North-east in transition
It is a season of mixed results in the north-east. The ceasefire between Delhi and the Isac Swu-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) has been extended indefinitely with the proviso from the Naga side that if there is no progress in the talks between the two delegations the ceasefire would be revoked immediately. The conse-quence could be a renewed flare-up of violence in Nagaland.
A connected development was the rejection of any ceasefire by the rival faction of the NSCN led by the Khaplang group which has pockets of control on both sides of the India-Myanmar border. This and the rather hare-brained demand by some legislators that the Government provide licences for arms to villages contiguous to Assam-Nagaland to prevent frequent attacks by Naga hostiles on unprotected villages on the Assam side would be sure method of igniting inter-State ethnic violence. A better solution would be setting in place a string of police posts covering the forest areas as well as the built up settlements and dissuasive actions to prevent inflammatory cross-border attacks. Naga factions acting beyond the borders in pursuit of the Greater Nagalim concept need to be discouraged.
Horror was created by the ethnic cleansing conducted in what appeared to be a joint operation by the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and a like-minded Karbi Longri National Liberation Front (KLNLF) of Bihar-origin Hindi-speaking labourers. The allegation has surfaced that ULFA, apparently the senior partner in this coalition of terror, is acting on behalf of the Pakistani Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) through Bangladesh to get rid of other ethnic Indians from the north-east and make room for a new influx of Bangladeshi migrants.
It is not as far-fetched as it sounds. This is the modus operandi of the ISI even inside Pakistan. Its sword arm-the jihadi groups-have only recently been issuing direct threats to the Christian and Hindu communities in the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal controlled North West Frontier Province. Dire consequences of the kind that have occurred against other minorities like the Shias, the Qaidianis and the Boras of the Aga Khan community in the shape of a systematic programme of elimination in the various parts of Pakistan, Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and what it calls the Northern Areas of Jammu and Kashmir.
ULFA began its infamous existence as an opponent of the influx of Bangladeshis into Asom. It is now very obviously siding with those who have long had a game plan of “Greater Bangladesh” using jihadis and Islamic fundamentalists as vanguard just as they used the Taliban nurtured in the madrassas of Pakistan to take control of neighbouring Afghanistan.
The Centre needs to expedite work on the barbed wire fence along the India-Bangladesh border with concomitant programme of road network to facilitate patrolling by security forces. It is necessary to stem an influx that has made its presence felt as far away as Jammu and Kashmir where a group of Bangladeshis were caught trying to exfiltrate into POK very likely for terrorist training.
August is the season for ULFA’s hyperactivity since it coincides with India’s Independence Day celebrations. Its passion for “liberation” appears to have become lost in the needs and desire of its leadership to live a good life through extortion, abduction and murders. There has already been a backlash among the very people it still pretends to lead into “liberty and liberation”.
The depredations of such terrorist organisations are now being seen to be detrimental to the development and growth of the peoples of the seven north-eastern that occupy an increasingly strategic corner of India. The growth and prosperity that is slowly becoming available in the rest of the country is being denied the people of these States afflicted as they are by the many insurgencies that have lost their relevance.
Prospects are bright for opening up the north-east as the land corridor for India’s “Look East” policy through Myanmar and beyond northwards to China and southwards to Thailand and Indochinese States of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The instability created by ethnic upheavals and separatist insurgencies could be a dampener.
Engines of growth are set to make their way to the region. The Trans Asian Railway to connect 28 nations including China, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Iran and Turkey will enter India at Moreh in Manipur. Indian Railways is to improve links between New Azra to Byrnihat (to connect Meghalaya to New Delhi), Dimapur to Kohima, Jiribam to Imphal, and Kumarghat to Agartala.
Mizoram will become a commercial entrepot when trade begins to flow through Sittwe Port in Myanmar. A channel through 160 km of waterway (through Kaladan River) and 65 km of road link is being created to facilitate this. Four land custom stations at Moreh in Manipur, Dawki in Meghalaya, Sutrakandi in Assam and Agartala in Tripura are being planned. For trade through Tibet it is proposed to convert Nathula into a land custom station. China has already planned to connect Nathula with Lhasa through a rail link in next three years.
This region of our country is floating on oil and other sources of energy like natural gas and coal and huge deposits of uranium to meet our nuclear energy needs. The ONGC has plans to invest heavily in oil exploration in the region-something ULFA is trying to prevent by its campaign of kidnappings and extortions. That the north-east has a hydro-electric power generation potential estimated at 50000 MW. Sadly sixty years of independence we have tapped just seven percent of this huge untapped reservoir of energy. Happily now, plans are afoot to explore the power potential and transmit to it to power deficient regions.
ULFA’s campaign-indeed of all the insurgent groups operating in the region-is fuelling a feeling of security and is resulting in investors shunning the eight sisters. The ULFA attacks against Hindi-speaking persons have resulted in issue of travel advisories by foreign countries, to their citizens asking them to stay away thus seriously affecting the tourism industry.
The resistance by locals against oil exploration in Nagaland and uranium mining (large deposits have already been identified) in Meghalaya have also affected prospects of growth. The people have legitimate concerns over environmental degradation and adverse affects of development on their traditional lifestyles and cultures which need to be addressed.