Scholar’s Voice: A New Way of Thinking Biannual Publication of Centre for
Vol. 1, No. 1, January 2009. pp. 167-178 Defence Studies Research & Development.
* Sr. Research Fellow (U.G.C.), Dept. of Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Allahabad,
INSURGENCY IN NORTH-EAST INDIA: CROSS BORDER
PRADEEP KUMAR RAI*
India's troubles in Kashmir have so captured the nation's and indeed the
world's media, that this 14 year insurgency has put to shade wounds festering in India's
North-East ever since she achieved independence. Various ethnic factors, forest cover,
hilly terrain, networking among militant groups, availability of porous international
border with Bhutan, China, Bangladesh and Myanmar and involvement of foreign agencies
have made the situation more complex.
North-East India is an umbrella term which we frequently use to describe
the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and
Tripura. The eights state of Sikkim has been recently added for the purpose of
development only. The region accounts for 8.06 % of the total land surface of the country
and has a population of 3.73% of the country's total. It is surrounded by China on the
north, Myanmar on the east, Bangladesh on the south and Bhutan in the north-west. Nepal
is not far away, and the only land connection with the mainland India is through a narrow
corridor in the plains of North Bengal popularly known as 'chicken-neck'. It is through this
narrow stretch flows the natural and finished resources and products such as tea, gas and
crude out of the region, and consumers' goods, food and other essential and nonessential
items into the region.
Topographically, 70% of the region is hilly and 88% of the population is rural
based. Northeast is often described as 'Asia in miniature' where the brown and yellow
races meet and mingle. This land of red rivers and blue mountains reportedly has as many
as 350 communities and almost as many languages, many of the communities vocal about
their district culture and identity. Today, the people of the Northeastern India are uncertain
of their present and equally apprehensive about what future holds for them. Rapid changes
in social, political and economic spheres has taken place in the last fifty years or so in the
region and the people are passing through what can be described as "one thousand years in
The recent decades in history of Northeastern India have been gripped by one
determining political phenomenon-i.e., insurgency. According to T.A. Subramanian, An
168 Scholar’s Voice: A New Way of Thinking PRADEEP KUMAR RAI
insurgency is a protracted struggle, conducted methodically, step by step, in order to attain
specific intermediate objectives, leading finally to the overthrow of the existing order, and
its replacement by another regime. It is not an accident, for leaders appear first and then
the masses are made to move. In international law, the concept of insurgency has recently
been accepted as a basis for defining the legal rights and obligations of states in public
orders more serious than mob violence and less serious than civil war.
Insurgency has been considered as an armed struggle between a ruling authority
and non-ruling group in which the armed struggle is carried out side with political
movements, demonstrations or passive resistance as an instrument to establish legitimacy
for the armed struggle in the eyes of the common man. Insurgency movements use
violence to purpose their goal and adopt guerrilla warfare in tactics. V.K. Anand in his
book Insurgency and Counter Insurgency: A Study of Modern Guerrilla Warfare considers
insurgency as "an extra constitutional, competitively progressive and variegated struggle
launched against the incumbent authority by a consciously mobilised section of indigenous
masses for the fulfillment of certain conceptual goals manifesting emancipation." This
definition emphasises the following characteristics of the insurgency: (i) it is an extra
constitutional movement, (ii) it is competitively progressive, (iii) it is a movement against
an established authority, (iv) it is a mass based movement, and (v) it ultimately aims at
India's troubles in Kashmir have so captured the nation's and indeed the world's
media, that this 14 year insurgency has put to shade wounds festering in India's North-East
ever since she achieved independence. Various ethnic factors, forest cover, hilly terrain,
networking among militant groups, availability of porous international border with
Bhutan, China, Bangladesh and Myanmar and involvement of foreign agencies have made
the situation more complex. Networking amongst different insurgent group has also
produced a steady flow of weapons along the often-porous borders India shares on the
Northeastern front with its neighboring countries severely accentuating insurgency and
associated violence in the North-East. Separatist insurgencies in India's North-East have
long had an external dimension. In 1956, Angami Zapu Phizo, who started the first tribal
insurgency in the country, went into exile in Britain, via then East Pakistan, from where he
led the Naga bush-war against New Delhi until his death in April 1990. Phizo's successors
in the Naga movement, as also a multiplicity of other separatist militancy, have also long
operated out of bases outside India.
