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INTERNAL CHALLENGES

Is Meghalaya Witnessing Attempts At Insurgency Revival?

Meghalaya govt and civil society groups need to broaden the political discourse to limit violent identity-based politics,

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On June 11, 2020, unidentified miscreants hurled a petrol bomb at the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation

On June 11, 2020, unidentified miscreants set ablaze a vehicle belonging to the District Social Welfare Officer, L. Lyngdoh, at Mawkyrwat in South West Khasi Hills District.

On June 7, 2020, unidentified persons assaulted a NHIDCL engineer, Sujit Kumar Singh, and his driver at Nonglang village in South West Khasi Hills District.


Though all these incidents are under investigation, there is a discernible pattern indicating the likely involvement of Khasi militant group Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC).

On June 3, 2020, HNLC militants shot at and injured a businessman, Dharambir Bansal, at Kyllong Mathei village in the West Khasi Hills District. A day later, Sainkupar Nongtraw, HNLC’s ‘general secretary’ and ‘publicity secretary’ admitted:

“Our organization (HNLC) hereby claims responsibility for yesterday morning shootout at Kyllong Mathei village [in] Shallang. Yesterday’s operation was a warning shot (against one Dharambir Bansal Dharmu)…”


Sainkupar Nongtraw further stated that at this time of novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), thousands of youths have been rendered jobless and added:

“If the so-called businessmen do not provide jobs to our locals then they do not have the right to operate their businesses as they are earning profit and revenue from our Hynniewtrep land.”

HNLC on June 4, 2020, warned all businessmen to pay ‘income tax’ to the outfit or ‘face the consequences’.

Earlier, on February 20, 2020, HNLC had detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) inside a coke factory owned by Dharambir Bansal at Kyllon Mathei village in West Khasi Hills District. Sainkupar Nongtraw had stated:

“We claim responsibility for the IED explosion at Kyllon Mathei Pyndeng Jalong because all these coke factories are benami businesses. These factories are flourishing with the help of local politicians and businessmen. It is an irony that even the employees are all non-locals and our own people are deprived of jobs.”


HNLC had on February 19, 2020, demanded INR 130 million from Dharambir Bansal.

On January 16, 2020, HNLC militants had planted an IED in an under-construction coke plant of M/S Meghalaya Coke at Bther village in East Jaintia Hills District.

Claiming responsibility, Sainkupar Nongtraw had stated:

“On January 16, 2020, HNLC militants had planted an IED in an under-construction coke plant of M/S Meghalaya Coke at Bther village in East Jaintia Hills District.”

Claiming responsibility, Sainkupar Nongtraw had stated:

“After we read in the media about the opposition from three villages and pressure groups to the setting up of the coke plant, we tried to verify the fact. We found out that local traditional heads like the Doloi (traditional chief) of Sutnga Elaka (traditional local administrative unit) and the headmen had used their power to issue a no-objection certificate [NOC] to set up the plant. The HNLC had no option but to plant the IED but its members restrained themselves from exploding the IED as there were people around.”

HNLC was formed in 1992 with the main aim to ‘liberate’ Hynniewtrep (Khasi and Jaintia) from the ‘authoritarian rule’ of the Government of India, protect Khasi and other tribes from exploitation, preserve indigenous culture and fight against any attempt to divide Khasi society.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal here have been a total of 56 HNLC-linked fatalities (16 civilians, nine Security Force, SF, personnel, 30 militants, one unspecified) since March 1, 2000 (data till June 19, 2020).

The peak in terms of fatalities was recorded in the year 2001 when HNLC was found involved in 16 fatalities (nine civilians, five SF personnel, one militant and one unspecified).


Over the past decade and a half, the militant formation lost it prowess almost to the point of oblivion after the group lost a substantial number of cadres, mostly to surrenders or arrests.

According to SATP, since March 1, 2000, SFs have arrested 209 militants (all data till June 19, 2020). Another 176 HNLC militants surrendered during this period, due to sustained SF pressure.

