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INTERNAL CHALLENGES

Mizoram Faced With Persisting Irritants

The state continues to grapple with acute issues of drug abuse and arms smuggling.

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Mizoram did not witness a single insurgency-related fatality for the fourth consecutive year in 2019. The last insurgency-linked fatality was reported on March 28, 2015, when three policemen were killed in an ambush by militants of the Democratic faction of Hmar People’s Convention (HPC-D) near Zokhawthiang in Aizawl District. Only 36 insurgency-related fatalities have been recorded in the State between 2000-2020 (data till March 8, 2020), averaging less than two fatalities per year.

In comparison, the entire North East region comprising of seven states, including Mizoram, has recorded on an average 585 fatalities per year.

Significantly, the State took measures to address two lingering issues in 2019. The first of these was the settlement of Brus who were residing in refugee camps in adjoining Tripura. In an agreement signed on January 16, 2020, more than 30,000 displaced Bru tribals from Mizoram, who were in refugee camps in Tripura, would be permanently settled in that State.


The quadripartite agreement was signed between representatives of the Brus, the Government of India (GoI) and the State Governments of Mizoram and Tripura. Over 30,000 Brus (also called Reangs) had fled Mizoram in 1997 after ethnic clashes following the killing of a Mizo forest guard.

There have been at least nine attempts for repatriation of the Brus to Mizoram till date, with the latest round of repatriation organised between October 3, 2019, and November 30, 2019, during which 1,165 Brus, belonging to 289 families had returned to Mizoram.

Till date, 11,107 Bru refugees (2,239 families) have been repatriated back to Mizoram.


The second issue was the detection of illegal immigrants. On December 6, 2019, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to give GoI’s approval to the Mizoram Maintenance of Household Register Bill, 2019, in order to detect foreigners and curb infiltration into the State, which borders Myanmar and Bangladesh.

An unnamed senior official from the Chief Minister’s office stated, on December 6:

“The bill is aimed to identify the illegal foreigners and check infiltration in Mizoram. It would also help the government in maintaining internal law and order situation, protect the indigenous people and genuine residents of the state.”

Earlier, on March 19, 2019, the State Assembly had unanimously passed the Mizoram Maintenance of Household Register Bill, 2019, which aims to create registers containing the names, details and photographs of every resident of the State, on a household basis.

Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana had informed the State Assembly in January 2020 that between 2015 and January 2020, at least 20,765 people were arrested for entering Mizoram without the Inner Line Permit (ILP).


Nevertheless, Mizoram continued to face lingering issues which may have a bearing on its security situation in the long run. One such issue is the smuggling of arms. Some of the significant incidents of arrests related to arms smuggling in 2019 include:

December 25, 2019: Border Security Force (BSF) personnel recovered three rifles (one each of M16, AK-56, AK-47) and a pistol and 954 rounds of ammunition from Parva village in Lawngtlai District.

August 7: Two people were arrested along with 199 rounds of ammunition from Chhinga Veng Village in Aizawl District.

August 21: A Myanmar national was arrested along with three AK-series rifles from the Samthang area of the Champhai District of Mizoram.

On February 26, 2020, Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana stated in the Mizoram Assembly that between 2004-05 and 2019-20, the State Police recovered 632 different arms, 47,510 rounds of live ammunition and 314 magazines smuggled in, mainly from Myanmar. The seized arms included 134 AK-47 rifles, eight AK-56 rifles and 26 Light Machine Guns. He also added that, in 2019-20, at least 23 different smuggled arms were seized in addition to 27 in 2018-2019.

Significantly, a May 11, 2019 report indicated that, according to intelligence officials, weapons entered north-east Indian states from Myanmar and were routed to neighbouring Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) via Mizoram.

Another issue which has continuously plagued the state has been the issue of drug abuse. A January 2020 report indicated that 54 people had died of drug abuse in 2019, with heroin being the main killer. In 2018, the deaths reported due to drugs stood at 36.  Between 1984 and 2020, at least 1,578 people have died in the State due to drug abuse. 1984 was the year in which the first drug related death due to heroin was reported in Mizoram.

