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Government’s flip-flop on Counter Insurgency Operations can cost State dear

POSTED ON 19 JANUARY 2015

wasbir hussain
executive director, cdps & visiting fellow, ipcs

Bodo rebels have converted the community’s heartland into Assam’s killing fields. In May last year, these trigger-happy rebels killed 46 people, and again, on December 23, a little more than six months later, they mercilessly gunned down more than 75 innocent Adivasi men, women and children in Sonitpur and Kokrajhar districts. On both occasions, terrorists belonging to the NDFB (S) were involved. Most media and analysts have made it a point all these years to make a distinction between insurgents and terrorists in the context of militancy in Northeast India, but the recent actions by the NDFB (S) have forced many to get rid of this distinction and regard it as nothing but acts of terror.

Innocents have been killed and thousands displaced from their homes, and the State Government has made a mockery of rehabilitation or relief measures. That’s a different story. What I would like to focus on is the Government’s counter-insurgency policy. New Delhi seemed to have woken up from its slumber really after the December 23 massacre when it talked about its ‘zero tolerance’ policy on terror and gave out a firm signal to the security establishment to actually act against the NDFB (S). Until then, even after the May 2014 killings, the Centre or the State, did not seem it had firmed up its resolve to hammer the NDFB (S). Some Assam Police officers were even reported to have been talking to terrorists belonging to the outfit, obviously trying to lay the ground for talks with a third faction of the NDFB!

Take a look at what the Centre’s firm signal this time round has resulted in? Since the day of the massacre, December 23, till January 11, the security forces engaged in counter-insurgency operations in the four districts under the Bodo Council (Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri) had killed a senior NDFB (S) leader and arrested 31 hardcore cadres. Besides, 19 NDFB (S) linkmen have fallen into the security dragnet. And the quality or number of weapons seized has been impressive: 7 AK-56 rifles, 3 AK-47 rifles, one US-make M-16 and one German make HK-33 rifle, one Insaas rifle, 13 pistols, and two ordinary rifles. Besides, 23 grenades and eight kgs of explosives were also recovered along with eight motor cycles and two cars. Well, 1354 rounds of assorted ammunition have also fallen into security hands.

The question that arises now is simple—what has been the Unified Command of the Army, police and the paramilitary doing in Assam all these months although this structure is headed by the State Chief Minister? How could forces operating under the same Unified Command produce results now when it failed to do so earlier? Did anybody in the chain of command ask the security forces to go slow because some Assam Police men were engaged in so-called talks with the NDFB (S)? Was there no clear cut directive to the Unified Command by the State Government or its head, the Chief Minister? Or, were the different forces under the Unified Command been on their own individual trips, working as competitive entities rather than working as part of the Unified Command? Answers are unlikely to be forthcoming unless the Centre decides to probe the matter and seek the replies.

That clear no-nonsense directive by the Government actually works was demonstrated this time. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said in no uncertain terms that the Government will not hold talks with rebel groups who are no more than killer gangs who indulge in killing innocent people at random. At the same time, he said his Government was serious about pursuing a ‘zero tolerance policy’ against terror.

The message, and perhaps a clearer directive to the State by the Ministry of Home Affairs, may have forced the State’s security establishment, that includes the Unified Command, to actually act and make a serious attempt at neutralizing the NDFB (S), by far the most potent terror group in Assam now. The Centre must now follow up by formally announcing a moratorium on talks with newer or break-away rebel factions in Assam and elsewhere in the region. Talks with all and sundry rebel groups or killer gangs have helped keep insurgency alive in the North-east. Yes, talks with cohesive groups like the NSCN or the ULFA must reach their logical end.

(Courtesy: The Sentinel)