ULFA’s long tail

And how to stamp it out

The sequence should be familiar by now. The Indian Army nearly breaks ULFA’s back causing it to be amenable to talks to the Indian government. A ceasefire ensues, during which ULFA regroups. And then it goes back to its old murderous ways, breaks off negotiations, and the Army is called out to renew its counter-insurgency operations. Recent bombings in several places in Assam and Paresh Barua’s open threats to leading journalists are manifestations of the beginning (or the end) of another turn in this cycle, as the government attempts to continue negotiations even as an emboldened ULFA senses an opportunity to press its case using violence.

Let there be no mistake — counter-insurgency is a politico-military game and a military victory must be followed by a political consolidation. The trick lies in correctly estimating when the security situation has turned sufficiently in the state’s favour to attempt a political endgame. Do it too early, and the terrorists will return. Do it too late and popular disaffection worsens. That most of ULFA’s top leaders are conveniently based in Bangladesh, out of reach of the Indian armed forces, skews the game in favour of the terrorists. Paresh Baruah (or Zaman Bhai, as he is known in Bangladesh) and his colleagues remain free to send a new generation of young men to Pakistan to be trained as terrorists.

After several attempts over the last 15 years, it stands to reason now that the political phase of counter-insurgency cannot even properly begin until the ULFA leadership stays out of reach. Attempts at compelling Bangladesh to extradite or hand over Paresh Baruah and Arabinda Rajkhowa have not borne fruit. The Indian government has either failed to or not attempted to liquidate them on foreign soil. The question of their handover has become a shuttlecock in relations with Bangladesh. At the current rate, Baruah and Rajkhowa seem set to live out their lives across the border, continuing to inspire and lead the low-intensity armed conflict in Assam.

Well, India can wait it out — and hope that a growing economy will create conditions that will make terrorism unattractive. However, even if this approach were to succeed, it will not be before many more people die.

But there is another way to ensure Baruah and Rajkhowa are in India during ceasefire and negotiations. And that is for the Indian government to ask them to come. The next time the Indian government considers further negotiations, it must make them contingent on the ULFA leadership’s return to India, even if this means offering a moratorium on all criminal cases pending against them. Such a measure may upset the state’s political equations, but may well be what is needed to close a long and terrible chapter in its history. And who said peace can be had without leadership? A truth and reconciliation process is desirable, and may even be inevitable. The duration of the moratorium can be linked to the renunciation of violence.

ULFA’s leaders cannot reject such an offer without losing what little popular support they enjoy. If they do, it is they who will lose the best deal they can ever get, while India will lose little. For it can wait it out as usual.

11 thoughts on “ULFA’s long tail”

  1. In an earlier post on ULFA by Nitin, I had commented about “wet work”. Mossad should only be very happy to help us out in this regard.

    Just as the Indian govt is holding talks with Naga groups in foreign countries I think we can also talk to ULFA. IMO it is not necessay for “Zaman bhai” to be in India to talk to us directly.

    There is no way the present Bangla govt will hand over the ULFA leadership. Lets see who comes to power after the next elections there. Lets hope Sheikh Hasina wins.

  2. Gaurav & RS,

    Let’s just say that I have a very open attitude towards wet work. It is another matter the Indian government has the appetite, inclination and capabilities to carry these off. I have always believed in doing our work ourselves, even if there are some others who have greater experience doing it.

    On RS point about negotiating outside India, it is not that India needs to negotiate with these folks personally. It is that their continued presence outside India works to India’s disadvantage. They will have a greater incentive to reach a settlement if they have something to lose.

  3. Nitin,

    You will make a great diplomat 😀

    “They will have a greater incentive to reach a settlement if they have something to lose”

    I don’t know that these people have any desire to settle (Unlike Naga). I am afraid as long as India continue to make overture these guys (just like people of “proletariat revolution” or people of “enlightened moderation” ). The only incentive that can work is if there is grave danger either to their lives or the counteries that continue to harbour them.

  4. The current buzzword is ‘extraordinary rendition’ when it used to be just plain ‘rendition’.

    The CIA and Mossad have done it, we should do it too. Starting with some nice gentlemen in countries either side of us, which offer hospitality to these guys. If that guest, how will the host complain when they state that the guest is not there in the first place?

    Win win for all concerned 🙂

  5. The Indian Government should go in for a wet job. These guys are terrorists maybe they began with genuine grievances once upon a time and one of these ironically was the issue of Illegal Bangladeshi immigration and now the ULFA leaders are guests of the state of the Bangladesh!! Therefore it is clear that they no longer oppose the Illegal Bangladeshi immigration or perhaps they are keeping quite for the time being for their own selfish interests. They have betrayed the interests of the people of Assam and therefore there is no point negotiating with them anymore.

    Pass me the Howitzer 🙂

  6. Gaurav,
    Its too bad that you think Nitin is only good for being a diplomat. Infact some of us old faithfuls of this blog want Nitin to be India’s PM if ever a Secular Right govt is formed at the center. If thats not possible then Nitin shud be the Home Minister and Foreign Minister rolled into one.
    🙂

    Amit,
    “Wet work” can be done easily with help from our Bangla friends but we have no friends in Pakistan.

  7. It is truly funny. The first thing that came to my mind when I heard that name was a covert operation to eliminate these fellows. Bangladesh leaks like a sieve so if our people cannot get in, finish the job and get out, they would have to be extremely
    incompetent.