In the latest incident of surrender, on February 12, 2020, the ‘finance secretary’ of HNLC, Wankupar Marwein aka Bahhep Traisiej, surrendered before the State Police in Shillong.

The recent spurt in activities can be linked to the reconstitution of HNLC’s ‘Central Executive Council (CEC)’ on January 2, 2019. The CEC is headed by ‘chairman’ and ‘commander-in-chief’, Bobby Reagan Marwein; ‘general secretary’ and ‘publicity secretary’, Sainkupar Nongtraw; ‘vice-chairman’, Khrawbok Jyrwa; ‘foreign secretary’, Alex Diengdoh; ‘finance secretary’, Wanshan Marwein; ‘organising secretary’, Riewpyrkhat Sun; and ‘socio-cultural secretary’, M. Rynjah.

The HNLC is trying to regain its foothold in the state. For this purpose, it is using extortion to enrich its coffers and is exploring all opportunities to secure public support by exploiting popular sentiments.

Indeed, following the killing of a Khasi Students Union (KSU) activist, identified as Lurshai Hynniewta, on February 28, 2020, HNLC on March 1, 2020, had issued an ultimatum to all the Hindu-Bengalis to leave the Ichamati and Majai areas of Shella in East Khasi Hills within one-month. Sainkupar Nongtraw in a statement had warned,

If they fail to do so by not complying to our ultimatum then we shall not be made responsible in case of any eventuality. This time it shall be mass bloodshed.

Sharing the details of the incident, Meghalaya Police wrote on its Facebook page:

“There was a KSU meeting in Ichamati today [February 28] afternoon. At around 3 pm, after the meeting, clashes broke out between KSU members and local non-tribals of the area. Thereafter, the KSU members burnt a haystack at the edge of the market and attempted to burn a house. The non-tribals retaliated and stoned one bus carrying KSU members. One local taxi which had gone to collect the KSU members from the Ichamati market after the clashes were damaged; one vehicle of the EAC [Extra Assistant Commissioner] J. Umdor, MCS [Meghalaya Civil Service] also got damaged. Four members of KSU were injured, two were sent to Ichamati CHC [Community Health Centre] and released, and two were referred to Sohra CHC. The person driving the local taxi viz Shri Lurshai Hynniewta, 35 years, S/o Late Serkin Nongkyndrih R/o Khliehshnong Sohra, succumbed to his injuries.”

Meanwhile, there are reports of Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) cadres trying to regroup in the Garo Hills region of the State. South Garo Hills Superintendent of Police Abraham T Sangma told The Shillong Times that Police had received credible information from their sources that GNLA militants, with support from United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) cadres and criminal gangs from the neighbouring country, Myanmar, were planning to revive GNLA.

GNLA had been all but decimated on February 24, 2018, when its ‘commander in chief’ Sohan D. Shira was killed in an encounter with commandos of the Meghalaya Special Force-10 at Dobu A’chakpek in East Garo Hills District. Since the formation of GNLA in November 2009, Meghalaya recorded at least 173 militant fatalities, among which 160 were linked to specific militant groups. Of these 160, at least 83 were drawn from GNLA. GNLA linked fatalities were highest in 2012, at 39 (22 civilians, one trooper and 16 militants).

There was a consistent decline in total fatalities after that. Since February 24, 2018, no GNLA linked fatalities were recorded.

There is a need to remain extremely vigilant with regard to the degraded insurgent movements in Meghalaya. The potential for revival, based on a local emotive issue like jobs for locals and preservation of identity, persists.

Apart from dealing with these groups coercively, the State Government and civil society groups need to broaden the political discourse to limit the ascendency of violent identity-based politics, in order to secure an enduring solution to the recurrent cycles of violence.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Published with permission from South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

Giriraj Bhattacharjee

Giriraj Bhattacharjee is a Research Assistant at the Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi.

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INTERNAL CHALLENGES

India’s Northeast And The Border Disputes

The disputes largely pertain to Assam and the four states that were carved out of it.