The problem is at present complicated further by the fact that the porous borders
have become a hub of activities of the Pakistani external intelligence agency, the Inter
Services Intelligence (ISI). The ISI of Pakistan operates in collaboration and in co-
ordination with various bases in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal. In Bangladesh,
according to estimates by Indian intelligence officials, there are at least 99 camps funded
by the ISI. The recent arrest of an Assam Rifles (AR) employee in Shillong for his alleged
nexus with the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan raises various basic issues.
There are apprehensions that the ISI of Pakistan may catalyze further destabilization in the
region by pumping arms and ammunitions to create and sustain internal conflicts and
169INSURGENCY IN NORTH-EAST INDIA: CROSS BORDER…. Vol. 1, No. 1, January 2009.
further instability thereby posing fundamental threats to India's security.
Brands of insurgency or terrorism, whether actively promoted by foreign powers
or clandestinely assisted by the parties having a stake in the destabilization of the country,
have a tendency to cooperate and complement each other. In India's Northeastern region,
insurgent outfits such as the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and both factions
of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), fighting for independent
homelands, have received assistance from the neighboring countries. The forms of
assistance range from supply of arms and ammunitions and other logistical support of
provision of a safe haven, camping and training facilities.
The tribes inhabiting the Northeastern region of India share close historical, ethnic
and cultural ties with the tribes in China, Tibet and Myanmar. Barring Khasis and Jaintias
of Meghalaya, almost all hill tribes belong to the Tibet-Chinese fold and to the Tibet-
Burmese family. It was this feeling of affinity toward the border people of erstwhile East
Pakistan and Burma that led some of these tribal groups to turn toward their own stock
rather than toward the country they inhabited. The strategic location of the Northeastern
India and the access of the disaffected groups to China, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and
Nepal, together with material and moral support of foreign intelligence agencies to these
groups have facilitated insurgency in the Northeastern region. Safe sanctuaries to hide,
material and moral support from the locals across the borders and the machinations of
forces hostile to India fuel the insurgency. These external linkages have serious
applications for the Government of India in dealing effectively with the menace of
The Indian government is apt to see the hidden hand of Pakistan behind virtually
all unrest within India, but there are strong indications that Islamabad provided some fairly
significant support to several insurgent movements in the northeastern states. Although
Pakistan no longer has geographic contiguity to the Northeast it has continued some level
of assistance to the insurgents India has accused
Bangladesh of allowing insurgent groups to operate
from its territory. The potential support has been
receiving very high level political attention by the
Indian government, with increasingly pointed
rhetoric directed toward Bangladesh Myanmar also
has served as a safe are for several Indian insurgent
This has had less to do with Burmese
government support of the Indian insurgents than
with the fact that Yangon also has faced significant
problems in controlling its periphery. Several
groups, particularly the ULFA have operated
camps in Bhutan. Bhutanese government faces a
particular imperative to support Indian counterinsurgency efforts because of the 1949
treaty between the two countries that calls for Bhutan's defence and foreign affairs to be
After the Kargil failure,
Pakistan is now attempting
with the help of Muslim
Fundamentalists of Assam to
separate the entire Northeast
from the rest of India by
cutting off the "Chicken neck"
and between North Bengal
and Assam (a narrow alley
between Sri Rampur in
Assam and Jalpaiguri in
170 Scholar’s Voice: A New Way of Thinking PRADEEP KUMAR RAI
guided' by India. The territory of Nepal is used as the safest entry point for intelligence
operation by the ISI. Nepal has also in recent years come to occupy an important factor in
the militants perception. The assistance that the insurgents operating in the Northeastern
region had received from China in the form of training, arms and ammunition from camps
inside the Yunnan province is an indicator of the Chinese strategy of making conscious
attempts "in support of expansion of its own sphere of political influence".l
The Role of Pakistan
"Our controversy with India is not on the problem of Kashmir only,
there is the problem of Assam. In Assam, there are some Muslim Majority
districts which should have been given to Pakistan (At the time of the partition,
these districts were wrongly included in India. "
- Zulfikar Ali Bhutto,
Farmer President of Pakistan
Wrote in his book, The Myth of independence
The political developments in India and Pakistan just after independence
generated complexes and controversies which contributed further to the adversarial
content of Indo-Pakistan relation. Diverting attention to the real or imagined threat from
India and Pakistan's Islamic existence being endangered by the "Hindu Republic of
Bharat" became basic elements in Pakistan's defence and foreign policies.2
Right from the
start, Pakistan followed a policy of confrontation with India through various stages which
manifest themselves in various ways.
