Sunday, October 30, 2011

Not so happy Diwali

Two bomb blasts in a market injured seven, marring Diwali celebrations in Manipur last week.  There was also a bomb blast on a railway track – no injuries were reported – and trains were disrupted in a number of states when two train drivers were abducted in Assam.  An Indian government report released last week found that Manipur and Assam have respectively the highest and fourth highest crime rates in the country.

Jarbom Gamlin finally caved in to pressure and resigned as Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh on Friday.  It is not clear from current reports whether or not the Congress Party has accepted the resignation.

An Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses (IDSA) article published last week reflects on the continuing blockades in Manipur and makes some constructive suggestions, such as opening the Moreh-Tamu border trade point with Burma.  Despite the huge disruption to daily life caused by the blockades, two autonomous district council by-elections were held in Manipur last Monday without incident. 

Last week's South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR) includes an article on the newly formed Karbi Peoples Liberation Tiger (KPLT) group and Karbi National Protection Force (KNPF), splinter groups of a more established Karbi group, the United Peoples Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), currently in talks with the government.  The Karbi people are based in a sixth schedule autonomous district council in Assam.

This CNN-IBN report on corruption in a small Meghalayan village, Upper Kew, is well worth watching.  Despite its jarringly over-dramatic production, it highlights a very real and under-acknowledged problem in the northeast.  Residents in Upper Kew contend they have received no government assistance funds in years.  The central government does however have records of funds, such as employment benefits, being disbursed to individuals in the town.  The likely cause of this discrepancy is a misappropriation of Indian government funds by actors that mediate, often with devastating effects, the relationship between the northeast Indian public and the central government, namely instruments of the state government and insurgent groups.   

Tripura is to have four new districts (doubling current total), six new subdivisions (on top of existing 17) and five new blocks (new total of 45), effective January.  It isn't clear how these new divisions have been devised. 

Following President Thein Sein's recent visit to India, the Burmese government has announced it will let residents of Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh enter Burmese territory within a prescribed distance from the border without a visa.  This move mirrors an Indian concession made earlier in the year  

ULFA's non-talk faction has reportedly been busy recruiting and fundraising in remote northern areas of Assam, slipping over the border to Arunachal Pradesh to AP to evade authorities.  Meanwhile, nothing of any real note seems to have occurred during the latest round of ULFA-government peace talks.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Weapons and violence in Assam; dark days in Manipur

This week ULFA handed over weapons ahead of the next round of peace talks, scheduled for 25 October.  Meanwhile, a cache of so-called “sophisticated” weapons was seized in Assam.  The European weapons are thought to have been headed for the NDFB.  In other weapon-related news, India will deploy three BrahMos cruise missiles in Arunachal Pradesh.  

There has been violence in Dima Hasao district, Assam, with at least one dead.  Assam police allege NSCN-IM involvement in the unrest.  Around 200 Hmar's from the district have fled to Mizoram.  Hmars are a minority in the district, which is dominated by the Dimasa ethnic group.  

There was also more violence between the NSCN-IM and the Zeliangrong United Front in Manipur's hills this week.  In other violent developments in the region, a senior Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) militant was killed by Meghalaya police.  And a bomb exploded in a Manipur district bordering Burma this week, injuring three Assam Rifle officers.

Following the recent release of a report on the impact of conflict on women in Assam and Nagaland (referenced in last week's post), UAE-based The National ran an article on the plight of Manipur's widows and orphans.  An article in the Times of India ponders whether Manipur is doomed to be a failed state.

A Times of India report reveals that Rongili (“cheerful lady”), Lakhimi (“homely lady”) and Kopili (“speedy river”) are code words for ULFA factions in Burma, Bangladesh and an island in the Brahmputra respectively. 

Controversy over the India-Bangladesh border deal persists.  A Minister in the Assam Government said they should not have made public the details of the deal, a move made in retaliation to an inflammatory press release from Paresh Baruah.  The state government accuses Baruah of drawing out these details in order to give the Bangladeshi government trouble as the previous government and now opposition in that country was much more ULFA-friendly. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Women in conflict, tension between states and rebel groups and positive bilateral developments

The Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research has released a major report, Bearing Witness, the Impact of Conflict on Women in Nagaland and Assam.  It makes a number of recommendations, including among others the establishment of a conflict studies institute, dedicated female legal services, rehabilitation and compensation packages, specialised mental health services and improved earning opportunities for women.

