are looking to foster a relationship with Baruah in the wake of talks between elements of ULFA and the central government.  But Baruah has put a call out to those engaged in talks to return to Assam and to the frontline, just as they have called for him to join the talks.

Continued violence in Assam

Further to the grenade attack on the Congress Party's Assam headquarters and attack on BSF officers near the border with Bhutan, this week has also seen a grenade detonated outside an Asom Gana Parishad Party candidate's house and shots fired at a senior Congress Party member's house.

This apparent spike in political violence comes just a few weeks before the April 4 and 11 Assam elections.  The BJP has expressed concern about the violence and its impact on the elections, as has the central government, as reported by the Assam Tribune.

Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) is the third major party in Assam.  Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi today claimed both the AGP and BJP have links with ULFA's hardline faction led by Paresh Baruah.  Three former ULFA militants will contest the elections.

Cabinet approves AP operation

A "major offensive" is to be launched in the NSCN-IM inhabited areas of Arunachal Pradesh following approval from the central Cabinet Committee on Security earlier this week reports the Times of India.

Documentary reveals extent of poppy cultivation in AP

A Canadian documentary that recently aired in Australia called Raw Opium devoted considerable attention to poppy cultivation in Arunachal Pradesh.

NSCN(K) blames NSCN(IM) for violence

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Khaplang (NSCN-K) this week decried the violence inflicted on eastern Nagaland by their rival faction the NSCN-IM.  The NSCN-K spokesman described NSCN-IM leaders Isak and Muivah's hands as "stained with the blood of innocent Nagas" reports the Times of India

In related news the Morung Express reported yesterday that a NSCN-K Brigadier was killed in Arunachal Pradesh this week.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

ULFA bomb blast

The Times of India has reported on a bomb blast last night at the Congress Party's headquarters in Assam.  United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) elements against the current peace talks have claimed responsibility.  No one was killed but at least four people were injured.

Update (18/3): three ULFA cadres have been arrested in relation to the blast and an operation has been launched to capture its alleged mastermind.

NDFB violence in Assam

The Hindu today reports that eight Border Security Forces (BSF) officials have been killed near the Assam-Bhutan border due to an ambush last night by suspected National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) militants.  Eight other BSF personnel were injured.

Update (18/3): the anti-talks faction of the NDFB has since claimed responsibility for the attack.  New Delhi based think tank the Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses has published an article arguing the attack reflects government complacency and a failure of intelligence coordination efforts.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Slow recovery from inter-tribal violence

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) recently published a feature on the Red Cross's efforts to help communities recover from the deadly violence that occured in Assam and Meghalaya earlier this year.  There is also this photo gallery.

Akhaura-Agartala rail link to be constructed

In the latest in a series of announcements about improving Indo-Bangladeshi rail connectivity, The Daily Star reports on an announcement that the Indian and Bangladeshi governments will cooperate to build a railway track between Agartala (Tripura) and Akhaura (Chittagong division).  This will allow goods from throughout northeast India to reach Chittagong port.

Wikileaks: BSF-Bangladesh Rifles cooperation and Indo-Burmese cooperation

A 2007 US Government cable reporting on a meeting between a US diplomat and an Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official reports on the progress of cooperation between the Bangladesh rifles and the Border Security Forces.

There is also mention of rumoured Indian government military support to the Burmese junta in exchange for Burmese cooperation on Indian insurgent groups in their territory.  The MEA official states that the Indo-Burma relationship has been reduced to cooperation on northeast Indian insurgent groups alone, with India failing to win much-prized natural resources contracts in that country.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wikileaks: GoI pays little attention to northeast insurgencies

In an April 2006 briefing cable ahead of a US-India counter terrorism (CT) joint working group meeting a US government official notes that "terrorism" in the northeast "attracts little attention from Delhi".  The cable states that the Government of India is preoccupied with jihadi terrorism originating in Kashmir and Pakistan and relatively disinterested in violence due to the maoist and northeast movements.  The official speculates on the reasons for this GoI prioritisation, including that jihadi violence is not restricted to rural areas and the government's view that solutions to insurgencies in the maoist belt and the northeast are likely to be reached by improving local governance and economic opportunities.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Views from The Diplomat and South Asia Intelligence Review

The Diplomat this week ran an opinion piece attempting to draw lessons from current events in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya for India.

I have a number of issues with this article.  For one, it all but neglects surely the most serious internal threat for India in 2011: the raging Maoist movement. 

Secondly, it trumpets the ability of democracy to nullify "the edge" of insurgencies.  Some of the most respected scholars on the northeast (such as Sanjib Baruah in his 2005 book Durable Disorder) have persuasively argued that, although there are performances of democracy in the form of local governments in the northeast, it is the parallel autocratic system of governance, allowed by the AFSPA and executed by the centrally-appointed governors, that is dominant in the region.  The article suggests that is is India's vibrant democracy that has brought ULFA to the negotiating table.  The informed consensus is that it has more to do with a friendly government in Dhaka cracking down on insurgent bases in its borderlands.  Moreover there is a long way to go before a victory can be claimed of the current ULFA talks. 

Finally, the links to the current political upheaval in the Arab world are tenuous.  What the overthrow of a 40 year autocracy in Egypt in a manner of weeks has to do with 50 years of attrition in Manipur and elsewhere in the northeast is unclear.

Another article this week that used the 'Jasmine revolution' as a starting point to assess the state of affairs of South Asian conflicts is to be found in the South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR).  This more factually-based account points to the Maoist insurgency as the exception to a general improvement in the region's conflicts in the last couple of years, including in the northeast.