In the 1962 Sino-India war, Pakistan and China supported each other against
India which they regarded as their common enemy. From May 1962 to June 1964, China
not only gave military and moral support to Pakistan but it also encouraged the minority
groups in India to express their grievances against the Indian Government.
With the creation of Bangladesh, the external linkage pattern of Northeast
insurgencies underwent a temporary change. Instead of a hostile Pakistan, India now had a
friendly regime in Dhaka that would not support or shelter any insurgent movement
directed at New Delhi, and the Nagas and the Mizos had to relocate all their bases to
Myanmar's untenanted Saigang region. After the Chinese, the Kachin Independence Army
By then, many of the insurgents were flooded with arms and ammunition by
the China and Pakistan.
Z.A. Bhutto encouraged an ant-Indian stance in Pakistan's India policy after the
1971 conflict. After his death, Indo-Pak relation acquired a positive ambience during the
Janata regime but this disappeared with the return of Indira Gandhi to power. After a lull
for about two decades, the NSCN succeeded in securing fresh support for Pakistan's Inter
Services Intelligence Directorate in the early1990s. According to the confessions of a
captured NSCN "Finance Secretary", Khayao Huray, the Pakistani diplomats in Dhaka
handed over more than one million dollars to the NSCN's Muivah faction between 1993
and 1994. With these funds, the NSCN has been able to purchase from blackmarkets in
South-East Asia and Bangladesh large quantities of Chinese rifles, machine guns, mortars
171INSURGENCY IN NORTH-EAST INDIA: CROSS BORDER…. Vol. 1, No. 1, January 2009.
Pakistan renewed its support to the Northeast insurgents in this period. A number
of training camps have sprung up in Bangladesh and there is a massive influx of arms and
ammunition in the region. The numbers of Muslims insurgent outfits have increased in
Assam, Manipur and illegal migration from Bangladesh has reached an all time high.
After the Kargil failure, Pakistan is now attempting with the help of Muslim
Fundamentalists of Assam to separate the entire Northeast from the rest of India by cutting
off the "Chicken neck" and between North Bengal and Assam (a narrow alley between Sri
Rampur in Assam and Jalpaiguri in North Bengal). It may be recalled that, during 1965
Indo-Pak war, this was precisely that china had threatened to do.
The ISI has reportedly built up a sophisticated network in Bangladesh. The first
comprehensive report was placed Assam state assembly on April 6, 2000 by Prafulla
Kumar Mahanta after almost a year long enjoyment with the ISI, according to which the
activities of the ISI were mainly in the following areas:
Promoting indiscriminate violence in the state by providing active support to
the local militant outfits.
Creating new militant outfits along ethnic and communal lines by instigating
ethnic and religious groups.
Supply explosives and sophisticated arms to various terrorist groups.
Causing sabotage of oil pipelines and other installations, communication lines,
railways and roads.
Promoting fundamentalism and militancy among local Muslim youth by
misleading them in the name of ‘Jihad’.
Promoting communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims citizens by way of
false and highly inflammatory propaganda.5
The report also talked of contacts between the ULFA leaders and Pakistan high
commission in Dhaka and as per confession of the
leaders, the latter arranged visa for ULF A leaders.
The ULFA had consultation with
ISI in Pakistan near Peshawar on 27 December
1999. The meeting was attended by Ashanta Bagh
Phukan, prominent leader of ULFA along with 5
cadres and one Mohd. Abdul Karim, retired Pak
Army Officer representing ISI. Maulana Fazul
Rahman of Hizbul Mujahedeen was also present in
the meeting. The following decisions were taken.
