Focus on North East Insurgency


An IDC Analysis 


New Delhi, 03 May 2004

The Indian Army has had a tough time for the last twenty five years dealing with the politics and insurgencies of the North East and now we hear that the Director General Border Security Force is to visit Bangladesh this week to meet the General of the Bangladesh Rifles –– an Army man. From time to time it has been was Bangladesh which fuelled the area. Herein lies the sad tale of lack of coordination between the Army and BSF and to compound the issues we have just read that the Home Ministry wants full control of the Assam Rifles, an Army unit!

So it devolves on the Home Ministry to tackle issues and solve problems in the North East, not the Army? Sadly this dual control is likely to continue and if the illicit supply of arms and training to the insurgents increases then the challenges will increase. The North East had been the MEA baby in earlier years, then the Army’s and now it is mixed up (messed up?) with the Home Ministry/BSF also stepping in. There is also no doubt that in this confused situation our Intelligence in the area has been weak.

Senior RAW and IB officers charged with looking after the area hold accommodation in New Delhi and we wonder if they get a real feel of the area. In fact the recent exercises with US Stryker troops in India's school for Insurgency also brought home the lesson that without good intelligence no insurgency can be tackled either in the political or military realm.

In a recent trip to Myanmar our colleague gleaned some first hand but sketchy information that the Myanmar Army has done its bit in the last 12 years to ensure no insurgent groups were assisted or operated from Myanmar, though some NSCN leaders do live in Myanmar. The Government has just signed a further ceasefire with the Khaplang group of NSCN and extended it with Muviah.

Former Colonel Anil Bhat, a regular columnist who knows and follows happenings in the area, brought to our notice the arms transfers that take place in the Eastern neighbourhood of India, and we also know that the present Government in Bangladesh is not well disposed towards India. India’s Foreign Secretary Shashank went there recently and the Border Roads officials met their counterparts the Bangladesh Rifles, who flatly denied that there are any camps on their soil, or any arms transfers take place.

In the past we had commented upon the illicit trade between India and Bangladesh.  Indian goods like cement, tiles, garments and consumer goods go across to Bangladesh and migrant labour trudges across to India. The BSF and Home Ministry have not favoured the idea to have Identity cards for the border people and it is well known in the area that some 1.8 million cattle are sent across the border in illegal trade every year. Big money changes hands.

India has not been able to demarcate the land boundary in patches along the border with Bangladesh because of some enclaves, and the sea boundary also has the Talpatti (Moore) Island in dispute. If India succumbs to the Bangladesh solution then we could lose a lot of our EEZ in this area. The irritants are many and now Bangladesh supports the Islamic movement. There is also very little gratitude in Bangladesh in the present Government for India’s role that got them Independence, which only opposition leader Begum Hasina appreciates. 

It is to be hoped that the new Indian government which gets elected will have the Home and Defence Ministers coordinate this issue, something which has been lacking no doubt because of many vested interests.

Anil Bhat also commented on OP Leach Two, which took place in the Andamans on Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat’s orders in consultation with the then Army Chief Gen. V P Malik. It turned out to be a fiasco and that was a sad chapter when some Indian leaders were reportedly supporting the inflow of arms into the North East possibly for transfer to Myanmar. Some leaders in New Delhi have had a soft spot for the Students movement in Myanmar and the National Convention there is due on 17th May.

In OP Leach the Army, the Navy and Intelligence agencies all fell foul of the MoD and it was one of the reasons that contributed to the sacking of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat –– as he writes in his book. 

We highlight this issue as the Eastern neighbours especially Myanmar (with reserves of 5.2 bill cu m of gas) can provide gas for India’s energy security, which too should be the next Government’s priority. (See ‘Pipelines’ Map).



India's Eastern Neighbour Fuels Insurgencies?

By Anil Bhat

Word Sword Features & Media

Till the end of the 1980s, almost all small arms acquired by Indian insurgent groups (IIG) of the North-East (NE) were old ones of Chinese make. Sanctuaries and training camps of the Naga, Mizo and Meitei groups were in Myanmar (Burma), while the ideological support and arms came from China, which a number of insurgent leaders visited. By the beginning of the 1990s, there were two major developments. One was that relations between India and Myanmar improved to the extent that the latter began denying sanctuary and support to IIGs and the other was the escape of the top leaders of United Liberation Front for Assam (ULFA) to Bangladesh, where Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) took charge of them and thereby made its entry into India’s NE region and got introduced to other IIGs there. It was a major development, one of the main fallouts of which was that these IIGs began to get sophisticated weapons and equipment arranged by the ISI. Places like Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, became staging points for these weapons transported by sea to be dumped and collected by or sent by land to IIGs, of which ULFA became the kingpins.

In March 1998, a concerted operation involving Indian Navy, Coast Guard, Army and intelligence agencies, resulted in two trawlers being intercepted in the waters just off Andaman and Nicobar islands –– OP Leach). With a multinational crew of about 150, their cargo included two hundred fire-arms and ammunition, meant for IIGs of India’s NE. While this was the first of major sea-based arms hauls by India, there was also one attempt of foreign aircraft succeeding to penetrate Indian air space for drop-delivery of arms, near Purulia, West Bengal which got detected. Neither matched the recent haul of most sophisticated assorted weaponry at Chittagong, as stated in a recent feature by the South Asia Intelligence Report.

