What do Talks With Terrorists Mean With Violence on and Arms Still Held?

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By Anil Bhat
Shortly after media reports about China trying to unite North East terrorist groups and the entry of one in Assam to launch attacks around Independence Day, terrorists struck in Imphal.

On August 01, 2011, five persons including two girl students were killed and many were injured as a powerful bomb exploded at about 1.40 pm in front of a grocery shop and a barber`s shop, opposite Sangakpham Keithel (bazaar).

The two girls studying in Class III together at Chingmeirong Primary School  were returning home when the bomb exploded, flinging their  bodies, one of which was found inside the grocery store and the other’s in the barber shop, where the barber and his son were also killed. Another man’s body was found in front of the shop. The impact of the blast was so powerful that it ripped and charred human flesh, pulverised some vehicles and reduced the place to scattered debris.

While there are reports of this being a failed attempt by National Socialist Council of Nagaland/Nagalim-Issac – Muivah group (NSCN-IM) at targeting members of the Autonomous District Council (ADC) who are housed in a nearby guest house complex, Chief Minister Okram  Ibobi Singh and Union Home Minister P Chidambaram are reported to have endorsed the same.

A press note from the state Home Department said, “Government of Manipur has received concrete and convincing evidence which establishes the direct involvement of NSCN-IM in the series of recent violent incidents which left several innocent civilians dead and many seriously injured in various parts.” According to the Home Department one Anthony, son of Bonkulung of Sadu Koireng killed in this blast was an active NSCN-IM cadre.

Apparently, the explosion occurred moments after some vehicles of ADC members went past the blast site. The government stated that these acts of terror are quite clearly designed to thwart the democratic process taken up be the government of Manipur to introduce democratic decentralization by successfully conducting elections to the six district councils which had remained dormant for over two decades.

It may be recalled that last year the, it was on the this issue that All Manipur Naga Students Union had caused a blockade of National Highway 39, Manipur’s main artery, which had extended to three months by Thuingaleng Muivah timing his visit his home town in Manipur after almost forty years.

Almost all the schools located in the valley districts of Manipur staged protest demonstrations and rallies decrying the Sangakpham bomb attack. On Tidim Road, thousands of school students took out a joint protest rally.

One group which has been most vocal is the All Manipur United Clubs’ Organisation (AMUCO), which, while listing a number of violent incidents allegedly involving the NSCN -IM, including the recent bomb blast, accused both the Central and State Governments of being soft towards this rebel group. Contending that inaction against the NSCN (IM), inspite of its involvement in various incidents of violence clearly suggests indirect support of both the Governments to the NSCN-IM, AMUCO president KT Rahman demanded that effective measures be initiated to curb activities of the outfit in Manipur. Speaking to media he is reported to have stated that as the ongoing ceasefire between the Government of India and the NSCN-IM does not cover Manipur, not only should the illegal activities of the NSCN (IM) need to be dealt with according to law but also all that its camps in the State should be shut-down.

He further  stated that the ongoing peace parleys between the NSCN (IM) and Govt of India have been reduced to a mockery as the NSCN-IM is still involved in acts of terrorism, highway extortion, destruction of public properties and intimidation. Mentioning the Sangakpham blast, killing of a couple in Lungphu village of Phungyar sub-division (Ukhrul) and slaying of security personnel of Phungyar AC MLA’s escort party as recent cases involving the terrorist group, he blamed the Govt of Manipur by recounting a particular incident when weapons seized by State security forces near Pallel were returned to the outfit along with its apprehended cadres.

Rahman, while asserting that terrorist attacks in Mumbai and Manipur should be measured by the same yardstick and  grimly noting failure of the Home Minister to visit Manipur and assess the overall situation following the Sangakpham blast, commented  that that such an attitude demonstrated the Govt of India’s step-motherly treatment to the people of Manipur.