Moreover, according to officials, 3,254 people were also arrested in 2019 on drug charges.

More recently, according to a March 1, 2020, report, 134 people were arrested in a state-wide crackdown on drugs over a fortnight. At least 57 people were arrested between February 22 and 29, while 77 people were arrested between February 16 and 21. Separately, on February 29, 2020, Mizoram Police recovered 3.9 Million methamphetamine tablets worth INR 970 Million at Vairengte in Kolasib District.


According to Mizoram Excise department data (available up to June 15, 2019), 4.1 Kilograms of heroin, 66 kilograms of Marijuana and 102,424 tablets of methamphetamine had been recovered in the State in 2019. The total recovery through 2018 stood at 8.7 kilograms of heroin, 187 kilograms of Marijuana and zero methamphetamine tablets.

Meanwhile, though the state was kept out of the purview of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), with the provision that States under the ILP system would not come under the purview of the Act, the State witnessed protests against the controversial Act, which was passed on December 12, 2019. These protests included:

December 16, 2019: A demonstration was held against CAA in front of Vanapa Hall in Aizawl (Aizawl District). The leaderless protest was organised through social media by using the hashtag ‘#zoramrevolutionmovement”.

January 8, 2020: Hundreds of protesters belonging to the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), Mizoram’s apex students’ body, waved black flags at the lone Mizoram Member of Parliament (MP), C. Lalrosanga, at Lengpui Airport at Aizawl. The MP had voted in favour of CAA.

January 10, 2020: MZP observed ‘black day’ in protest against the passing of CAA. MZP volunteers hoisted black flags at various places.

All these protests were, however, non-violent in nature.

The state had vehemently opposed the initial attempt to introduce the then Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in the initial months of 2019, during which MZP and the Young Mizo Association (YMA), the apex Mizo youth organisation, had boycotted the 2019 Republic Day (January 26) and forcibly prevented two officers of the Indian Administration Service (IAS) from attending Republic Day functions in Aizawl.

The State appears unprepared to tackle these law and order issues. On October 13, 2019, Mizoram Director General of Police (DGP) S.B.K. Singh asserted that the Police was facing a manpower crunch, as new recruitment did not correspond to the number of personnel who retire in a year. He stated that more than 300 Policemen retired every year.

A huge shortage of Policemen had developed in the State, because the recruitment process was not regular. He also added that the present strength of the State police was 9,000, while it is supposed to be at least 12,000.

According to latest available Bureau of Police Research & Development (BPR&D) data, as on January 1, 2019, as against the sanctioned strength of 11,087 personnel, the State had 8,414 personnel in position, a deficit of 24.1 per cent.

Although the State has been immune from significant insurgency-related violence since 1986, it continues to grapple with acute issues of drug abuse and arms smuggling which can have a substantial impact in the long run in the State, as well as across the north-east region.

While some fitful measures are put in place from time to time, a broad proclivity to political and administrative lethargy has allowed these problems to persist well beyond their natural life.

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.

M A Athul

M A Athul is a Research Assistant with the Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi. He is currently working on research and documentation of insurgency in North East India. He has also worked on the field on West Asia and Afghanistan

 

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INTERNAL CHALLENGES

‘Narco-Terrorism’ Rising In Punjab?

There is a visible unity of purpose between narcotics smugglers and Khalistani and Kashmiri terrorists.

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India’s premier investigation agency, mainly tasked with the investigation of terrorism cases, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), is currently investigating two cases of narco-terrorism in Punjab, one registered in 2019 (RC-18/2019/NIA/DLI), and the second in 2020 (RC-03/2020/NIA/DLI). Following are the details of the two cases:

Three persons were arrested with 500 grams of heroin and INR 120,000 in drug money, and a case was registered in Tarsikka, Amritsar District, on May 31, 2019. Another three accused were arrested in December 2019. The NIA re-registered the case on January 22, 2020, and took over the investigation.