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Decades-old inter-state border disputes, which have the potential to provide new spaces to terrorist formations, threatening the tenuous peace in India’s troubled Northeast, have once again come to the fore.

The Assam-Mizoram border flared up on October 9, 2020, when, according to Mizoram Government, officials of the Karimganj District, Assam’s Forest Department and Assam Police set ablaze a farmhouse owned by John Zolawma of Thinghlun village in Mizoram’s Mamit district, along the Assam-Mizoram border. Many plantations, including over a thousand betelnut plants, were destroyed by the Assam officials. Subsequently, according to reports, clashes erupted between the locals. However, officials on the two sides met and the situation was controlled.

But the ‘peace’ did not last long.


Clashes again erupted in the night of October 17, 2020. There were several versions of this incident. Deputy Inspector General of Police, Southern Assam, Dilip Kumar Dey, explaining the incident claimed that a COVID-19 testing centre had been set up by the Mizoram Government at Lailapur (Cachar District, Assam), 1.5 kilometres into Assamese territory, on October 16, to test samples of Mizoram-bound truckers and other people. “The testing centre was set up unilaterally and under the pressure of Mizoram’s NGOs,” Dey claimed, despite the Cachar Police’s strong objections to the setting-up of the centre without the permission of the Assam Government.

Following this, Day asserted, some youths from Mizoram came to Lailapur on October 17 and attacked truck drivers and villagers, and burnt more than 15 small shops-cum-houses. An unnamed police officer in Cachar claimed that more than 50 people, mostly truck drivers, were injured when assailants from Mizoram threw stones and bricks at them.

Villagers of Mizoram’s Mamit District, which is contiguous to Cachar, however, alleged that miscreants from Cachar came to their villages and attacked shops and houses, causing huge damage.


According to a third version, three persons were reportedly injured when several huts made by some people of Lailapur in Cachar District were set ablaze by some people from the Mizoram side who claimed that the huts were made in the ‘disputed border area’ of Assam and Mizoram.

Subsequently, the people of Lailapur clashed with residents of neighbouring Vairengte in the Kolasib district of Mizoram, in which seven persons from the Mizoram side were injured.

Meanwhile, both Governments have blamed each other.

The Mizoram State Cabinet on October 18 blamed the Karimganj and Cachar District administrations in Assam for the flare-up.

In a statement released after a Cabinet meeting, the Mizoram Government said that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) had been informed of the “transgressions committed by the government of Assam”. The statement said that essential supplies had been choked off by a road blockade “organised by Assam” on interstate highways. It also announced that security would be beefed up in the “affected border areas”. Soon thereafter, the Mizoram Government deployed additional troops along the Border.


On the other hand, on October 18, the Assam Forest and Environment Minister Parimal Suklabaidya blamed the incident on “miscreants from the other side of the border.”

Both sides, however, discussed the issue after the intervention of the Union Government on October 21 and some sort of normalcy was briefly restored.

On October 22, however, bomb blasts took place in a school located in the Khulicherra area in Assam, near the Assam-Mizoram border. Assam’s Additional Director General of Police, Law and Order, Gyanendra Pratap Singh stated: “The blasts that damaged the property of the government school was possibly triggered by the miscreants to frighten the border residents.”

Tension further escalated on October 30 after two farmers were kidnapped “by the people belonging to Mizoram” while they were working at their paddy field at Tulartal village. An Assam Government release stated that people in Tulartal, Baghewala, Singua and Lailapur areas were “being terrorised by Mizo miscreants and to reassure(d) them that the state government is with them”.

At the time of writing, tension continues to prevail along this border. National Highway 306, Mizoram’s lifeline, remains closed with around 300 goods-laden vehicles stranded on either side of the border. The people sitting on the blockade in Assam are reportedly demanding the withdrawal of Mizoram’s security personnel from Assam’s territory.