ISI will supply various kinds of arms
and ammunitions to ULFA.
It will train at least 800 cadres of ULFA by September 2000.
All Muslim groups located in Assam will extend help to ULFA.
Bangladesh's main militants
outfits, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-
al-Islami (HuJI), was formed
in 1992, allegedly with
financial support from
Osama-Bin- Laden himself,
HuJI now has an estimated
strength of 15,000 followers
and is led by Shawkat-
Sheikh Farid in Chittagong.
172 Scholar’s Voice: A New Way of Thinking PRADEEP KUMAR RAI
ISI sought ULFA's support in carrying out sabotage activities in Assam.
ISI has asked all the Muslim groups of Northeastern India to disturb Republic
Day functions and all Madarsas have been asked to extend logistic support to
cadres inducted into the region for taking sabotage activities.
ISI has set up a printing press at Peshawar to help ULFA and other insurgent
organisations to bring out various publications against government of India.6
Most of the insurgent group in the Northeastern India supported by ISI stepped up
sabotage activities in the region immediately after the Kargil conflict, as a result of which
a spurt in violent activities such as kidnapping, killing, etc., have taken place in Assam,
Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur.
If the intelligence agencies are to be believed, ULFA is being encouraged by
China, Myanmar, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and trying to create unrest in the Northeastern
states by using separatist focus of the region. In 2003, a large number of ULFA militants
were flashed out of Bhutan, forcing them to shift their bases to Bangladesh and Myanmar.
In Bangladesh, ULFA is said to be trained and helped by Pakistan's ISI and even Al
The Role of Bangladesh
"The population of East Bengal (Bangladesh) is increasing at alarming
speed. Their inhabitants face acute shortage of land. The Bangalis need land,
which can be given by Assam. Assam abounds in good forests and beautiful
scenes of nature. If some in habitants of Bangladesh migrate to Assam and settle
there permanently, they will be very happy. Actually Assam should have been
included in East-Pakistan. "
Farmer President of Bangladesh
Bangladesh's strategic location near the high seas and bordering major
insurgencies, coupled, with poorly manned borders, provided traffickers a golden
opportunity to transfer arms to conflict areas. One of the major routes has for years, been
the see route, with arms originating in South-East Asia, passing through Thailand and
landing at Cox's Bazar in South-East Bangladesh. Cox Bazar in Bangladesh has emerged
as a major part for supply of illegal arms and ammunition worth crores of rupees to the
insurgent outfits of the region.8
India shares a 4,095 Kilometers border with Bangladesh, the longest among all its
neighbors. Of this, four Northeastern states Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Assam-
account for 1,879 kilometers, while the eastern state of West Bengal has a border running
2,216 kilometers along Bangladesh. An area of 6.5 kilometers has not been demarcated
yet, and two Joint Boundary Working Groups have been set up to complete the boundary
It has also been reported to operate training camps near the border of
Bangladesh, where member of separatist groups of the Northeastern states, known as the
United Liberation Front of Seven Sisters (ULFOSS) are trained with military equipment
and terrorist activities. These groups include the National Security Council of Nagaland
173INSURGENCY IN NORTH-EAST INDIA: CROSS BORDER…. Vol. 1, No. 1, January 2009.
(NSCN), Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), and
the Northeast Students Organization (NESO).10
Bangladesh's main militants outfits, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), was
formed in 1992, allegedly with financial support from Osama-Bin- Laden himself, HuJI
now has an estimated strength of 15,000 followers and is led by Shawkat-Osman-aka-
Maulana or Sheikh Farid in Chittagong. Its members are recruited mainly from students of
Bangladesh's more than 60,000 madrasas (seminaries), and year 2001, they called
themselves the 'Bangladeshi Taliban'. The group has become notorious for masterminding
violent attacks on Bangladesh’s Hindu minority, as well as on moderate Bangladeshi
Muslims. In June 2001, a 25 member Taliban team from Afghanistan had camped in
Bangladesh to train the Mujahedeen. HuJI has been training Mujahedeen in six camps in
the hilly areas of the Chittagong districts of Bangladesh since the last few years. Indian
intelligence report suggests that the recruits are primarily from the Quomi madrasas.11
On May 10-11, 2002 nine Islamist fundamentalist groups, including HuJI, met at
a camp near South Ukhia and formed the Bangladesh Islamic Manch. The new umbrella
organisation includes groups purporting to represent the Rohingyas and the Muslim
Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA), a small group operating in Northeastern India.
