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Global war on terror will hit insurgency in insular NE

The events of "Black Tuesday " — September 11, 2001 —, the subsequent campaign in Afghanistan and the declared "global war" against terrorism, will have crucial reverberations in regions of conflict across the world, and India’s Northeast, despite its isolation and insularity, cannot remain entirely unaffected. The cataclysmic events of the past month do not impinge directly on the dynamics of various terrorist movements and insurgencies in the Northeast; local issues remain unchanged; the underground support structures are where they were; but the context of violence has changed dramatically. The world’s willingness to tolerate terrorism, to accept the specious argument that `one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ has suddenly vaporized in the rubble of the World Trade Center.

The argument may still be articulated from time to time, but the killing of innocents for any political motives whatsoever will no longer secure easy acceptability among the democratic nations of the world, or at international fora. Though this transformation may take longer to impact on the perceived legitimacy of violence in the Northeast, such an impact will eventually prove inevitable. External support has been an integral element in the persistence of insurgencies and terrorist movements in the Northeast, and in its absence, most of these would have ended long ago.

There is, at present, no evidence that such support to movements in the Northeast has declined in the wake of the September attacks in USA, or that the support structure is or will be dismantled in the foreseeable future. The time elapsed is, of course, too brief to make firm predictions; covert agencies are bureaucratic organizations, and the fund flows and programmes that are currently being realized will have been approved and formulated much earlier. The medium term trends in the Northeast suggested that external support be slated to rise substantially. The ISI had painstakingly built a network of nearly two dozen extremist Islamist organizations in the region, and had forged firm linkages with many of the non-Islamist terrorist groupings as well.

A labyrinthine structure of training camps, madrassas and cells had been established in Bangladesh, and significant supports systems had been consolidated in North Bengal as well, for recruits and cadres. At the same time, the elections in Bangladesh have brought a relatively hostile regime to power. The militant and pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami has had as many as 16 members elected to Parliament and some of these are slated to assume charge of important portfolios in the new government. The BNP also has strong linkages —including shared business activities — with terrorist groups active in the Northeast, including ULFA. Such activities can be expected to deepen under the patronage of the new regime, generating new fund flows into the militancies.

There is, however, some evidence of confusion among local ISI units and their client groups, in the wake of the US campaign in Afghanistan, and the increasing pressure on Pakistan to dismantle its networks of support for terrorism. It is improbable, of course, that this will result in an immediate abandonment of Pakistan’s long-standing agenda of subversion in the Northeast. The political and military leadership will make all possible efforts to salvage and sustain all operations that can escape US attention and penalties, which would suggest greater pressure to decrease more visible interventions in J&K, even while activities in the North-east persist, since the US and other Western nations have a severely limited awareness and understanding of the problems there.

The fact is, the role and impact of the ISI in South Asia is little understood even by the Western Intelligence Agencies that have supported this organization’s growth and operations in other theatres, including Afghanistan.

With increased international focus on this criminal state organization, however, Western democratic governments will increasingly realize the enormity of the subversive and terrorist operations the ISI has created and supports, and there will be an inevitable, albeit delayed, impact on the viability of these operations, and of the client groups that have grown through ISI sponsorship, in the Northeast as well.

While these trends may have some salutary impact in the long run, the conflicts in the North-east will tend to persist as a result of internal factors as long as local political parties sustain their linkages with various terrorist groups. The spiral of conflict and disorder cannot unwind as long as the culture of violence that has come to prevail in large parts of the region, and that accepts extreme violence and the murder of innocents as a legitimate tool of politics, of protest and of the expression of sectarian, ethnic or other grievances.

(Published in Sentinel, October 20, 2001)





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