On the other hand, Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana asserted that his administration would not call off security personnel from the border with Assam till normalcy is restored.

If the blockade prolongs, it will be difficult for Mizoram, which secures all its essentials, food grains, fuel and various other goods and machines through this highway.

The people in the region, which like other areas, are already facing economic hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will have to go through face challenges. Both the tensions on the border and the greater strains imposed on the people open up the possibilities of a revival of dormant terrorist groups in the region.

Such groups would also secure some support as a result of claims by locals that current clashes along the border were not an issue between Assam and Mizoram, but the act of “illegal Bangladeshis” on the Assam side, who they blame for the current flare-up.


B. Vanlaltana, president of the Mizo Zirlai Pawl, a Mizo student organisation, asserted, “Illegal Bangladeshis are creating all this trouble. They come and destroy our huts, cut our plants and this time pelted stones on our policemen.”

Samuela Zoramthanpuia, general secretary, Mizo Zirlai Pawl, adds, “Most of them are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who claim to be locals. They are not Assamese or Indians.”

It is useful to recall that the “foreigners’ issue” led to the emergence and sustenance of several insurgencies and terrorist groups in the region.

Meanwhile, Meghalaya has also demanded the resolution of its border issue with Assam. It may be mentioned that Assam and Meghalaya have at least 12 areas where there are boundary disputes. Both states have adopted a policy where one state cannot carry out developmental activities in these areas without informing the other.

On October 31, 2020, Assam Minister of Finance, Health, Education and PWD, Himanta Biswa Sarma, stated that the border issue would be resolved on priority by UMHA, soon after the upcoming Assam Assembly Elections, as “some groundwork has already been done by MHA [UMHA] for a larger solution”. Biswa Sarma elaborated:

“After the Assam elections, you will see an active dialogue between all northeastern states. [Union] Home Minister Amit Shah has asked all states already and he has done his homework on this. Immediately after Assam elections, the Home Ministry’s topmost agenda will be resolving the border disputes across the northeast… We don’t want to initiate a dialogue process across northeast immediately since the Assam government will be there only about three-four months and so it’s better that the dialogue should start with the new government.”

Similarly, Union Joint Secretary (Northeast), UMHA, Satyendra Garg, stated, on October 22:

“We will be working for a permanent solution. I am hopeful that the border dispute between Mizoram and Assam will be permanently resolved by March or later next year.”

It is pertinent to recall here that inter-state border disputes in the region largely pertain to borders between Assam and four other states – Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland – each of which was who carved out of undivided Assam.

Manipur and Tripura, which were princely states, were not part of Assam, and do not have any border issues with Assam.

The moot question, however, is, why did the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Government not try to resolve these issues earlier, if it is so sure of resolving the issues soon after the elections? The BJP has been in power in Assam since 2016 and at the Centre since 2014. Are the current flareup and the promises of early resolution an election gimmick?

New Delhi appears to neglect the reality that these issues have the potential to push the region back into turmoil at any stage and should be handled with utmost care. Embroiling the region in divisive electoral politics is fraught with untold risks.

It is to be noted that the inter-state boundary dispute between Assam and Nagaland is the most prominent and has resulted in the most violence, mainly backed-by terrorist groups.

Indeed, in August 2014, in a series of violent incidents, 20 persons were killed: 14 Adivasis (tribals from Central India settled in the Northeast region) killed by miscreants from Nagaland; and another six persons killed in a clash with the Police. Several others have been injured in the disputed ‘B Sector’ of the Assam-Nagaland border in the Golaghat District. Following the incidents, Nagaland and Manipur were cut-off by road after an economic blockade was imposed against Nagaland by various Assam-based organizations.

There are other inter-state border disputes in the region, including those between Mizoram and Tripura, one of which has flared up since August 2020, when both sides reasserted their respective claims over Phuldungsei village in the Jampui Hill Range, falling along the border of the two states. The situation worsened when “Songrongma”, a Tripura based tribal organisation, declared it would construct a Shiv Temple and do community activities in the area on October 19 and 20. Authorities in Mizoram issued prohibitory orders in the area on October 16.