However, whilst the Jamaat is cautiously moving towards the goal of an Islamic
state its elevation to the government has greatly encouraged the other more extreme
fundamentalist groups like the HuJI and others as well as many individuals. The linkages
of Harkat group with banned Islamic militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-
e- Toiba, groups operating in the Middle-East Muslim refugees from Myanmar (the
Rohingyas), Indians in Kashmir, the anti- Taliban forces in Afghanistan, The Russians in
Chechnya, Muslim radicals from Malaysia and
Indonesia along with much needed support and aid of
the ISI suggests that Bangladesh is fast becoming a
breeding ground as wel1 as safe haven for not only
the spread of Islamic fundamentalism but also
fomenting insurgency movements and related
violence and instability in Myanmar, Nepal and
The report further says that besides camps
that are run by the outlawed All Tripura Tiger Force
(ATTF) as bases for training and operation in the
Sylhet, Chittagong and Camilla areas. There are
about 18 camps being maintained by the National
Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) on the other
border areas in Bangladesh. Other Naga rebels as
well as urban guerrillas of Manipur have also been using Bangladesh territory for shelter
and operation. These extremists often use the Tripura border as a corridor to their bases in
Bangladesh. With the heavy American Presence in Pakistan, many militants who fled
The two sides also decided
to step up measures to check
narcotics smuggling and to
launch joint operations
against the militants
operating on either side of
the international border. The
cooperative attitude of the
Myanmar government has
proved fruitful in curbing the
movement of militant groups
along the Indo-Myanmar
174 Scholar’s Voice: A New Way of Thinking PRADEEP KUMAR RAI
Afghanistan in October and November 2001 have found it safer to hide in Third World
Countries. In early 2002, a ship reportedly sailed from Karachi to Chittagong carrying an
assorted crowd of militants from Afghanistan.13
Myanmar: Safe Haven to Hostile Territory
India shares a 1670 km. long land border and, a maritime border of 200 km. with
Myanmar. The Indo-Myanmar border remains comparatively peaceful, and there is no
noteworthy border conflict between the two countries. However, the separatist feelings and
legacy of discontent among the various tribes straddling the borders still survives. Until
recently, many northeast insurgent groups like the Naga rebels, Mizo rebels and the Meitis
had their bases in Myanmar. When Myanmar was also afflicted with the menace of
insurgency in the 1960s and 1970s many outlawed Indian insurgent groups had maintained
close links with Myanmarese insurgent groups like the Cochin Independence Army. Some
Myanmar tribals belonging to the kuki Chin group were reportedly fighting for merger of
lands inhabited by them with India.14
Various terrorist groups operating in Northeastern India have bases and camps in
the areas in Myanmar bordering the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and
Mizoram. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland -Khaplang (NSCN-K) has its
training camps and its Central as well as General Head quarters (GHQ) in Myanmar. The
NSCN-IM, ULFA and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) also have camps
in Myanmar. Among the other groups known to have a presence in Myanmar are the Kuki
National Army (KNA) and Kuki National Front (KNF).15
The insurgent groups on both sides of Indo-Myanmar border have found it
suitable for their free movement across international frontiers. They face no problem in
crossing the border because of the free passage between the border towns of Moreh in
Manipur and Tamu in Myanmar. The NSCN and ULFA activists use this route for drug
trafficking and use the sale proceeds for procuring arms. The Kachin Independent Army
(KIA), Burmese Communist Party, The Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) and other such
groups reportedly maintain links with NSCN and ULFA activists for drug trafficking
across the border. In order to stem the tide of border crossing by the insurgent groups, the
Indian and Myanmar officials held a meeting in June 1999 to have a detailed discussion on
the problem of cross-border terrorism in the Northeastern India.
