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North East

Why This Double Standard?

The contrast between the Home ministry's treatment of the North-East and J&K is disturbingly striking. Why does New Delhi adopt a softer line towards terrorists from the east as compared to those from the west?

Why This Double Standard?
An unidentified injured of Mohorchora village, is treated at G.B. hospital in Agartala, Thursday May 8, 2003. | AP
Why This Double Standard?
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

Out of sight, out of mind. That's the attitude New Delhi seems to have adopted for the North-East, going by the reaction, or the lack of it, displayed by the Centre in the last few weeks to events in the region. Nothing else explains the lack of concern on part of the government to the unabated killings that have been taking place in the states of the north-east in the past month.

First Hmars and the Dimasas, two small tribes clashed in the hill district of North Cachar in Assam resulting in the death of nearly 35 people. Early this week, militants of the banned All Tripura Tribal Force (ATTF) and the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) killed over 35 people in Tripura in two days in three different incidents.

Apart from these two major incidents, there have been scores of killings. But except for the lightweight Minister of State for home ID Swamy making a perfunctory visit to one of the relief camps housing the Hmar tribals in southern Assam, the Union Home ministry has not even bothered to send an official to look at the problem.

Contrast this with the MHA's treatment of Kashmir. The moment Nadimarg massacre took place in J&K, Union Home Minister LK Advani himself rushed to the place to placate and commiserate with the people. And this is not the first time that this has happened. It's been going on for years. The standard excuse given in Delhi for not taking the situation in the North-East as seriously as J&K is that in the valley an external force (read Pakistan) is involved in the killings while in the seven states of the north-east, the problems mainly stem from inter-ethnic rivalries and home grown insurgent groups. This is only a half-truth.

The insurgencies are indigenous all right but many of them get help and shelter from neighbouring counties like Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The Pakistan Inter-Services Agency (ISI), may not be as active as it in Kashmir but it definitely has designs in the north-east. At least that's what the MHA keeps saying. "Cross-border" terrorism is not a fashionable word in the region as yet but the fact remains that militant groups such as ATTF, NLFT, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) have several camps in Bangladesh and Bhutan.

About three months ago, in fact, New Delhi, stung by repeated denials from Dhaka, had specifically identified "99 training camps" of North-east insurgents in Bangladesh, Border Security Force (BSF) officials had said. The list of locations has been handed over to Dhaka for action, these officials claimed.. At a border coordination meeting held in New Delhi, BSF and Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) had differed on existence of such training camps of North-East insurgents in Bangladesh. The issue of training camps was taken up by BSF Director General Ajai Raj Sharma with BDR Chief Maj Gen Rezaqul Haider during the two-day bi-annual talks in Delhi.

The list prepared by the Indian intelligence agencies, includes 25 camps run by the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), 20 run by All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), 18 by National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM). The list also includes 10 training camps run by People's Liberation Army (PLA), 17 by United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), two by National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), two by Muslim United Liberation Tiger of Asam (MULTA), three by Achik National Volunteer Council, one by Chakma National Liberation Front (CNLF), and one by Dima Halong Daogah, sources indicate.

These camps are located at Naikhongchari, Alikadam and Ruma in Bandarban district, Kaukhali, Nanirchar, Baghaichari and Dighinala in Rangamati district, Kamalganj and Srimangal in Moulvibazar district and Chunarughat in Hobiganj, the sources elaborate. The camps also exist in Dighinala, Panchari, Matiranga and Khagrachari in Khagrachari district, Chunarunhat and Madhabpur in Hobiganj district, according to the sources.

The Tripura government has also on its part taken up the matter with New Delhi asking it to speak to Dhaka in the wake of last week's massacre of 35 people by militants of the ATTF who came from their camp in Satcherri inside Bangladesh, killed non-tribal Bengalis and went back to their shelter.

And yet the, the Centre remains obsessed with "cross-border" terrorism from Pakistan. Little wonder therefore that MPs from the North-East were peeved enough to last week to go and personally call on DPM LK Advani and submit a memorandum to him. "Across the party-lines, MPs from the region have developed a strong feeling that terrorism in North-east is not taken with due seriousness as in the western border of the country including that of J&K," the MPs said in the memorandum.

Be it the killing of innocent Dimasa people in Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hill districts by suspected Hmar militants or the massacre of hapless villagers in Tripura, the Centre seems unperturbed. The strongly-worded statement had gone on to point out: .

"If such killings had taken place in Jammu and Kashmir or elsewhere in the country, the Centre would have moved heaven and earth. But here who went? Nobody!"

The delegation was headed by veteran Parliamentarian PR Kyndiah from Meghalaya and included several heavyweights from the region such as Santosh Mohan Deb, Paban Singh Ghtowar, Arun Kumar Sarma among others. Apparently, the Deputy Prime Minister, told the delegation that the Centre would look afresh at the problems in the North-East.

But within the region, a feeling is gaining ground that the North-East is a mere blink on the MHA radar. "Why else would the states have to cry themselves hoarse over getting the battalions of Army withdrawn periodically from different states back?" a senior official asks.

Take the case of Tripura for instance. Three Army battalions taken away during Operation Parakram are yet to be back in the state despite repeated pleas by Tripura. The gaps in the security grid in the state bordering Bangladesh was evident last week when marauding militants killed close to 40 people in two days. Moreover, bureaucrats and politicians in the region say, in an effort to keep our eastern neighbours happy, New Delhi chooses to adopt a soft line towards them.

As the memorandum said:

"'Being friendly with the countries bordering the North-east including Bhutan and Bangladesh we have tended to adopt an extra soft attitude, often underestimating the graveness of the situation. None of these countries could be persuaded so far to dismantle the terrorist bases, training shelters and supply of arms and other logistical support to the terrorists."

Kyndiah, the chairman of NE MPs Forum which has all 39 members of Parliament from the region as its members, charged: later in Delhi:

"A number of instances with full evidence about such bases provided by the concerned states governments was not taken care of by New Delhi. This approach of the Centre has encouraged the outfits to consolidate their bases both inside and across the border".

Clearly, the Centre will have to do a serious re-think on its policy towards insurgency and cross-border terrorism in the North-East. Or else, the already rampant anti-New Delhi feeling would get a further boost.

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