The proposed construction had been planned without the permission of the Mizoram Government and was “against the interest of the local community”, and could “harm the peace and tranquillity in the region”, the order said.

Earlier, on October 8, Mizoram Home Secretary Lalbiaksangi had written to his Tripura counterpart Barun Kumar Sahu, asking him to intervene and stop the proposed construction, since any activities on the disputed inter-state border could result in law and order problems.

Though the order was withdrawn, with the Mizoram Government claiming that this was done as the organisation has called off its plans to build the temple, the fact is that Tripura had sent a letter to Mizoram saying that “the prohibitory order issued by the Mamit district magistrate, Mizoram. on 16 October is indicating areas of North Tripura district of Tripura state in his order, which is highly objectionable“.

Mizoram has now demanded that Tripura withdraw its Forces deployed in the area during the tensions. Mizoram Home Secretary Lalbiakangi, in a letter dated October 28, to Tripura Home Secretary Barun Kumar Sahu, demanded, “As the area in which the TSR [Tripura States Rifle] is positioned and new constructions being made is inside Mizoram, you may shift the TSR from Thaidawr Tlang [Phuldungsei village is known by this name in Mizoram] to a location inside Tripura and stop and remove all constructions at this location.”

Though the Tripura Government has not responded so far, an unnamed Tripura official was quoted as stating, “It doesn’t work this way, that anyone comes one fine morning and claims a part of our state as theirs. Denying the claim is also an acknowledgement of dispute. This is a part of Tripura.”

The relative peace in India’s Northeast remains extremely fragile, and is at continuous risk, particularly as a result of rampant divisive politics, the enduring neglect of a number of simmering disputes, and the protraction of the many agreements arrived at between the Government (both State and Central) and various currently dormant insurgent formations.

These various issues demand urgent attention, in good faith, lest the gains of the past decade are compromised.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Published with permission from South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

Ajit Kumar Singh

Dr Ajit Kumar Singh is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Conflict Management and is involved in research on conflicts in South Asia. After completing his M.Phil. on "Emergence of Afghanistan as Buffer between Tsarist Russia and British Indian Empire (19th Century)", from JNU, New Delhi, he was awarded Ph.D. on "The Ethnic Conflict and State Structure in Afghanistan: 1989-2001".

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INTERNAL CHALLENGES

Paresh Baruah’s ULFA-I Trying To Get On Feet From China?

At present, the approximate cadre strength of ULFA (I) is said to be around 250.

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On October 4, 2020, an Assam Rifles (AR) trooper, Havildar Birendra Singh Yadav, was killed while another trooper was injured when terrorists ambushed their vehicle (a water tanker) near Hetlong village in the Changlang District of Arunachal Pradesh.

Later, the Independent faction of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-I), in an email sent to the media, claimed that it, along with the Yung Aung faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K-Yung Aung) and Revolutionary People’s Front/People’s Liberation Army (RPF/PLA), had jointly carried out the attack. NSCN-K-Yung Aung also sent an email reiterating the same claim.

On July 29, 2020, three AR personnel were killed and another five injured when terrorists ambushed their vehicle at Khongtal village in the Chandel district of Manipur. ULFA-I subsequently sent an email claiming that it, along with the Manipur Naga People’s Front (MNPF) and the RPF had jointly carried out the attack.


Significantly, after the demise of Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang, the ‘chairman’ of the Khaplang faction of the NSCN (NSCN-K) on June 9, 2017, and the subsequent internal feud within the NSCN-K, the ULFA-I ‘commander-in-chief’ Paresh Baruah seems to have emerged as the leader of the Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs) in Myanmar. This is evident with both Naga and Manipuri groups carrying out joint strikes, especially with the ULFA-I, after June 9, 2017.  Altogether 31 fatalities (one civilian, 20 SF personnel and 10 militants) have been registered in nine such joint strikes since that date.