Apart from talks on enhancing mutual border trade, the two sides also agreed to
check movement of militants across the border and strengthening of communication
networks along the international border. The two sides also decided to step up measures to
check narcotics smuggling and to launch joint operations against the militants operating on
either side of the international border. The cooperative attitude of the Myanmar
government has proved fruitful in curbing the movement of militant groups along the
In the early stages, governments in Myanmar turned a blind eye to the presence
of Indian militant groups in border areas that were loosely governed, and often in the
control of Myanmarese ethnic rebels. However, increased interaction between the
175INSURGENCY IN NORTH-EAST INDIA: CROSS BORDER…. Vol. 1, No. 1, January 2009.
governments of Myanmar and India has resulted in the former initiating armed action
against the insurgents. At least two such incidents of attacks by the Myanmarese troops on
the NSCN-K have been reported. In the first, a weeklong operation commenced on
February 6, 2000 in which the outfits Council its General Headquarters in Chumnu as well
as camps in Numnu and Wangrup, came under attack from an estimated 1,000 troops. On
May 6, 2001, Myanmarese, troops launched yet another operation against the NSCN-K.
Furthermore, joint -operations by Indian and Myanmarese security forces have compelled
the ULFA terrorists to relocate their camps to Southwest Myanmar, along the border with
the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh.
The Chinese Connection
From the early 1960s and throughout the 1970s, China was reported to be
involved in rendering material and moral support to insurgent groups in the Northeastern
India. The hostile nature of Sino-Indian relations in the aftermath of the 1962 Sino- Indian
war was regarded as the main reason for China's anti-India stance and the resultant support
to the outlawed insurgent groups. In May 1966, the Nagas approached the People's
Republic of China for 'any possible assistance'. Subsequently, Isaac and Muivah, leaders of
Nagaland National Council with a band of 300 men reached Yunan province in January
1967, where the Naga rebels were imparted with the knowledge of arms and guerilla
tactics, and they were indoctrinated in Maoism.I7
With Chinese support the Naga
insurgency became stronger and more intense with better tactics and modern weapons.
During the late 1960's and early 1970's the Chinese covert support to the Naga
insurgents brought about a better understanding between the Burmese and Indian armies.
In recent years, especially since 1993, China has come out with a promise to scale down
their support to the Nagas and the Mizos. In High-level exchanges during the Vajpayee
government, China promise not to assist Naga and Mizo insurgencies. The United
Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) terrorists in Assam have procured arms from the
Speaking in parliament on December 13, 2000,
MoS, Home Affairs, I.D. Swami, said that a surrendered
ULFA militant had disclosed that some of his
colleagues crossed over into China via Bhutan and
established contact with the Chinese Army in 1993.18
news report of December 2000, quoting unnamed
intelligence sources, said that a consignment worth an
estimated US$750,OOO reached Cox's Bazaar, a coastal
town in Bangladesh at around the same time, another
report claimed that an arms consignment had arrived in
Myanmar at a town named Tamu, close to the border
Following the military offensive by the
Bhutanese government against the ULFA, NDFB and KLO militants camping in southern
Bhutan during the third week of December 2003, these militant outfits appealed to China
The military action by the
Royal Bhutan Army
against the outlawed
continued for over a week
culminating in the Killing
of about 200 insurgents
and arrest of over 100.
The arrested militants
were handed over to the
176 Scholar’s Voice: A New Way of Thinking PRADEEP KUMAR RAI
for shelter and help. On 27 December 2003, the leaders of ULFA and NDFB in a joint
letter addressed to the Chinese president Hu Jintao requested for shelter and medical
facilities for insurgents fIuing Bhutan who could be forced to enter Chinese territory
'extra-legally'. While rebuffing the outlawed Indian militant outfits, China on 31 December
2003 started that the insurgents would be barred from entering and would not be allowed
to violate the 'security and stability' of its borders with India. A statement issued by the
Chinese embassy in New Delhi said that china would "not allow its territory to be used by
anybody for activities against other countries."20
India welcomed the stand of China.
