Friday, September 23, 2011

Firearms, messy politics and CRAPB

Northeast India made international headlines this week due to, of course, the 6.9 magnitude earthquake in Sikkim.  We felt it here in Pokhara.

India Armed Violence Assessment, a new Small Arms Survey project, released two reports this week.  The first documents the prevalence of firearm murders across India's states and territories.  The most violent states (firearm murders per 100,000 population) are listed in table 3.  Three northeastern states make this list, including the top two (Manipur and Nagaland, which are considerably higher than the next highest state; Arunachal Pradesh is 7th).  Sikkim is one of the states with the least firearm murders (table 4).  The report also discusses the limited available information on autopsy rates.  Interestingly Imphal is found to have the highest rate of any Indian city of autopsies for gun shot victims.

The second report compares the number of deaths due to terrorism (including, perhaps controversially, insurgent movements) and crime in India.  It concludes that the latter is politically neglected given the relatively higher number of victims of criminal violence in the country.  Northeast India is briefly considered on pages 5-6.  In related news, two workers from Bihar were shot dead in Manipur this week. 

The Assam Assembly will hold a one day special sitting on the recent land swap deal with Bangladesh in October in response to expressions of dissatisfaction from various quarters with the deal and the lack of prior consultation. 

A steady, if thin, stream of claims of links between northeast groups and Maoists prevails in the Indian media.  An article this week says Maoists are present in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam and that they have links with ULFA and the NSCN-IM.  They are also said to be working with anti hydro-electric dam activists.

Politics is messy in Arunachal Pradesh, especially since the death of the previous Chief Minister in a helicopter accident last year.  A group of rebel ruling Congress Party MLAs have been in New Delhi since July seeking the removal of present Chief Minister Jarbom Gamlin.  They are now calling for the direct intervention of Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

The first meeting of the Committee on Reorganization of Administrative and Police Boundaries (CRAPB) was finally held this week.  The CRAPB is the body tasked with producing a report to the state government on the Sadar Hills District issue that is currently crippling life in Manipur.  They have been given three months to submit the report.  Bibhu Prasad Routray this week considered the various next steps the state government can take on this issue.  In brief, these are to force open the highways, create the Sadar Hills District as desired by Kuki groups, create the district under a different name, try and have Kukis and Nagas talk to each other and do nothing.  None of these options seem particularly promising.

Naga groups oppose Sadar Hills being transformed into a fully-fledged district because the area has a Naga population and they want to see Naga people united under one administrative construct, rather than divided more than they already are.  Now they have problems from within as well: a group called the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation is calling for a new state, Frontier Nagaland, to be carved out of Nagaland.  They held a large rally this week.

This week's South Asia Intelligence Review has an article on the United Democratic Liberation Army (UDLA), a Bru and Bengali Muslim group based in southern Assam.  Indian security forces have taken notice of this and one of its splinter groups, the only two Bru groups that remain operational.  The author predicts that as a result “it is unlikely that these groups will retain their capacities for disruption and violence for long”.

Allegations were made about Paresh Baruah’s business investments in Bangladesh this week.  Indian intelligence says he’s invested over US$20million in that country.  ULFA promptly issued a press release denying the claims.

The Meghalaya government has handed over land to the North East Frontier Railway for the construction of a railway that would link the state to the rest of the country.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Business as usual: violence, blockades and words

There were reports this week that Paresh Baruah may have been injured in Burmese army assaults on northeast Indian insurgent camps in Burmese territory.  Indian intelligence sources have however said there is nothing to substantiate the claim.  A second Burmese army assault commenced last Sunday.  In other United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) news, leaders of the pro-talk faction and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) met this week and issued a joint statement on the friendship between Nagas and the people of Assam.  And Rediff provided a different perspective on ULFA's illusive leaders by interviewing the families of Anup Chetia and Paresh Baruah.

Last Saturday there were reports of trucks set on fire on national highway 39 and rumours of drivers murdered on highway 53 as the blockade in Manipur continues to wreak havoc.  Also in Manipur, four people were injured in a grenade attack on a home in Imphal East.

Irom Sharmila continues to enjoy her recent run in the international media: the New York Times published a profile last Saturday. There's also been a stir over a report on Sharmila's love life.  A silent rally was held in Imphal this week to commemorate the 53rd anniversary of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (the object of Sharmila's protest).
Members of the Sahastra Seema Bal (SSB), a central government paramilitary force, allegedly committed a gang rape near the Bhutan-Assam border.  The 7th India-Bhutan meeting on border management was held this week. The parties said they would step up coordination against remaining Indian rebel activity in Bhutan.
Finally, ten National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) militants surrendered in Tezpur (Assam).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

ULFA signs pact, Bangladesh visit disappoints

A suspension of operations pact was signed between the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the Indian and Assam Governments on the first day of their latest round of talks in Delhi. The pact is a stop gap measure, intended to be in place until a political agreement is reached.  Commentators have provided a full spectrum of responses, from optimism - because for example the move echoes similar steps taken earlier in Tripura - to mystification - how can a ceasefire be declared when one of the parties is for all intents and purposes already disarmed?  Parallel talks involving the Karbi Longri National Liberation Front (KLNLF), a group with close ties to ULFA, were inconclusive.

Meanwhile, the Indian Government is worried that the recent acquisition of Chinese arms by the Paresh Baruah, or anti-talks, faction of ULFA (see this post) could ultimately be destined for Maoists.  Bibhu Prasad Routray recently wrote an article on fledgling northeast-Maoist militant links.  In an interesting development, given the credit given to Bangladesh in ultimately bringing talks faction of ULFA to the negotiating table, anti-talk faction bases in Burma were attacked by the Burmese army (with supplies from the Indian government) this week. 