Meanwhile, in the operations by the Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw) in January 2019 targeting IIGs, ULFA-I suffered the most. According to an affidavit filed by the Assam State Government in September 2020, before the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) tribunal, Tatmadaw operations targeting IIG camps in the Taka area of Sagiang Region had damaged the “Lungmark, Taka and Nilgiri camps of ULFA -I. Several cadres also deserted the outfit.”

Since the operations in Myanmar, 85 ULFA-I militants have surrendered (data till October 9, 2020). 51 of them surrendered in 2020, all in Assam.

In 2019, 34 ULFA-I cadres had surrendered (33 in Assam and one in Arunachal Pradesh). 35 ULFA-I militants had surrendered before the operations, since August 8, 2012, when ULFA-I was formed. Six ULFA-I militants surrendered in 2018, two each in 2017 and 2016, one in 2015, five in 2014, 18 in 2013 and one in 2012.


The group’s activities on the ground almost came to a halt after the Tatmadaw operations.

The July 29, 2020, attack (above) was the first reported attack resulting in fatalities in which ULFA-I was involved.

However, during the intervening period, ULFA-I took advantage of several opportunities to regain its hold in the region. One such opportunity was the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 by the Parliament in December 2019 (in the Lok Sabha on December 9 and Rajya Sabha on December 11). ULFA-I declared itself in favour of the agitation that followed the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, which spread across the Northeast region and was particularly intense in Assam.

ULFA-I ‘commander-in-chief’ Paresh Baruah warned on December 11, 2019:

“The ULFA-I will not sit idle if a protesting student or any Assamese for that matter is assaulted. We appeal to Bhaskarjyoti Mahanta, Director General of Police (DGP) of Assam Police, not to lathi-charge people taking to the streets and vehemently opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. The DGP should control his police force and not harass innocent protesters.”

The enactment of CAA 2019 on December 12, 2019, when it received the President’s assent, is seen by groups representing ‘indigenous’ interest as a measure that not only legitimises present ‘illegal’ migrants, but also invites future migrations from neighbouring Bangladesh. The resultant demographic shift, they fear, will deprive indigenous populations of their political, cultural and ethnic rights. ULFA-I is trying to exploit such fears for its own ends.


Not surprisingly, ULFA’s support to the CAA agitation helped the outfit regain some support among the locals and to recruit new cadres.

Significantly, the State Government called-off the Rongali Bihu (April 14-20, 2020) celebrations citing COVID-19, but has now allowed the Durga Puja celebrations, albeit under restrictions, despite the situation on the ground being relatively worse.

Obviously, one of the reasons behind the Assam Government’s recent decision was intended to keep all dominant linguistic/ethnic groups happy before the upcoming State Assembly Elections in 2021, which are likely to be fought on identity issues.

Not to miss the opportunity, ULFA-I on September 4, 2020, urged the Assam Government to cancel the Durga Puja celebration this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stating:

“The Assam Government had called-off the Rongali Bihu [Assamese harvest festival] amid the coronavirus pandemic and now to they have allowed celebrating the Durga Puja which is not acceptable.”

ULFA-I also stated that Assamese nationalism is not religion centric. The militant group further alleged that the State government is allowing Durga Puja celebration to please Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s extremist Hindu agenda.

Obsessed with a polarizing electoral strategy, the dominant political establishment is failing to understand the degree to which providing such opportunities is helping ULFA-I gain more support and revive its strength.

Meanwhile, according to a Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) notification dated, September 18, 2020:

“The ULFA(I) led by Paresh Baruah is currently based in Ruili, Yunnan Province, China is continuing with violent activities including extortion, recruitment and procurement of arms. The members of ULFA(I) are active in Upper Assam districts of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Lower Assam districts of Goalpara, Dhubri and Guwahati city, bordering areas of Udalguri, Darrang, Sonitpur, Lakhimpur districts of Assam besides in the bordering areas in districts of Tirap, Changlang, Longing, Namsai in Arunachal Pradesh, Mon district of Nagaland and Assam-Meghalaya-Bangladesh border.”