An NIA release on February 10, 2020, disclosed:


“During the investigation, the role of Harmeet Singh @ PHD, Pakistan based chief of Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), a proscribed terrorist organisation, has emerged in running a cross-border narco-terror network through drug smugglers, militant elements and hawala operatives based in Punjab and other States in India. Harmeet Singh @ PHD is believed to have been killed in Pakistan recently.”

Harmeet Singh aka PhD was killed on January 27, 2020, outside the Dera Chahal Gurudwara on the outskirts of Lahore, in what has been variously reported as a financial dispute over drug money and, separately, as a conflict over an illicit affair.

On May 29, 2020, NIA filed a charge sheet against 10 accused, further exposing linkages:


“Role of Harmeet Singh @ PhD…. and Jasmeet Singh Hakimzada, a Dubai based international drugs smuggler and money launderer, has prominently emerged in running the Narco-terror network to further the terrorist activities of KLF. The network included persons involved in smuggling/ selling of Heroin, militant elements and Hawala Operatives based in Punjab, Delhi and Dubai responsible for the entire chain from the selling of Heroin to channelizing the proceeds to Dubai/Pakistan at the behest of Harmeet Singh and Jasmeet Singh Hakimzada. Both the afore-mentioned prime accused have been charge-sheeted as absconders and further proceedings are on against them as per the extant laws.”

The earlier case relates to the seizure of 532 kilograms of heroin and 52 kilograms of mixed narcotics on June 29, 2019, at the Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Attari, Amritsar. A case was registered at the Customs Commissionerate, Amritsar, on the same day.

The NIA re-registered the case on July 24, 2019, and took over the investigation. It filed a charge sheet on December 27, 2019, against 16 accused persons and business entities, including Farookh Lone and Tariq Ahmad Lone, both residents of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

Later, on May 28, 2020, NIA filed a supplementary charge sheet in the case against the 17th accused, narco-terrorist Amit Gambhir aka Bobby aka Bablu aka Shoe Mallet aka King India Amit Sir.

As per the NIA release:


“The investigation established the involvement of an international drug racket based in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan. The investigation also revealed evidence of the generation of funds through the sale of narcotics smuggled from across the international border for funding terrorist activities in Jammu & Kashmir.”

In between, on May 9, 2020, along with teams of Punjab Police and Haryana Police, NIA carried out intelligence-based raids in Sirsa, Haryana, and arrested narco-terrorist Ranjit Singh aka Rana aka Cheeta who, along with co-accused Iqbal Singh aka Shera, is the prime accused in case RC18/2019/NIA/DLI.

According to an NIA release:

“Investigation revealed that Pakistan based entities are smuggling narcotics from Pakistan into the Indian territory by hiding it in sacks of rock salt which is imported from Pakistan… The investigation also established that the seized consignment was a part of a total of 5 consignments of drugs, 4 out of which had been successfully smuggled into India… NIA investigation has revealed that Pakistan based terrorist organisations are using narcotic trade to generate funds for terror activities in India. The proceeds of narcotic trade are transferred to Kashmir valley through Couriers and Hawala channel for terrorist purposes.”

Ranjit Singh is also the prime accused in the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) terror funding module which was neutralized with the arrest of Hilal Ahmad Wagay, a resident of Nowgam, Awantipora, J&K, with INR 2.9 million in cash in Amritsar by Punjab Police on April 25, 2020.

This money was being transported to the Kashmir Valley, to be handed over to HM’s then Kashmir ‘chief’ Riyaz Naikoo (killed on May 6, 2020).

The NIA is investigating this case as well.

Investigations in the Attari case have also revealed that the consignment was to be delivered to Tariq Ahmad Lone in Kashmir. The role of the Taliban also came to the fore during the investigation.

According to a July 20, 2019, report, after a 120-day long operation, the Delhi Police special cell busted a heroin racket, controlled by a Taliban leader and his Pakistani counterpart (names not mentioned), estimated to be worth INR 50 billion.