    I think India is far too sensitive about its neighbours’ feelings – with the result that they tend to exert more pressure over us than they are worth. And then they tango with China anyway as yet another pressure tactic. We have been in good position to pressure Bangladesh with trade related issues. But foolish ministers heading the relevant ministries have ensured that the route was never really explored.

    Coming back to the matter at hand, we play the same cat and mouse game with Naxals, who have grown even more ferocious after the UPA came into power. A good reason is that Naxals helped them gain power in many places. It is no secret that AP CM is directly or indirectly linked to them. That is why he had declared a ceasefire immediately after taking over reigns of the state at a time when the state was on top of the matter. This allowed them to regroup, expand and restart operations with a vengeance.

    Perhaps we need to eliminate the Naxal sympathisers in the government first. While I am sure someone will point out many differences, the position we are in with ULFA isn’t very different from the one we are in with the Naxals.

  8. RS,

    My feelings for secularism are about same as Amar Singh has for Sonia Gandhi or black bucks and footpath dwellers have for Salman Khan.
    Jokes aside it is a common fallacy to think that Being a Minister implies expertise in that field (Otherwise I would claim to be Shipping minister ;-)), In a parlimantry democracy it is impossible to get expert as ministers. What instead is required have a quick grasp of the issues, a preference for reality rather than grandiose ideals of utopia, and political spine (together with shrwedness)to back even unpopular decisions.

    Regards

  9. Alok,
    We are in a pretty good position to pressure Pakistan economically too, compared to them we are a bigger market, but I would really favor tight market integration with Pakistan. Things like protection/dumping are remembered for long, it is always better to help out economically, but if needed we should be firm with rendition. We should limit rendition to Indian nationals who are causing mischief for India. If not limited, you are in effect waging war against the other country, which is what Pakistan’s army and ISI is doing for so many years.

    Rumors are one thing, fact is another, and the law is asinine in some cases. Everybody knows certain things but proving it is a big deal, because the law is based on facts. For the rumor to crystallize to fact is a long and torturous journey riddled with much heartbreak for the nation. Police encounters in Mumbai gang wars were a response to this foolishness. We should have a policy in place to firmly deal with these people who threaten the nation. And yes, it should be run by hard headed conscientious people, not people with the explicit intention of ‘wiping’ out their political opponents.

    RS,
    We probably have friends in Pakistan too, maybe much more than what Pakistan has in India. Pakistan’s elite feel they should have total control of Afghanistan’s policies, but they would not allow India to influence the future in Afghanistan. They don’t allow simple land trading, trying into locking trade with Afghanistan. What they don’t realize is that it will drive Afghanistan and Iran into bed together. Right now, we should trade with Iran as Iran is the country which has good land and sea access to the Caspian’s oil resources. Food for thought is exploring joint agreement with Kazahkastan/Russia, China and India for an oil pipeline through China’s Xinjiang region. Very long but much better than involving Pakistan.

  10. Gaurav,
    I dint know that you would take a lighthearted comment I made so seriously. Well if u hate secularism that fine with me because each one of us is left to ones own devices.

    Amit,
    I think I am not in complete agreement with some of the points you made in your reply to comments made by Alok and myself. I don’t think we can pressurise Pakistan economically because they have all weather friends like Saudi Arabia and China. 9/11 came as boon to their economy as Pakistanis became pariahs in the West and other countries. They had no other option other than to invest their hard earned money in Pakistan. They invested in real estate and in the stock markets and now these are the booming sectors in Pakistan. Very little FII/FDI money flow into Pakistan and its stock markets. Sometime back I had read somewhere that FII money is something like $500 million in 3-6 months. An economy that was sinking fast was kept afloat by subsidised oil from Saudi Arabia. We all know what the Americans have done for their economy. Uncle Sam will never allow Pakistan to sink only because of its strategic location. This they know and that’s why they always play hardball with us. However, I do agree with your point of economic integration with Pakistan, as it will be mutually beneficial to both countries. But many in Pakistan are not ready to see the reason. In fact if SAARC countries support SAFTA wholeheartedly then there is no stopping South Asia from reaching the prosperity levels of ASEAN countries. The problem with SAARC nations is that they just can’t trust each other.

    Regarding your reply to my comment, yes we do have friends in Pakistan too but these are most probably “jappi papi”, Bollywood nasha soaked “Punjab da puttar” types. Just try telling them that their govt. supports terrorism in India and Dawood Bhai and Co are state guests there and we want their help in eliminating these obstacles for better relations between our countries. I can bet my last paisa that we will be back to Kargil days.
    It is better not to trouble Pakistani minorities as they are already in pits.

    Pakistan’s Indian friends are very well known. It only takes one of those courtesy calls from LeT, JeM or HM to our holy places and other crowded areas to see some of Pakistan’s Indian friends in the open as they are brought out in open for some special treatment from our Police. Pakistan is an Islamic state but when it comes to making friends in India, they are very secular – Indian Muslims help them logistically, govt. officials – most probably Hindus – help them with everything they need to prove their Indian credentials.

    Yes Pakistan never wants us to be in Afghanistan as they consider it to be their backyard. As you mentioned we are now having access to Afghanistan via Iran but how long is the question because USA doesn’t like Iran and we can’t do without US and Iran but Iran can do without us. We are most probably in a Catch 22 situation here.
    I agree with you on the pipeline avoiding Pakistan but here again we need America’s blessings.

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