By Anil Bhat
Addressing a gathering of Chief Ministers, bureaucrats and intelligence officials in New Delhi on 17 April, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, “Like other internal security matters, we need to work together and launch joint efforts to tackle these challenges, especially, at a time when situation in north east remains complex. Expressing concerns over the rise in Naxal-related violence, Home Minister P Chidambaram said, “The spread of Left-wing extremism in northeastern states, especially Assam, continues to pose the greatest challenge to the country’s internal security although 18 terror modules have been neutralised in 2011 and 3 in 2012,” adding, “It is beyond doubt that Assam has emerged as new theatre of Maoist groups.”
In Assam, security was being geared up in view of the hardline faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom’s (ULFA) threat of violence before or during the Prime Minister’s visit on April 20 to attend a function of the Assam Legislative Assembly and one attempt to trigger off grenade blasts in Guwahati city was foiled after the arrests of three hardcore members of the outfit.
A day before the Dr. Singh’s visit two bomb blasts rocked Assam. The first was at a power station in Jorhat in Upper Assam and the second, at a railway track in Sibsagar, Upper Assam. While there were no injuries in either incident, Assam media reported that according to messages intercepted by the security forces ULFA bossman Paresh Baruah himself issued instructions to cadres on the ground to
to target oil installations including pipelines, railway tracks, security forces , police stations and outposts. While a number of trains have been either cancelled or rescheduled because of the threat, police and security forces all over the State have been kept on high alert and are meeting regularly to coordinate operations and to share intelligence. One attempt of ULFA to trigger off grenade blasts in Guwahati was foiled and two Chinese grenades were recovered.
All this happened few days after ULFA’s pro-talk faction held another round of talks with the Ministry of Home Affairs, reportedly termed as ‘very cordial’, ‘very satisfactory’ etc. A leading local daily reported how confusion prevailed following reports of National Investigation Agency (NIA) busting a publicity liaison cell of ULFA located in West Delhi recently. ULFA spokesman Arunodoy Dohotiya reportedly escaped minutes before the raid. Reports of the raids on the anti-talk faction of the outfit came days ahead of the third formal dialogue between the Centre and ULFA scheduled on April 9. However, there was no official confirmation of the raids by NIA, with Home Minister Chidambaram denying any knowledge of the raids in Delhi’s suburb Janakpuri, news of which was flashed by a local TV channel in Assam. “Let me find out, nobody has briefed me on this. I have not read about anywhere. Nobody has brought it to my notice. But I will find out,” was all Chidambaram said replying to questions about the news report. Sources in the Home Ministry, however, denied it, stating that they have no reports from any of the agencies about such raids being conducted in the national capital during the last few days. According to the news report, NIA team allegedly raided an apartment hired by a computer science student hailing from Gohpur in Sonitpur district. The flat was reportedly shared by three other youths including the elusive spokesman of the anti-talk faction. All of them escaped before the NIA raiding team could lay their hands on them.
This newspaper’s periodic coverage and comments on ULFA’s various disruptive activities from Bangladesh, till Ms Khalida Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party was in power and Burma and China thereafter, has been further reinforced by credible information reportedly processed over the last few months by field operatives of Central intelligence agencies in Northeast, Bangladesh and Burma confirmed that ULFA commander Paresh Barua is now using his terror network to smuggle narcotics into India. A highly-classified report prepared by intelligence agencies, states that, “The ULFA is not only helping drug cartels use India as a transit point but also pumping narcotics into the country for local consumption.” The report further reveals that the terror outfit is using its formidable network in the Northeast for narcotic smuggling as it has yielded them high returns. ULFA has been taking both money and arms in return for helping the drug syndicates. “As India is an important transit point in the Golden Triangle of narcotic smuggling involvement of terror groups in India in this business is an extremely dangerous trend,” adds the report that has recently been circulated among New Delhi’s top security and intelligence establishment. Barua and his trusted aides, the report adds, are being helped by two important ISI agents, Khwaja Sultan Malik and Qalil Ahmed, who are operating out of Bangladesh. Both Malik and Ahmed also have close links with drug cartels in Southeast Asia who are smuggling narcotics into India through the porous Indo-Bangladesh border with ULFA’s help. The report states: “In return, these drug cartels are helping the Ulfa with transportation of arms and ammunition being smuggled by it from China using the sea route. The arms are shipped to Cox’s Bazar and then transported to ULFA hideouts in Bangladesh…Though we not able to asses the quantum of this illegal trade but it has to be a whopping amount running into crores. We have already asked the concerned agencies to step up vigil along the border…” In a number of previous features, this writer brought out how ULFA was instrumental in the Golden Triangle linking up with the Golden Crescent.