According to investigations, the drug syndicate based in Jalalabad in Afghanistan sends drugs through trade routes via J&K, from where it reaches to Delhi in cars and SUVs, and then to Western Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

Further, on January 12, 2010, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) identified and neutralized an international drug cartel allegedly led by a Taliban leader in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and arrested nine Afghan nationals at Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI), New Delhi.

Significantly, the United Nations Drugs and Crime Office (UNODC), in a report released on June 25, 2020, estimated Afghanistan’s 2019 total farm-gate value of opium poppy at USD 404 million, cultivated over 163,000 hectares of land.

Meanwhile, the Parliament was informed on December 10, 2019, that, according to 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.

Indeed, according to a June 8, 2020, report, despite a strict lockdown in India and some restrictions in neighbouring Pakistan in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, cross-border smuggling continued unabated along the India-Pakistan border in Punjab. A total of 81.84 kilograms of heroin worth INR 4.09 billion was seized by law enforcement agencies between March 24, 2020, when the lockdown was imposed, and May 31.

An unnamed Border Security Force (BSF) official observed, “In the last over two months, our forces have thwarted several attempts by anti-national elements to push contraband inside the Indian territory.”

Sources also indicate that at least 72 incidents of seizures of ‘composite consignments’ [weapons/drugs/Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN)] 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. 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.

However, with Indian Security Forces (SFs) plugging the gaps along the land and riverine border used to smuggle goods, the possibility of using of drones for sending composite consignments is being increasingly explored. NIA is already investigating the Punjab Drone Case (RC-21/2019/NIA/DLI) re-registered by the agency on October 1, 2019. The case was first registered by the Punjab Police on September 22, 2019, following the arrest of four persons along with a consignment of arms, ammunition, explosives and FICN on the outskirts of Chohla Sahib town, Tarn Taran District, in Punjab. It was later confirmed that the consignment had been dropped by an Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) originating from Pakistan.

On March 18, 2020, the NIA filed a charge sheet in the case against nine Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) terrorists.

Investigations in the case have revealed,

“…the consignments were sent through a total of 8 sorties of drones on 5 days in the month of August and September 2019. The consignments were received by accused Akashdeep Singh, Subhdeep Singh, Sajanpreet Singh and Romandeep Singh.”

Several reports of Pakistani drones spotted flying in the Indian air space have emerged in recent past. In 2020 alone, and in Punjab, these prominently include:

January 13, 2020: A drone from Pakistan was spotted at the Indo-Pak border in Indian air space at Tendiwala village in Ferozepur District. An unnamed senior official stated, “The drone was seen for 4-5 minutes. BSF personnel tried to shoot it down but could not do so. Then, it disappeared.”

January 15, 2020: A Pakistani drone entered Indian Air space near the border at Channa Pattanam near the Ajnala Sector of Amritsar District. The BSF fired around 100 rounds, though they were unable to recover the drone due to the dense of fog in the area.

February 2, 2020: BSF personnel and some villagers reportedly spotted a drone-like object along the border in Jalalabad subdivision of the Fazilka District.

According to a February 12, 2020, report, Punjab Police is concerned about the growing use of technology in the narco-terrorism racket from across the border in Pakistan, with about 40 movements of sophisticated UAVs noticed in the Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Ferozpur and Fazilka Districts of Punjab.

Most recently, on June 20, 2020, the BSF shot down a Pakistan drone strapped with arms along the International Border at Rathua village in the Hiranagar sector of J&K’s Kathua District. A US-made M4 semi-automatic rifle, two magazines with 60 rounds and seven M67 Chinese grenades were found mounted on the drone.

Several drones and their remains have also been recovered. On September 26, 2019, a five-member NIA team reportedly visited the spot in Amritsar District where a China-made drone had been destroyed by KZF terror module members. The interrogation of arrested persons revealed that they had also thrown several parts of the drone into a canal near Dhode village near Jhabalin, Amritsar District.

On September 29, 2019, Police recovered missing parts of the drone from the Dode-Chhapa canal near Chabhal town in Tarn Taran District.

Again, on September 27, 2019, the SFs recovered a drone from Mahawa village near Attari on the Indo-Pak border in Amritsar District.