The Bangladesh police and coastguard stumbled across what could be the largest-ever consignment of sophisticated illegal arms and ammunition, when they raided the Government-controlled Chittagong Urea Fertilizer Limited (CUFL) jetty on April 2, 2004. The weapons and explosives were being unloaded from two fishing trawlers, MV Khawja and FT Amanat, on the east bank of the river Karnafully by about 150 labourers when the police arrived. The seizure list of the Chittagong Metropolitan Police (CMP) states that the arms and ammunition recovered include 690 7.62 mm T-56-I Sub-Machine Guns (SMGs); 600 7.62 mm T-56-2 SMGs; 150 40mm T-69 Rocket launchers; 840 40mm rockets; 400 9mm semi-automatic spot rifles; 100 'Tommy Guns'; 150 rocket launchers; 2000 launching grenades; 25,020 hand grenades; 6,392 magazines of SMG and other arms; 700,000 rounds of SMG bullets; and 739,680 rounds of 7.62 mm calibre; and 400,000 bullets of other weapons. Most of the arms and ammunition were reportedly of Korean, Italian, Chinese and American make.

This staggering quantity of weapons was enough to arm an infantry brigade of three battalions strength. Documents of the vessels were reportedly in the name of Salahuddin Qader Chaudhary, adviser on parliamentary affairs to Prime Minister of Bangladesh. This, of course has been denied. The likely consignees were IIGs of India’s NE region, terrorist groups in Jammu & Kashmir and maybe, even Nepal’s Maoists.

While this is the largest, it is by no means the only significant arms seizure in the country, and the last year alone saw several substantial caches of arms recovered from Chittagong and its three hill districts; Bogra in north western Bangladesh (this was the largest earlier seizure); and even from the capital, Dhaka. But the latest seizure in Chittagong is the biggest in the history of Bangladesh and marks the emergence of the country as a major transit point for arms smuggling in South Asia.

The kind of arms and ammunition recovered, however, suggest strong linkages with the growing force of radical Islamists in the country. Ordinary criminals in Bangladesh do not have a significant history of the use of such weapons, and partisan political violence in the past has not graduated to the level of sophistication reflected in the present arms cache. Over the past decade, however, a number of extremist Islamist groups have become active in Bangladesh, with at least some of these linked to the international terrorist network.

The Al Qaeda-allied group, the Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HuJI), has a strong base in Chittagong. With a committed cadre estimated at about 15,000 men, most of their training camps are located in the Chittagong area. The Harkat maintains six such camps in the hilly areas of Chittagong, and another six training camps near Cox's Bazar. They are also reported to be using camps vacated by the Rohingya refugees, and a number of Rohingyas are known to be involved in the smuggling of arms and ammunition in Bangladesh. Some other prominent Islamist groups that have been active recently include the Jama'atul Mujahidin, Shahadat-e-Al-Hikma, Hizbut Touheed and Islami Shashontantra Andolan. Of these, the Jama'atul Mujahidin has created training camps in 57 districts.

Opposition parties in Bangladesh believe that arms are being smuggled into the country by the radical Islamists to subvert democracy. General Secretary of Awami League, Abdul Jalil, is quoted by the local media as having stated that, "The cache suggests a conspiracy to undermine the country's democratic process.” He also alleged that, "Arms were smuggled into the country many times earlier in the same way, with visible patronisation (sic) of the Government." Suspecting the involvement of the Islamists, the Communist Party of Bangladesh General Secretary, Mujahidul Islam Selim, demanded, "Those who want to establish a Taliban-like rule in Bangladesh and return to a Pakistani state should be investigated immediately. The origins of such conspiracies against sovereignty should be tracked down and crushed immediately." Worker's Party President Rashed Khan Menon similarly stated that, "Parties like Jamaat-e-Islami, which is using force to establish a certain type of government should be investigated and we have to make sure that probe findings are not suppressed again."

According to the Daily Star of 12th April, 2004, the Mayor of Chittagong, Mohiuddin Chowdhury said that training camps of terrorists active in India's NE exist in Bangladesh. According to Chowdhury, Indian secessionists were running at least 50 to 60 training camps in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and weapons were brought in to arm them under a sinister conspiracy to create unrest in the subcontinent. "I've information that members of some Indian rebel groups are being trained in those camps on Bangladesh territory and (this is) known very well by our government, too," Mohiuddin told a news conference at his office on April 10, 2004. He also said that the large cache of arms and ammunition seized on the night of April 1 were "shipped from the USA and Pakistan to arm Indian rebels camped in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT)." The mayor said, "The arms cache seized at the Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Limited (CUFL) jetty was smuggled in for handing them over to the secessionist groups of NE Indian states including Assam, Nagaland and Mizoram," adding that the government was now frantically trying to cover up the facts. However, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) denied the claims of the Chittagong mayor. The Bangladesh foreign ministry and the US Embassy in Dhaka also reportedly refuted a Mohiuddin's allegations as baseless.

Pakistan’s Daily Times of 9th April, 2004 quoting AFP, reported that Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), a part of Bangladesh's ruling coalition, denied that it was running "11 secret arms training camps" across the country, to counter a statement to the media by leader of Bangladesh's main opposition Awami League party, Sheikh Hasina Wajed. "We don't know why they have these camps, but we are very concerned," Abdul Jalil, the Awami League's general secretary said on April 8. "Whether it is for gaining power or for an Islamic revolution is the big question," he told AFP. However, Social Welfare Minister and JeI Secretary General, Ali Ahsan Mujahid, denied these accusations.

These denials are absolutely meaningless in the light of the exposure which, coupled with the reported presence, or relocation of jihadis from Pakistan, POK and Afghanistan, including Al Qaeda, makes Bangladesh yet another liability for much more than just the South Asian region.

Disclaimer   Copyright