Archives E-Mail this article

Cloud Over The Land Of The Rising Sun

POSTED ON 15 JUNE 2010

ARUNAV GOSWAMI
researcher, Centre for Development and Peace Studies

Northeast India adds another name to its tally of more than 70 insurgent outfits. This time it is the state of Arunachal Pradesh where this new rebel outfit has sprung up. The new outfit, the Arunachal Naga Liberation Front (ANLF), was formed in May 2010 in the Paniduria area in the frontier state’s Tirap district. The outfit is said to be setting up a camp in the district and providing training to its new recruits. The camp, according to media reports quoting the Arunachal Pradesh police, is run under the guidance of a former ‘sergeant major’ of NSCN-IM, who had deserted the outfit in 2009. The formation of ANLF is supposedly backed by the Khaplang faction of NSCN or NSCN-K.

Arunachal Pradesh has been a state which had almost no local insurgent group. The only case of indigenous insurgency movement in Arunachal Pradesh was the rise of the Arunachal Dragon Force (ADF) in 1996, which was rechristened as East India Liberation Front (EILF) in 2001. The outfit remained active in the Lohit district, before being neutralised by the state police forces.

However, the state has been used by other insurgent outfits of the region. Its geographical proximity with Myanmar has lead to Arunachal Pradesh being used as a transit route for the insurgent outfits. The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) has been using the state as a transit since the late 1980’s for the movement of its cadres between the easternmost districts of Assam and the outfit’s facilities in the Sagaing division in Myanmar. ULFA cadres traversing the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar route had set up transit camps and safe houses in the Manabhum Reserve Forest, spread over 1500 square kilometres in the Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh. However, counter insurgency operations in these areas, especially 'Operation Blazing Khukri' (between April 5 and 10, 2007) and 'Operation Blooming Orchid' (between April 27 and May 1, 2007) by the Army has cleared those areas.

The Naga insurgent outfits, NSCN-IM and NSCN-K, have also used the state to extend their influence and extortion activities. Both the factions are active in the Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh, which are in the proximity of Nagaland, and have carved out separate areas of influence in these districts.

The Tirap district is a stronghold of NSCN-IM, with considerable presence of its cadres and support base. The emergence of ANLF, which is supposedly backed by the NSCN-K, is surely going to have an impact on the insurgency scenario in the district. The ANLF has also started sending extortion notes to politicians and the business community in the district. As NSCN-IM also runs its extortion network in the district, chances of a new turf war seems to be inevitable.

As a bordering state with China, Arunachal Pradesh has immense strategic importance. It is important from the point of view of national security and as such it is very much necessary that the law and order situation in the state is well maintained. So in order to ensure effective maintenance of law and order within the state and to deny the insurgent groups of other states breathing space in Arunachal Pradesh, the state government, in December 2008, constituted a ‘Core Group’ on security on the line of Unified Command structure in neighbouring Assam. It is headed by the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, with General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the Army’s Tezpur-based IV Corps in northern Assam, in charge of operations.

The security forces in the state have been fighting with the insurgents in the state for long and with the emergence of ANLF it is sure to make the situation even murkier. The security forces now have to work harder for curbing the extortion activities of the outfits as well as see that the state doesn’t become the grounds for a new inter-group war. The NSCN-K has long been trying to break the supremacy of NSCN-IM in the Tirap district and with the help of ANLF it would be trying to do just that. The Khaplang faction is also taking the help of Myanmer-based Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and recruiting more youths in its group in the Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh. A new war of area dominance may be seen very soon in these districts with NSCN-IM on one side and ANLF – NSCN-K on the other.

There is another point of concern in this area. In view of creation of an unfavourable situation with China, the Army deployment would be increased in the borders. In such a case, counter insurgency operations inside the state may come down and the situation may be used by the insurgent outfits to extend their activities. The security forces then have to face the challenge on two fronts. This, of course, is just a possibility that one is talking about.

The route through Arunachal Pradesh to Myanmar has been used by cadres of insurgent groups for long. But now, with the emergence of this local insurgent outfit, ANLF, there are chances that this new outfit may try to collect charges from other groups for using their territory to pass through. This may help this group to strengthen their financial resources. Gaining financial strength will allow this group to procure more fire power and recruit more cadres. If this happens, it could lead to increase in influence of this group which will ultimately lead to deterioration of law and order situation in the state.

The emergence of the ANLF is a bad development in this insurgency-ridden region. At a time when peace seems to be coming to the region, birth of a new insurgent group does not carry a good signal. The security forces need to act quickly while the ANLF is still in its nascent stage. Giving the outfit time to consolidate its position would mean another challenge for the forces in the future.