On January 11, 2010, a soldier, Rahul Chauhan, was arrested along with two Chinese-made drones and arms. Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Amarinder Singh, showing pictures of the Chinese drones, said in the State Assembly on February 26, 2020, “These are the drones which we were able to catch and we do not know how many such drones are still there with people of Punjab.”

With SF pressures along the border in Punjab mounting, the sea route through Gujarat has also been explored. SFs had seized five kilograms of heroin from Salaya in Devbhumi Dwarka District of Gujarat and arrested Aziz Abdul Bhagad on August 12, 2018.

The value of the seized drug consignment, with origins in Pakistan, and having suspected nexus with terror organisations, was estimated at INR 150 million in the international market. Aziz Abdul Bhagad revealed that a total of 300 kilograms of heroin was brought to 150 nautical miles off Mandavi coast (Kutch District) in two tranches from Pakistan and was later brought to land using fishing dhows.

According to reports, the consignment was brought to Mandavi for Rafiq Adam Sumara (arrested later). Rafiq Adam Sumara, meanwhile, had delivered the consignment of 295 kilograms of heroin to two Kashmiris – Nazir Ahmad Thakar and Manzoor Ahmad Mir – in Unjha, Mehsana District, Gujarat, at the instructions of Simranjeet Singh Sandhu. From there the consignment reached Amritsar in Punjab through Rajasthan.

There is a possibility of linkages between this case and the Attari case.

There is a visible unity of purpose between the smugglers, Khalistanis and Kashmiri terrorists, under the direction of ISI. The Director-General of Police (DGP), Punjab, Dinkar Gupta, thus observed:

“It is the jihadi outfits who have shared the drone capabilities with the Khalistani groups, and our understanding is that outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT] and Jaish-e-Mohammed [JeM] have a whole inventory of these drones.”

Significantly, a LeT militant, identified as Javed Ahmed Bhat (29), a resident of Shirmal village in Shopian District of J&K, was arrested from the Pathankot District of Punjab on June 13, 2020. According to a State Government press release, Bhat was intercepted and arrested along with his truck from Dhobra Bridge, Pathankot, on the Amritsar-Jammu Highway, by the Pathankot Police when he was trying to escape to the Valley on learning about the arrest of his accomplices. Bhat’s initial questioning revealed that he had come with his accomplices Aamir Hussain Wani (26) and Wasim Hassan Wani (27) from Kashmir Valley to Amritsar District to collect the weapons consignment in the guise of bringing fruits and vegetables. Aamir Hussain Wani (26) and Wasim Hassan Wani (27) were arrested from Pathankot District on June 11, 2020, and 10 hand grenades, one AK-47 rifle with two magazines and 60 live cartridges were recovered from them. Both the militants are residents of Shopian District, Kashmir. The duo, actively involved in transporting automatic weapons and hand grenades from Punjab to the Kashmir Valley, was arrested by the Pathankot Police, who intercepted a truck at a police barricade on the Amritsar-Jammu highway. Punjab DGP Gupta, after the arrest had disclosed that the search of the truck led to the recovery of the arms and ammunition and that the accused, during the preliminary investigation, revealed that they had been directed by one Ishfaq Ahmed Dar aka Bashir Ahmed Khan, a former J&K Constable, currently an active LeT militant in the Kashmir Valley, to collect the weapons’ consignment from Punjab.

Meanwhile, ongoing investigations in all these cases indicate that several narco-terrorism networks have been established by the ISI to further its disruptive strategy in Punjab. These networks include the KLF module, the International Sikh Youth Federation (IYSF) module, and the KZF Module. These networks have planned their operations with minute precision. For instance, the KLF module has five prominent players – Harmeet Singh @ PHD, operating out of Pakistan (now dead); Jasmeet Singh Hakimzada, based in Dubai; Kulwinder Khanpuria, based in South East Asia; Jagbir Singh, Nirrmal Singh Neeldhari and Bobby.