The general consensus on PM Manmohan Singh's visit, together with a number of northeast Chief Ministers, to Bangladesh this week, is disappointment, tempered by some important gains.  West Bengal's relatively new Chief Minister pulled out at the last minute to protest the proposed Teesta river water sharing agreement.  This step apparently worked, with no water sharing agreements signed.  Likely as a result, the much anticipated (on the Indian side) transit agreement also failed to materialise.  This reportedly resulted in a “wave of disappointment” in Tripura.  Neither did the hoped-for extradition of a senior ULFA figure eventuate.

All in all, the visit resulted in one agreement (the obscurely titled “Comprehensive Framework Agreement on Co-operation”) and nine deals (including on university cooperation and renewable energy).  One of the major achievements was the signing of a border pact finalising land swaps between Bangladesh and Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal.  This should finally give formerly stateless people definite citizenship rights.  The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)  however decried the lack of consultation on the pact.  

The blockades in Manipur continue.  The SHDDC announced that the general strike was over on Tuesday, but the economic blockades of national highways remain.  The Chinland Guardian has an interview with the General Secretary of the Kuki International Forum.  He gives a good overview of the technicalities behind the demand for a Sadar Hills district.  Another comprehensive background document is available from E-Pao.  And it seems demands for new districts in Manipur are in fashion: another such movement in Tongjei Marin emerged this week.

Despite all the talk about Irom Sharmila of late, the AFSPA was officially extended for another six months in Tripura this week.

29 Naga militants surrendered to authorities in Manipur this week.  Significantly none identified as National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) militants.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fasts, more bandhs and talks, and Indo-Bangladeshi relations

Now that Anna Hazare's fast is over in Delhi many are comparing his action with Manipur's Irom Sharmila, who is soon to complete the 11th year of her fast for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA).  There have been some reports that Hazare will now visit the northeast, although other reports suggest this is not yet confirmed.  CNN-IBN carries a short interview with Sharmila, in which she calls her life "somewhat odd".  Video footage and a transcript are available.  The Indian Government has said it is again considering ammendment or replacement of the AFSPA, although it does not sound particularly optimistic, Home Minister P Chidambaram stating simply that, as in the past, they are "trying".  The Communist Party of India (CPI) has responded by demanding the Act be scrapped immediately.

Ahead of his trip with PM Singh to Bangladesh, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi acknowledged that country's role in disrupting ULFA's activities and said that he wants to increase trade between Assam and Bangladesh to return the favour.   Illegal Bangladeshi migrants remain a sensitive bilateral issue.   Moreover, some in Bangladesh have cold feet about the transit agreement set to be signed during the visit.  Critics of the agreement say it will increase northeast Indian militant activity in Bangladeshi territory and that Bangladesh should hold on to transit as a bargaining tool for other bilateral issues such as the trade deficit, illegal migrants, border killings, border demarcations and resource sharing.   There are also concerns that current and potential trade between Bangladesh and northeast India would be destroyed by the agreement, as trade between the northeast and 'mainland' India would be made so much easier.  For further background on the Indo-Bangladeshi relationship, see last week's edition of the South Asia Intelligence Review.  Also of interest is a US diplomatic cable recently released by Wikileaks.  It discusses a 2008 meeting between the two countries' Foreign Ministers in which both listed northeast Indian militancy as a priority area for cooperation.

The Sadar Hills saga continues in Manipur.  A school and a truck were torched by the United Naga Council (UNC) in Sadar Hills Subdivision, while a grenade was found in a hospital in Imphal West District.  The All Naga Students' Associtation of Manipur added their two cents to the fray, stating they are against the division of Naga areas (and hence the creation of new districts).  To add insult to injury, a further 24-hour bandh was called for 1 September to protest the disappearance of a Revolutionary People's Front assistant public secretary.  Tehelka has an article that considers the everyday impacts of these protracted bandhs for Manipur's long-suffering population.  The bandhs are in effect on National Highways 39 (which heads north from Imphal, through Nagaland capital Kohima, to Assam) and 53 (heads east from Imphal to Badarpur in Assam, near the border with Bangladesh).  Goods are getting into Manipur from other directions however: a large amount (300kg) of pseudoephedrine was seized by the Border Security Forces (BSF) at the border town of Moreh this week. 

The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) bandh called for 26-27 August mentioned in last week's post turned into a non-event. Apparently not discouraged, the NDFB responded by calling yet another bandh for 1 September which proved more successful with hundreds taking part in sit-ins and other forms of protest on that day.

 The next round of talks between the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the Indian Government commenced in Delhi on 3 September.  Militants from the non-talk faction threw a grenade at a police station the night before.  Tehelka has published a very useful and comprehensive article on the background and current state of talks between ULFA and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the government.  Kanglaonline debates the value of talks in the face of continued violence.  Like the HD Centre report discussed in a previous post, which considered the same question and reached the opposite conclusion, this article uses the case of the NSCN-IM as evidence.

Manipur's Chief Minister said early last week that the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system should be reintroduced because 'migrants' now outnumber 'tribals' in that state.  The ILP, which means Indians from other states must get a permit to travel to the states it applies to, was stopped in Manipur in 1950.  It is still used in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram.   A Bill to reintroduce the ILP has been withdrawn and on 30 August students threatened to launch agitations if it is not reinstated.  

Finally, a group that doesn't often make the news did this week with the arrest in the Imphal Valley of five Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) militants for arms supply and extortion.  KYKL is a Meitei group seeking to "clean up" Manipuri society.