A recent United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) press release called for northeast Indian insurgent groups to unite against their common enemy: the Indian government.  In the face of persistent rivalries, competing aims and violence, this seems an impossible goal.  On 7 October for instance six National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) cadres and one civilian were killed in a shootout between the NSCN-IM and the Zeliangrong Tiger Force (ZTF) , the armed wing of the Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF) in Manipur.

Leading expert on northeast Indian politics, Sanjib Baruah, published an article in Himal on the current peace process between the government of India and UFLA last week.  Bodos recently marked the 25th anniversary of the start of their struggle.  Tehelka ran a piece on their frustration at the lack of attention, relative to ULFA, being paid to them by the central government.

A pro-Assam activist said last week that the Assamese government is standing by as Naga interests encroach on its territory, by for example building government offices.  He suspects a conspiracy between Nagas and the central government to bring about a greater Nagaland, or Nagalim.  A couple of days later the Assam Government asked its counterparts in Nagaland to remove police from its territory.  Meanwhile, in the complicated musical chairs that is loyalty in the northeast, inhabitants of the West Khasi hills area of Meghalaya reportedly want to join Assam.

A bandh in Arunachal Pradesh’s capital Itanagar last Tuesday resulted in at least 50 people injured and calls for calm by embattled Chief Minister Jarbom Gamlin.  In other bandh-related news for the region, the Sadar Hills District blockade is now the longest ever in Manipur, passing the 70-day milestone last Sunday
There were some positive developments in northeast India since my last post.  The central government is working on a plan to spend Rs. 80 billion upgrading roads in the region. Following the failure to sign a comprehensive agreement on transit during PM Singh’s recent visit to Dhaka, Bangladesh has agreed to allow India to transport food grains through its territory.  And China and India are said to be working on a mechanism for managing their shared border
Delhi police have uncovered links between the People’s Liberation Army PLA (from Manipur), Maoists (the Communist Party of India (Maoist)) and militants in Kashmir following arrests in Delhi and Imphal, and a raid in Pune
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited Darjeeling and surrounds last week.  The visit did not go down particularly well among locals according to reports.  The fact that the recent Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) agreement in effect only deferred addressing the issue of Gorkhaland's eventual administrative status came to the forefront during the visit.  I published a background article on developments in Gorkhaland on the South Asia Masala blog a couple of weeks ago.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

An active week for the GNLA and a new district

Meghalaya police were attacked by Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) militants on Tuesday.  There was an exchange of fire and the GNLA rebels allegedly attempted, unsuccessfully, to detonate an ‘improvised explosive device’.  A Meghalaya Congress MLA wrote to Congress President Sonia Gandhi earlier in the week saying her intervention is required in the face of continued GNLA threats against parliamentarians.

Municipal elections will be held in early 2012 in Manipur.  There has been violence against, and perpetrated by, supporters of various candidates this week.  The United Naga Council has urged Nagas not to participate.
The Border Security Force (BSF) and Border Guards Bangladesh met on 24 September in Dhaka to finalise modalities for joint border management.  Agitations against the recent Indo-Bangladeshi border deal continue.  The All Assam Students' Union (AASU) had an 11 hour hunger strike against the deal, and against proposed hydro electric dams.  Also on Indo-Bangladeshi relations, it came out this week that the failure to extradite Chetia to India before Prime Minister Singh's recent visit was not because the two countries couldn’t reach agreement, but because Chetia said he wouldn’t participate in the peace process unless Paresh Baruah was also involved.

India and Burma agreed to double trade to US$3b by 2015.  The countries' respective Commerce Ministers signed the agreement at the 4th meeting of Joint Trade Commission held last week. Veteran journalist Bertil Lintner said in an interview this week that widely reported Burmese army action against northeast insurgent camps never happened but was a manufactured story, leaked ahead of the Burmese President’s visit to India.  
Just as Nagas are currently facing a push for a Naga-inhabited district to be subdivided in the Sadar Hills District stand off, so are Bodos facing pressure from a minority seeking its own administrative entity.  Apparently Bodoland Territorial Council chief and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) president Hagrama Mohilary “fumbled and appeared helpless” while speaking to Koch Rajbonshi United Forum meeting home minister P Chidambaram. The Koch-Rajbongshis want a separate state carved out of Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Dinajpur, Malda, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Dhubri and Goalpara.  And Arunachal Pradesh got a new district last week.  Longding, carved out of Tirap district, and bordering Burma and Nagaland, is home to the Wancho community.
And over 7,200 Jews from Mizoram and Manipur, known as the lost tribe of Bnei Menashe, are expected to be approved to emigrate to Israel in the near future.