The Bhutan Connection
Given India's porous borders with Bhutan, the militant groups from Assam have
frequently sought refuge in Bhutanese territory. It has proved virtually cumbersome for the
Indian security forces to handle the militant groups operating from Bhutan. At the
beginning of 2000, it was estimated that about 4,000 ULFA activist and over 1,000 Bodo
militants had crossed over to Southern Bhutan. These insurgents sneaked into the dense
forests of Bhutan on the Indo- Bhutan border as far back as in 1992 and established some
two score training camps between Kalokhola and Daifam. Their activities increased in,
Bhutan due to pressure from the Bangladesh government of late. However, In July 1999
the Government of Bhutan served an ultimatum of ULFA, NDFB and other insurgent
groups to leave the country or face eviction. Meanwhile, the Bhutan government decided
to enforce a cut-off in supplies to the insurgent camps.
The Bhutan government had two rounds of talks with the ULFA during
November 1998 to May 1999. The Bhutan government asked the ULFA insurgents to
relocate their camps and leave Bhutan as early as possible. After that Bhutan government
asked the Bhutanese people to desist from helping the militants by providing them
supplies. The security forces were ordered to ensure that roads, footpaths, mule-tracks and
bridges remain blocked to cease the supplies to militant’s camps.
Since the early 1990s much of ULFA's terrorism was originating from the group's
hideouts in Southern Bhutan. The subsequent period saw the National Democratic Front of
Bodoland (NDFB) and the Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO) also setting up their
camps in Bhutan and launching their operations against India. These groups, particularly
ULFA, reportedly enjoyed good rapport with the local people. By early December 2003,
there were 30 camps belonging to these militant groups and these were located in Southern
According to broad estimates, about 3, 000 militants belonging to ULFA, NDFB
and KLO armed with sophisticated weapons like AK-47 rifles, grenades, rocket launchers
were located in different parts of Southern Bhutan.
The military action by the Royal Bhutan Army against the outlawed Indian
militants continued for over a week culminating in the Killing of about 200 insurgents and
arrest of over 100. The arrested militants were handed over to the Indian authorities. Prime
Minister of India, A.B. Vajpayee in his address to the SAARC summit on 4 January 2004
said that the Bhutanese action was 'an outstanding example of sensitivity to security
concerns of a neighbor.
177INSURGENCY IN NORTH-EAST INDIA: CROSS BORDER…. Vol. 1, No. 1, January 2009.
The Role of Nepal
India shares about 1,750 Km. long border with Nepal, which is almost porous. Of
the 75 districts of Nepal, 30 touch the international border between India & Nepal. The
territory of Nepal is used as the safest entry point for intelligence operation by the ISI.
Nepal has also in recent years come to occupy an important factor in the militants
perception. Basically, this is due to the fact that Nepal serves as a good contact point for
the purchase of sophisticated armory by various insurgents groups based in the
Northeastern India. The militant do not face much hurdles sneaking into Nepa1.22
The emergence of Bhutan and Nepal as new safe heavens for the insurgents
further complicates matters in terms of India's security concerns. The continued
interference of the ISI, and its subversive activities in encouraging secessionism and the
rise of Islamic fundamentalism is a serious threat to the entire country's socio- political
stability. The Indian Government cannot afford to ignore the rising threats Pakistan poses
on its sensitive border areas.
The problem of insurgency is a serious challenge to India's security and territorial
integrity. Over the years, the Indian government has been able to stem the tide of
insurgency only in some of the state of the Northeastern region. However, the worst
affected states like Assam, Nagaland and Manipur need special attention on both internal
dimensions as well as external linkages having a bearing on insurgency.
The process of a thaw in Indo- Pakistan relations is gaining ground gradually, yet
there has been no laxity in the ISI's anti-India activities. In order to stem the tide of the
ISI's nefarious, activities, there is a dire need of forging an understanding with the
immediate neighbors, particularly Bangladesh and Nepal, to impress upon these countries
the need and urgency for disallowing the ISl's agents and outlawed insurgent groups to use
their territory for anti-India activities. China's open statement of not rendering assistance to
Naga and other rebel groups augurs well for India. However, the final solution of the Sino-
Indian border holds the key. India has to tread cautiously in respect of China. Bhutan's
exemplary role in flushing out the terrorists can be showcased by India through the
SAARC forum to impress upon other neighbours to emulate the example of Bhutan.
