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Changing Nature of Insurgency in Northeast and Role of Bangladesh

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  • July 24, 2009
    Fellows' Seminar
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chair: Rajaram Panda
    Discussants: J N Roy and K Srinivasan

    The paper analyzes the ongoing insurgency in the North East and argues that the nature of insurgency in the region is changing due to the alliance between Islamist terror and local insurgent groups. Indian insurgent groups seem to be a tactical tool in the hands of the ISI to fulfill its long-term objectives. These outfits seem to be losing autonomy of action and act more at the behest of outside powers.

    The paper contends that Pakistan and its external intelligence agency the ISI have used Indian Insurgent Groups as a potent tool to penetrate North Eastern states and that the ISI wants to achieve its own objectives through these groups. ISI has been involved in funding, training and arming these rebel groups in order to keep India’s hand tied. Despite the independence of Bangladesh an interesting conformity has been seen in Pakistani and Bangladeshi discourses towards the North East. The meetings of Islamic parties in Bangladesh and closed door groups of their counterparts in Assam regularly talk of Greater Bangladesh. The active support to illegal migrants by BDR and Bangladeshi authorities is well known. The entry of Islamists has made the insurgency in the northeast far more complex. Now over a dozen Muslim extremist organizations exist in the North East with an estimated strength of 3,500 volunteers. Most have mushroomed in Assam. They are not indulging in violence but carrying out recruitment, sending youth for training to Bangladesh and Pakistan, dumping weapons and explosives and creating support structures along the border. Based on interrogations of arrested Muslim militants, a former chief minister tabled a report in the Assam assembly, revealing that large numbers of Muslim youth from Assam were being trained by the ISI and the DGFI (Bangladesh intelligence) to destabilize Assam and facilitate illegal immigration.

    Islamists have been a major tactical tool in the hands of forces inimical to India. HuJI had tried to present itself as a Messiah for the migrant Bangladeshi population with the start of the Bodo-Muslim clashes in Assam. Though, the ISI and the DGFI have astutely managed to cow down the indigenous population through the ULFA and the NDFB. The migratory pressure is likely to worsen the conflict. From August to October 2008, a series of clashes took place between Bodos and Muslims. Clashes also erupted between Rabhas and Muslims. The general assessment was that motives behind these attacks were anti-immigrant sentiment, which run deep in Assamese politics. But it was also felt that pressure on land and occupation was also an important issue. Bodos say that migrants have taken 37 per cent of tribal land and the government has given them pattas. The population of Bangladeshi migrants has also increased phenomenally.

    In the North East mobilization along communal lines is going on because of the activities of SIMI, Tablighi Jamaat and Jamiat-ul-Ulema Hind. In fact, fourteen similar organizations supported the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF), an exclusivist Muslim formation which contested both national as well as state assembly elections. Though formed a few months before the assembly election, the AUDF bagged the third largest number of votes capturing 10 assembly seats. The lesson from Assam seems to be that despite a fragmented polity, there is sufficient consolidation of Muslim votes behind an unapologetically Muslim political outfit to ensure electoral victory despite a very high overall voter turnout. In its private confabulations, the party envisions itself as the political rallying point for Bangladeshi Muslims. The security implications of political Islam in a region with over 30 per cent Muslim population is dangerous for the future of the state. The risk lies in Assam becoming a Muslim majority state in the future. The ISI, DGFI and the Islamists are bound to exploit this in the days to come.

    The government’s hands are tied as the ISI has managed to activate smaller outfits like the DHD (J) to cause mayhem. They are not able to give adequate attention to these undercurrents which are taking place in pockets dominated by Bangladeshi migrants. This has made many security analysts believe that an Islamic fundamentalist upsurge would pose a much bigger challenge to the state than the three-decade-old insurgency spearheaded by the banned ULFA. It is possible that militancy in Assam may be hijacked by these elements and IIGs. It is also felt that a similar fate awaits all Northeastern states. For the time being, Islamists have chosen to use groups like the ULFA, NDFB and ATTF as a short term tactical tool in the fulfillment of their long-term objective.


    • One should focus on reliable sources for information. Sensitive topics should use tools of interrogation and interviews as data feeders. One has to be cautious that news agencies are susceptible to planted information and thus should be avoided.
    • There is no linearity in the analysis and conclusions should take into account the diverse issues and responses of various actors. Ground realities need to be contextualized with the main argument of the paper.
    • Need to take into account that SIMI and Tablighi Jamaat are not really active in the conflict areas. Any conclusions on the activities of SIMI need to be probed further.
    • One needs to explore how ground realities in the North East are matching the intentions of the DGFI and the ISI.
    • Meetings between North East insurgent groups and Islamic groups are leading to growing criminalization in the North East.
    • One needs to explore the role of NGOs, who are increasingly being funded by Arab countries.
    • One needs to look into the grievances of Muslims in the North East and explore the role of the DGFI in particular. The way the ISI works in Pakistan and DGFI in Bangladesh is remarkably different.
    • The sources for the arguments need to be expanded.
    • One needs to look into the political and ethnic dynamics in the North East before talking about the ISI’s role in the North East.
    • Tablighi Jamaat should not be roped into the discussion as it is a Barelvi group and unlikely to be using radicalization as a tool.
    • Joint Ventures/Meetings between other Northeastern groups and Islamic outfits need to be monitored closely.
    • How sustainable would be the nexus between secessionist outfits and terrorist groups? The nature and objectives of the two are completely different.

    Prepared by Medha Bisht, Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.