It added, “At present approximate cadre strength in ULFA (I) is around 250”.


It is imperative for the political establishment government to ensure that disruptive and polarizing strategies do not create opportunities for relatively marginalized insurgent formations to restore their legitimacy among the population.

Unfortunately, with Assembly Elections scheduled for 2021, such hopes are unlikely to be met, putting increasing pressure on SFs to deal with the consequences.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Published with permission from South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

Giriraj Bhattacharjee

Giriraj Bhattacharjee is a Research Assistant at the Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi.

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DEFENCE-SECURITY

The India-Pak IB At Punjab Is Now The More Active Border

Given Pak’s incessant efforts to create turmoil in Punjab, the security forces will have to step up vigilance.

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On August 22, 2020, Border Security Force (BSF) personnel shot dead five unidentified armed Pakistani intruders in the Tarn Taran District of Punjab. A BSF spokesperson said that after suspicious activity was noticed near the India-Pakistan International Border (IB) in the region, the troopers “cordoned the area and challenged the intruders to stop and surrender. The Pakistani armed intruders did not pay any heed to the challenge and opened fire on the BSF troops resulting in a gun-battle.”

Later, the troopers recovered dead bodies of five slain intruders along with nine packets containing 9.92 kilograms heroin, an AK-47 rifle, four 9mm Beretta pistols, and some ammunition.

This was the most violent incident, in terms of the number of fatalities, recorded along the India-Pakistan International Border in Punjab, since 2000, according to data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM).


The worst previous incident was recorded on January 21, 2014, when BSF troops deployed in the area of Border Out Post (BOP) Naushera Dhalla in Amritsar District, shot dead three Pakistani intruders and recovered 20 kilograms of narcotics and ammunition.

Other prominent incidents of violence include:

October 26, 2013: BSF troops shot dead three Pakistani smugglers near the Mullankot border outpost in Amritsar District and recovered 24 kilograms of heroin and arms and ammunition.


March 29, 2012: BSF personnel killed three intruders and recovered 10 kilograms of heroin and one pistol from the check post near pillar number 72/17, close to the Sundergarh border outpost near the India-Pakistan International Border.

March 19, 2012: A patrolling party of the BSF shot dead three Pakistani intruders near Amarkot village in Amritsar District and recovered 22 kilograms of heroin.

According to partial data compiled by ICM, since 2000, at least 22 violent incidents have been reported along the IB in Punjab (data till August 30, 2020). These incidents have resulted in a total of 33 killings (all intruders) and two injuries (both intruders), and 13 arrests.

It has been found that the perpetrators in most of these violent incidents along the border were Pakistani intruders attempting to smuggle ‘composite consignments’ [weapons/drugs/Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN)] into the State, and thereafter, further into the rest of India, in order to help Pakistan-backed terrorist groups replenish their coffers as well as their armouries.

Indeed, on August 23, 2020, a day after the gun battle at the Border, BSF personnel detained four persons after a raid in the remote rural belt along the IB in Tarn Taran for their links with the five slain Pakistani intruders in the District. The Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Dhruman Nimbale, later disclosed,:


“Prima facie it appears to be an attempt to push narcotics from the Pakistan side in connivance with drug smugglers on this side of the border. Also, we unlocked the two mobile phones recovered from the scene. The call details and data led us to some border-belt residents. The phones have been sent for technical forensic examination, as it may lead us to more drug operators.”

On December 10, 2019, Parliament was informed that, according to the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) data, large quantities of drugs had been recovered from Punjab between 2015 and 2018. These included a total of 5,414.5 kilograms of Ganja (cannabis); 1,830.72 kilograms of Heroin; 1,669.41 kilograms of Opium; 168,420.32 kilograms of Poppy Husk and Poppy Straw; and 15,888,517 tablets of all type.

