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NE rebels: Going the Taliban Way?

POSTED ON 5 JUNE 2014

wasbir hussain
Executive director,
cDPS & visiting fellow, ipcs

Northeast India witnessed the first Taliban-style execution on Tuesday evening, June 3, 2014. Five militants belonging to the trigger-happy Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), an officially declared ‘terrorist organization’ active in Meghalaya’s Garo Hills region, barged into the home of a 35-year-old mother of four at the remote village of Raja Goera Rongat, near Chokpot, in South Garo Hills district. Armed with AK 47 assault rifles, the militants locked the woman’s husband in a room, and, according to the police, they then tried to molest and rape the lady. When she resisted, two of the five rebels opened burst fire on her from point-blank range, in front of her children, all minors, killing her on the spot. “Her head was almost blown off her body by the impact of the gun shots,” a police officer said.

It is the brutality of the crime that has made us compare the killing to assassinations carried out by the medieval Talibans in Afghanistan. And yes, a defiant GNLA claimed responsibility for the cowardly killing saying the woman was a ‘police source’, meaning she was a police informer. A GNLA statement said she was ‘responsible’ for the death of the outfit’s training instructor named Kram. The man was killed in an encounter with security forces in the first week of May. The GNLA, according to security sources, then tried to attack policemen from the nearby Chokpot Police Station by planting two IEDs, including a pressure cooker bomb, but failed because locals had tipped off the cops. The bombs were recovered and diffused. This was followed by the police picking up a
suspected over-ground supporter of the GNLA, Witson M. Sangma, who died while in police custody during the intervening night of May 27-28. Meghalaya Police say the turn of events must be kept in mind while looking at the brutal killing of the woman on June 3. What is important to note here is that the GNLA had warned in the statement that anybody co-operating with the police or the authorities would meet the same fate. This is a clear attempt at terrorizing the locals and preventing them from siding with the state.

We are aware of the treacherous terrain of the Garo Hills and the region’s proximity to Bangladesh. But what is surprising is the inability of the police and the paramilitary in checking the depredations of the GNLA that is officially stated to have a strength of less than 300. The Police now say the GNLA is working in collaboration with an anti-talk ULFA unit headed by Dristi Rajkhowa. And they are quick to say the GNLA hit-squad responsible for the attempted rape and killing of the 35-year-old woman was headed by a dreaded cadre who goes by the name of Tengton. If the terror run of the GNLA cannot be controlled by such crack Meghalaya Police units like the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics Team), who were trained by the Indo Tibetan Border Police, or the specialized CRPF units, then we would be forced to conclude the counter-insurgency strategy in the area needs a drastic review or overhaul. Army operations to neutralize the GNLA is the ‘last option’ apparently reserved by the Meghalaya Government, but can it afford to let the situation drift to a point of no return? By the way, another special Meghalaya Police unit is currently undergoing training with the anti-Naxal Greyhounds in Andhra Pradesh.

As usual, the Government is stuck with its so-called ‘our doors are open for talks’ strategy to deal with rebels when they go berserk, just as the GNLA now. A local newspaper has quoted Meghalaya’s Congress Chief Minister Mukul Sangma as saying, “...We have many other options before that (deployment of Army). We are offering the militant outfits a one-time opportunity to engage with the Government.” The Centre and state governments in the region are going ahead with the rather ridiculous strategy of talking peace with militant groups even though they are continuing with their heinous crimes. The militants, including the GNLA and the NDFB (Songbijit) in Assam, are aware they can do anything and get the security forces off their back just by saying they would engage in a dialogue. The moment these groups join the process of talks (I hate to call them peace processes), a few cadres would break away and form a new faction and the tamasha goes on. The need of the hour for New Delhi is to declare a moratorium on peace talks with newer insurgent groups and factions in the Northeast even while fulfilling its commitment to take the talks with groups like the NSCN, ULFA and the NDFB (the two factions led by Basumatary and Daimary) to their logical conclusion.

The bottom line is that there is no point talking to such trigger-happy outfits as the GNLA, formed in 2009 by a Meghalaya Police deserter Champion R. Sangma, who was a deputy superintendent. Champion Sangma, who was believed to have been under Bangladesh’s custody since November 2011, was arrested by the Meghalaya Police on July 30, 2012. In February this year, the GNLA said it can enter peace talks with the Government if Champion Sangma was released from jail, a demand that is on expected lines. A familiar strategy by the GNLA, tested by so many North-east rebel outfits in the past, and a familiar response by the clueless governments in the region that they were ready for talks. Meanwhile, the rebels can go around killing, raping, extorting, kidnapping and threatening people in the region under the very nose of our mammoth security establishment!