Chronicling a number of attacks by NSCN-IM since at least April this year, the Home Department said that the state government is seriously considering taking up the matter with the Central government to revoke the ceasefire with NSCN-IM due to these continuous and open acts of terrorism being committed by it.

While violence by the number of Meitei terrorist groups in Manipur has been reported much since the arrest of United National Liberation Front’s boss-man, RK Meghen, many of its cadres earlier in Bangladesh and now in Burma/Myanmar are being rallied together by Chinese intelligence, there is no saying how and when they will strike again.

In Assam, as the pro talk faction of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA)’s seven-member team of seasoned hit-men led by its ‘chairman’ Arabinda Rajkhowa submitted the charter of demands prepared by the Sanmilito Jatiya Abhivartan (SJA) under the leadership of noted intellectual Dr Hiren Gohain, to Ministry of Home Affairs, their anti-talks colleague Paresh Baruah is all set to keep Assam on the boil yet again.

ULFA’s bid to strike came to light when the Assam Rifles apprehended hardcore ULFA leader Rwittick Hazarika in Sonitpur district bordering Arunachal Pradesh recently. He confessed before police that a group of harcore ULFA cadres have come down to Assam to strike at the instance of Paresh Baruah. Hazarika ‘second lieutenant’ in the ULFA’s 27 battalion, was arrest was a day after the Union Home Ministry’s advisory to Assam to step up security in view of the ULFA’s martyrs’ day on July 27.

The seven-member ULFA team met Home Minister P Chidambaram in the presence of Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, Home Secretary R K Singh and other senior officials and the as reported in media quoting a source, “The meetings will give fresh impetus to the peace process in Assam as the charter of demands will be the basis of dialogue with the ULFA.”.

Although the contents of the charter have not been disclosed, as earlier reported, the SJA charter demands Constitutional amendments to give Assam, and thereby its people greater control over their own future by strengthening the State`s power to control the revenues generated, the natural resources, and the planning process and ensure a secure demographic situation as well as accelerated and balanced development. Gohain had earlier said, “If the government of India and the ULFA honour the Charter in letter and spirit and do not undersell it, we may look forward to untroubled peace, true development, and vigorous growth of democracy in the region.” SJA noted that the present calm does not at all mean the return of peace.

One aspect of the charter about ensuring a secure demographic situation, ironically stands greatly compromised, thanks to the ULFA, who during the stay of its top honchos in Bangladesh for almost two decades had actually aided and speeded up the illegal migration from Bangladesh, contradicting the very basis of its rise following the bloody Assam agitation of 1983.

This writer’s book Assam Terrorism and the Demographic Challenge (Knowledge World and Centre for Land Warfare Studies) elaborates on how ULFA became an effective tool of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence organisation’s set-up (based in Bangladesh during Kheleda Zia’s tenure), pursuing its aim of inducting and settling illegal Bangladeshi migrants in various parts of Assam; of raising new madrassas and controlling old ones; trying to convert ethnic Assamese Muslims to fundamentalism; creating communal tension; circulating fake Indian currency; trafficking arms and narcotics; sabotaging installations and generally spreading terror.

Talks with terrorists are fine but must meaningfully lead to permanent eradication of violence by the group and must be undertaken after securing all its weapons and ammunition.  In both the cases of NSCN-IM and ULFA that has not been done. Besides, both these groups have factions / leaders / members already guilty of anti-Indian activities and more expected, that too now with China’s support in addition to Pakistan military’s. Both these groups are also involved in supplying arms to Naxal-Maoists. In the case of talks with ULFA, if Anup Chetia is going to be handed over by Bangladesh as part of Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League government’s goodwill, then the Centre may consider waiting till Paresh Baruah is caught-he must be caught, interrogated and disarmed- and then hold talks purposefully.

Last but certainly not least, what about ULFA leaders/cadres guilty of heinous crimes against innocent people? If merely their ‘apologies’ are to be accepted and they overnight turn in good ‘mainstream’ citizens, then we might as well free all murderers in death-rows.

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