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Explosions In Assam: An Assessment

Anil Kamboj was Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • June 22, 2006

    Assam was wracked by a wave of bombings beginning June 8, which carried on for five days and left the State in turmoil. In all, there were 30 explosions, which killed eight persons and wounded almost 100. Besides this, at least 10 oil and gas installations and railway tracks were damaged. The manner in which these were executed leaves no doubts in anybody's mind that it was the handiwork of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). The police, who had intercepted ULFA messages, have also blamed the group for the blasts. The rebel group has, however, disowned the explosions in the crowded market places, though it has claimed responsibility for the attacks on the oil and gas installations. This is nothing but a ploy to divert the attention of the public, which had become agitated by the ULFA's inhumane acts. The latest attacks are a part of the ULFA's game plan. It has been targeting civilians since 1988, and bombing markets is nothing new for it. But it has generally denied involvement in acts that have led to public ire. For example, it had denied involvement in the Dhimaji blasts of August 15, 2004, which killed ten innocent school children, two pregnant women and one elderly person who were all participating in a flag hoisting ceremony.

    It has been known for long that Pakistan's ISI and Bangladesh's DGFI have a hand in fomenting trouble in Northeast India by providing arms and training to separatist organisations. A 16-member ULFA team went across to Bangladesh in 2004. They were first taken to Dhaka, and after obtaining Bangladeshi passports they were sent to Pakistan for explosives training. The team was trained near Batrossi hills of Mansera district. Thereafter, they sneaked back into India with the help of the ISI. Bangladesh has been playing the role of facilitator and protector of insurgents in the Northeast. ULFA is in the grip of DGFI and ISI, which have been guiding it to carry out brutal attacks inside Assam.

    The timing of the bombings is significant, as explosions began the day after the Central Government announced that the third round of talks with the ULFA representatives would take place in New Delhi on June 22. On previous occasions, the ULFA normally resorted to such explosions to pressure the government into announcing dates for talks or to get its demands accepted. The reason this time could be to get its five detained leaders released.

    The People's Consultative Group (PCG), which has been acting as a mediator between the ULFA and the Indian government has also sought the release of members of the ULFA executive committee. But it has surprisingly contended that the ULFA should not be blamed for the latest blasts, given that neither the State nor Central Government had come up with anything concrete for the talks.

    If one is to go by the ULFA leadership's claim that they did not carry out explosions in the crowded market, then the question arises as to who could be responsible. In my assessment, it could not be the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), which has renewed its ceasefire agreement with the Central Government. There is already a settlement with the Bodoland Liberation Tigers (BLT). This leaves only the ULFA. But there is a possibility that the ULFA leadership has lost control over its cadres, or alternately there is a split in the outfit with one faction opposing the ULFA leadership based in Bangladesh and not wanting the latter to take credit for the peace talks. If the former hypothesis is true then this situation could be used to advantage by the Indian Government. In case the latter is true, then the Government may have to decide as which faction to engage in talks.

    The other reason for such inhumane violence could be that the ULFA may have decided to send a clear message that its decision not to disrupt the Assam state election in April 2006 should not be taken as a sign of weakness and that the Central Government should take the talks seriously.

    Immediately after assuming office, the State Government laid down priorities, which included development, restoration of peace, and employment generation. From this priority list, it is quite evident that the issue of restoring peace in the State finds a top slot. The uneasy truce with the NDFB has transformed into fruitful negotiations and direct negotiations between the NDFB and the Central Government have raised hopes for a solution to the problem that dates back to 1986. But the process of restoring peace in the State will not be successful as long as the government does not take realistic steps to resolve the dispute with the ULFA. This issue is related to development, as the State cannot develop in an unstable atmosphere. It is also related to generating employment since no industry would like to invest till there is peace in Assam.

    The ULFA comprises of about 600 armed members. It has lost the support of the Assamese society, political organisations, students and even that of the media. Whatever little support it has in the remote areas is purely borne out of fear. Now the question that needs to be examined is whether the ULFA is the true representative of the people of Assam. If 'yes', then their demands need to be considered, but if not then they should be treated like any other terrorist group, which should renounce terrorism first and accept the Constitution of India before the talks.

    The ULFA will have to stop its dual game and the onus for maintaining peace in the State lies with the group and not with the government. It is surprising that the outfit appears on the one hand to be in a hurry to talk peace with the Central Government, but on the other is unconcerned about the outcome of its purposeless violence. It cannot force the government to release its jailed leaders. The Ministry of Home Affairs has taken the correct step of not releasing the five detained rebel leaders. The outfit has a poor past records suggesting that it cannot be trusted. It would have all its demands met and later would not take the peace process ahead. The group has invariably taken undue advantage of the government's compulsions and generosity. It has used lull periods to regroup, reorganise and later again pressurise the government to have its other demands met.

    Earlier it had been a short term approach by the State government to proceed ahead. But this time it seems that the Central Government is moving cautiously and in the correct direction, keeping the final solution of the problem as its goal because it knows that the outcome of the peace process would have a direct bearing on insurgencies in other parts of Northeast India.