Four of these – Jagbir Singh, Harmeet Singh, Jasmeet Singh Hakimzada, Nirrmal Singh Neeldhari – have been charge-sheeted by NIA in RC-03/2020/NIA/DLI case (the Attari seizure case). Harmeet Singh, operating out of Pakistan, had been sending drugs to Jagbir Singh with the help of Kashmiri operatives.

Harmeet used to get grenades delivered at a prefixed location in Ferozepur, from where Jagbir Singh collected these. Jagbir Singh then used his resources in India to send drugs and grenades to other areas.

The use of narco-terrorism by Pakistan is not something new. In an interview with the Washington Post published way back, on September 12, 1994, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had disclosed that, in November 1990, Gen. Aslam Beg, the then Pakistan Army Chief of Staff, and Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, then head of the ISI, had told him that the armed forces needed more money for covert foreign operations and wanted to raise funds through large-scale drug deals.

Sharif added, “General Durrani told me, we have a blueprint ready for your approval,” and further:

“Both Beg and Durrani insisted that Pakistan’s name would not be cited at any place because the whole operation would be carried out by trustworthy third parties. Durrani then went on to list a series of covert military operations in desperate need of money… I told them categorically not to initiate any such operation, and a few days later I called Beg again to tell that I have disapproved the ISI plan to back heroin smuggling.”

Sharif admitted that he had “no sources” to verify that ISI had obeyed his orders to abandon the plan, but said that he assumed the agency had complied.

Indeed, the Washington Times in the same report had noted:

“According to military sources, the intelligence agency has been pinched for funds since the war in Afghanistan ended in 1989 and foreign governments – chiefly the United States – stopped funnelling money and arms through the ISI to Afghan mujaheddin guerrillas fighting the Soviet-backed Kabul government. Without the foreign funds, the sources said, it has been difficult for the agency to continue the same level of operations in other areas, including aiding militants fighting Indian troops across the border in Kashmir.”

With the Indian SFs thwarting every ISI attempt to force J&K into the turbulent phases of the 1990s and early 2000s and to relaunch the ‘Khalistan Movement’ in Punjab, the ISI has sought to increase the use of narco-terrorism in Punjab over the past few years. In doing so, the agency has revived its ‘K2 (Khalistan and Kashmir) Strategy’ launched in 1988 under the General Zia-ul-Haq regime. Initiating Operation Topac, Zia had directed ISI to wrench J&K from India and export terror into Punjab.

Pakistan has been relentless in its pursuit of these goals, to the extent of supporting a significant cadre and leadership of Khalistani terrorists on its soil for well over two and a half decades since the comprehensive defeat of the movement on Indian soil.

As new avenues, routes and technologies are explored by Pakistan to facilitate its enduring strategy, Indian SFs and intelligence agencies will have to continuously intensify efforts and improve capacities and capabilities to effectively counter this dangerous design.

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

BJP Sarpanch Sajjad Ahmad Shot Dead By Terrorists In Kashmir

This is the 2nd attack of its kind in less than 48 hours as a BJP Panch Arif Ahmad was critically wounded.

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KULGAM (Jammu-Kashmir UT): A BJP Sarpanch was shot dead by Pakistani-sponsored terrorists in Vessu Qazigund area of south Kashmir’s Kulgam district this morning.

Senior Superintending of Police, Kulgam  Gurvinder Pal Singh said that the terrorists fired upon the Sarpanch Sajad Ahmad Khanday near his residence Vessu at 9:15 AM this morning.

Meanwhile, the security forces have soon after the incident, launched a massive manhunt to nab the assailants. A case has been registered in Police Station Qazigund and further investigation in the matter has been initiated.


This is the second attack of its kind in less than 48 hours as a BJP Panch Arif Ahmad was critically wounded after terrorists had fired upon him at Akhran Qazigund on the evening of August 4.

Last month, former BJP district president Waseem Bari, his father and brother were killed inside their shop after militants fired on them from close range. Bari had 10-member police security and all of them were suspended and arrested because they were not with him when he was attacked.

In June, Congress sarpanch Ajay Kumar Pandita was killed outside his house at Lokbhawan in Anantnag district.


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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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