SFs had arrested a total of 46,909 persons in drug-related cases over this period.

Recently, on March 4, 2020, the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliament) informed that a total of 991.64 kilograms of Ganja (cannabis); 116.98 kilograms of Hashish; 894. 95 kilograms of Heroin, 361.57 kilograms of Opium; 31,559.155 kilograms of Poppy Husk and Poppy Straw; and 79,20,932 tablets of all type were recovered in 2019. SFs arrested a total of 10,057 persons in drug-related cases in 2019.

According to a data released by the BSF, as on August 23, 2020, around 357.931 kilograms of heroin worth INR 17.89 billion in the international market have been recovered by the BSF in the State during the current year. Meanwhile, according to the Punjab Police data, 662 kilograms of heroin was recovered in the State between January 1 and July 31, 2020. This included 209 kilograms recovered by the BSF. In 2019, a total of 1,096 kilograms of heroin was recovered in the state, including a single day recovery of 532 kilograms on June 29, 2019.

SAIR has already highlighted the increasing use of the air and water routes to smuggle ‘composite consignments’, the former using drones.

More recently, according to an August 23, 2020, report, the BSF issued an alert that “Pakistan’s ISI plans to pump in a massive consignment of drugs, arms and ammunition inside India with the help of drones”.

The intelligence wing of BSF also alerted the Security Forces (SFs) that Pakistan intended to use drones to attack security establishments near the IB in Jammu and Kashmir’s RS Pura and Samba sectors. The possibilities of such attacks in Punjab cannot be ruled out.

Further, according to an August 17, 2020, report, intruders from Pakistan were trying to use water channels to push ‘composite consignments’ into Indian territory. In this context, an unnamed BSF official stated:

“Enhanced vigilance by the BSF has thwarted the attempts from Pakistan to push consignments of contraband items into India and that is why they have now chosen riverine areas to push such consignments.”


Indeed, sources indicate that at least 72 incidents of seizures of ‘composite consignments’ were reported from border districts of Amritsar, Ferozepur and Gurdaspur between 2009 and 2019. The recoveries included drugs such as of heroin, opium, etc.; and weapons and ammunition including AK-47/56 rifles, pistols, and RDX, as well as counterfeit currency (Fake Indian Currency Notes, FICN).

Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) uses the services of a common network of ‘drug smugglers/couriers’ to push in ‘composite consignments’ into Indian Punjab from Pakistan, exploiting gaps along the land and riverine border.

The ‘drug smugglers/couriers’ working under the ISI’s aegis also throw the consignment over the Border fence in areas where infiltration is not suspected. Their Indian partners later collect the goods.

Meanwhile, according to an August 24, 2020 report, in a drive against the use of drones by the Pakistani operatives, the BSF, with the help of other security agencies is conducting anti-drone tests along the India-Pakistan border to shoot down any drone carrying weapon-load for terrorists in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.

To combat the narcotics menace in the State, the Narcotics Control Bureau had recently decided to undertake efforts and coordinate a crackdown along with the Punjab Special Task Force and the BSF, against drug traffickers and syndicates that operate along the India-Pakistan border.

Significantly, the Chief Minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, declared on June 26, 2020:

“…while the back of the drugs mafia had been successfully broken, the war is still continuing, with narco-terrorists from across the border continuing to push drugs into Punjab, using drones and other routes.”

The Security Forces have demonstrated their capabilities in neutralizing narco-terrorist networks and have neutralized numerous attempts by cross-border operatives to push ‘composite consignments’ into Punjab.

However, given Pakistan’s incessant efforts to create turmoil in Punjab, the security agencies will have to step up vigilance to neutralize every attempt to destabilize the situation in the State.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Published with permission from South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

Dr Indrajit Sharma

Indrajit Sharma is associated with the South Asia Terrorism Portal at the Institute for Conflict Management, a New Delhi based think tank focusing on Conflict and Terrorism in South Asia. He holds an M.Phil. and a PhD in Security Studies from Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar, India.

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