Meanwhile, over the past couple of years ULFA and some other militant groups of the North East have been active not only in violence but also in linking up with Chinese intelligence operatives and Naxal-Maoists.
March 14, 2012 Home Ministry was reported to have sounded a high alert and asked the Assam government to tighten security in the state in view of ULFA’s ‘anniversary’ on March 16. Based on specific intelligence inputs, the Centre directed the state to deploy additional security personnel in all sensitive installations, crowded places, markets, railway stations and tracks to foil any attempt by the extremists to disrupt peace. The inputs suggested that the anti-talk faction of ULFA led by Paresh Baruah has been able to dispatch some explosive materials into Assam with the aim to carry out subversive activities ahead of or during its day and several deadly attacks were launched by the ULFA in the recent past.
On March 16, ULFA bomb expert Tapan Phukan alias Bhabani Khaklary, trained in Myanmar, was arrested by the Army and police in Teestapara area in Dhubri district from Solmari village in Lakhimpur district and a powerful IED, weighing more than one and a half kg, was recovered during the joint operation. DGP Jayanta Narayan Choudhury reportedly said that three districts — Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Sibsagar — were areas of concern and put on maximum alert while Goalpara and Dhubri districts were also vulnerable. He said several youths had been picked up and police pickets posted in vulnerable districts.
On March 3, a hardcore ULFA militant was shot dead in an encounter with the Army in lower Assam`s Goalpara district. Police said a group of militants were on an extortion drive in Lakhipur village when they were intercepted by an army patrol team. On being challenged the ultras, numbering about five, fired on the security men leading to a retaliation.
On 25 February three militants, two of the ULFA and another of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) were nabbed from different parts of the state. Acting on a tip-off, the police launched a search operation in Noshdia area of Upper Assam`s Tinsukia district and nabbed two suspected ULFA militants belonging to the anti-talk faction of the outfit. A 7.65 pistol and two rounds of ammunition were seized from the militants who were identified as Kehsav Gogoi and Shofik Gogoi. In another incident, a NDFB militant was apprehended from Salbari in Baksa district during an operation by the police. The militant has been identified as Sanjiv Swargiary and a 9 mm pistol with two rounds of ammunition along with two mobile phones have been seized from his possession, sources added.
“The NDFB, ULFA, Kamtapur Liberation Organisation and Rabha Viper Army have all been vying for prominence and hold in Assam” said Col Yashdeep Sangwan, commanding officer of 19 Madras, which has been operating there, to this newspaper: “ Within a short period, our troops struck their first blow to the NDFB terrorist organization killing two in a fierce encounter. Thereafter, the “Carnatics” knew no looking back and piled up one valiant act over the other”. Not only excelling in operations and civic assistance as well as all professional and sports competitions, this battalion was recently awarded the Armyu Chief’s citation for its operational achievements resulting in 24 terrorists killed, 199 apprehended and recoveries of 112 assorted sophisticated small arms, 641 rounds of ammunition, 21 grenades, 30 improvised explosive devices and crude bombs, 91 gelatin sticks and detonators and 1403 kg of explosives.
The recent round of talks was expected to be “crucial” as pro-talks ULFA leaders freed from jail by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi Tarun Gogoi and moving about freely, sought a response from Government of India on its list of demands. In the last round in October 2011 Government of India had sought some clarifications from the ULFA delegation regarding their charter of demands. The pro-talk group had submitted its charter of demands to Messrs. Chidambaram and Gogoi, on August 10, last year. The pro-talks group has called for a “fresh look at the issue of Assam’s sovereignty, amendment to the Indian Constitution to protect the rights and identity of the indigenous people of Assam” and most interestingly “honourable solution to the three-decade-old armed conflict led by the ULFA”, address the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh into Assam besides status of 50 missing ULFA leaders and cadres since 2005”. This is most ironic as (a) it means forget about all the people they massacred, (b) ULFA actually aided, abetted and accelerated the illegal migration from Bangladesh till Ms Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s Awami League came into power and (c) what about the mass graves of innocent victims killed and maybe some buried alive in the dense Lakhipathar and Charaiphung forests of Assam?”