Thailand has also served as a facilitator for the insurgents groups of the
Northeastern India. The Nagas have an office in Bangkok, some of the ULFA leaders lived
here in exile. In the 1990s, ULFA leader Paresh Baruah was based in Bangkok. Bodos
make frequent trips to the Thai capital. Even the ISI is known to distribute counterfeit
Indian currency from Bangkok. However, after the 9/11 terrorist attack and the bombing of
Bali, Thailand has come down heavily on the militants.23
At the bilateral level India and Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, India and Bhutan,
India and Nepal and Bangladesh and Myanmar need to sit separately on issues of
insurgency, religious fundamentalism, illicit trafficking of arms and narcotics, regardless
of how sensitive the issue may be similarly, since small arms are rapidly spreading in
South Asia, regional cooperation through South Asian Association for Regional Co-
178 Scholar’s Voice: A New Way of Thinking PRADEEP KUMAR RAI
operation (SAARC) would be helpful in limit insurgency, Regrettably, conventions such
as the Anti-Terrorism Act initiated by SAARC members, have not proved to be effective,
cooperation with Interpol is also much needed. Tracing these smuggling rings requires
financial investment, technology and skilled manpower and cooperation between the
developed and developing countries are an inescapable necessity. India's fight against
insurgency and associated terror in the Northeastern India required a multi-pronged
approach involving all the concerned actors, and stake holders within the region.
1. Lawrence E. Cline, "The insurgency Environment in Northeast India", Small Wars and
Insurgencies, Volume 17, Number 2, June 2006, P-141.
2. J.N. Dixit, "Anatomy of a Flawed Inheritance: Indo-Pakistan Relations", Konark Pub.
Delhi, 1978, P-272. '
3. Binalakshmi Nepram, "South Asia: Fractured Frontier' Mittal Publications New Delhi,
2002. P -151-152.
4. P.V. Ramana, "Networking' the Northeast: Parteners in Terror" Faultlines, Vol. -II, April
5. Jaideep Saikia, "ISI Reaches Middle East: Anatomy of a Conspiracy," Studies in Conflict
and Terrorism, Vol. 25, 2002. P-191.
6. B.B. Kumar (Edited) "Illegal Migration from Bangalsdesh" Astha Bharati, New Delhi,
7. The Times of India, Lucknow, January 15, 2007.
8. Dipankar Sen Gupta and Sudhir Kumar Singh, "Insurgency in Northeast India: The Role of
Bangladesh". Authors Press, New Delhi, 2004, P-279.
9. Wasbir Hussain, "Border Talks: A forward Movement, but in Benial on Terror",
10. http://www .fas.org/irp/world/pakistan/isi/
11. The week, 5 January 2003, p-1.
12. Dipankar Sen Gupta and Sudhir Kumar Singh, "Insurgency in Northeast India: The role of
Bangladesh". Authors Press, New Delhi, 2004, P-282.
13. Ibid, p- 202.
14. Phanjoubam Tarapot, "Insurgency Movement in Northeastern India,” Vikas Publishing
House, New Delhi, 1993, P-143.
16. Anil Kumar Singh, "Insurgency in India: Internal and External Dimensions", Aakrosh,
Vol.7, Number 25, October 2004 P-74.
17. V.LK. Sarin, "India's North- East in Flames" Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1980,
18. The Indian Express, New Delhi, December 14, 2001
19. "The arms were reportedly to be handed over ultimetely to the NSCN-IM",
20. The times of India, 1 January 2004.
21. Digambar Patowary, "Flushing Out Militants no Mean Task," Hindustan Times, 20
22. Anil Kumar Singh, "Insurgency in India" Internal and External Dimensions, Aakrosh, Vol-
7, Number -25, October 2004, P-75.
23. Vir Sanghvi, "Patient India wants Thai Operation Theatre Closed", The Hindustan Times,
31 July 2004.