By M.A. Athul*
Security Forces (SFs) killed a militant of the Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) near Tissa village in Longding District on December 11, 2017. A Colt pistol, a radio set and other incriminating documents were recovered from the possession of the militant.
On September 4, 2017, SFs killed an NSCN-K militant and wounded another near Votnu village under Wakka circle in the Longding District. An AK-56, a radio set and a hand grenade, along with live bullets, were recovered from the incident site.
On September 1, 2017, another NSCN-K militant was killed by SFs near Kunsa village in Longding District. According to defense sources, SFs carried out the operation acting on specific intelligence about NSCN-K cadres trying to exfilitrate from the Indian State to Myanmar.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, the State recorded at least six fatalities (all militants) in six separate incidents through 2017, as against nine fatalities (seven militants and two SF personnel) in four separate incidents in 2016. Significantly, the State did not record a single fatality in the SF category for seven years between 2008 and 2014, but witnessed four and two SF fatalities in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Apart from killing six militants in 2017, SFs also arrested 46 militants in 33 separate incidents. These included 15 militants each of the Reformation faction of NSCN (NSCN-R) and NSCN-K; 11 militants of the Isak-Muivah faction of NSCN (NSCN-IM); four militants of the Unification faction (NSNC-U) and one militant of the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP). Additionally, a link man working for both NSCN-K and the Independent faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-I) was also arrested. In 2016, SFs arrested 48 militants in 28 incidents.
Significantly, the State did not record any civilian fatality in 2017. In fact the last civilian fatality in the State was on February 6, 2015, in Monmao of Changlang District, when two porters were killed and nine Assam Rifles (AR) troopers were wounded in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast.
Out of 22 Districts of Arunachal Pradesh, insurgency-related fatalities in 2017 were reported from two Districts: Longding (five) and Tirap (one). In 2016 as well, fatalities were reported from two Districts: Tirap (6) and Changlang (three). Indeed, the overall security situation in the State improved further through 2017. However, there are lingering hurdles to securing permanent peace.
Abduction-for-ransom and extortion continues to thrive and infuse fear among people. At least two incidents of abduction-for-ransom were reported in 2017 in addition to two such incidents in 2016 (such incidents often go unreported, as victim families seek a ‘private’ settlement with abductors). Similarly, there were at least four reported incidents of extortion in 2017 in addition to four such incidents in 2016. All these incidents (abduction-for-ransom and extortion) in 2017 were reported from three Districts: Changlang, Tirap and Longding. In 2016 also, all such incidents were reported from Changlang, Tirap, and Longding. Interestingly, of the 46 arrested militants in the State this year, 13 were arrested for involvement in extortion. In 2016, 10 of 48 arrested militants were involved in extortion. In the latest incident, on December 1, 2017, Arunabh Phukan, the son of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Dilip Phukan, from Tinsukia in Assam was abducted at Khandu Basti in the Changlang District of Arunachal Pradesh, and a ransom demand of INR 20 million was raised. He was later released on December 25. The family of the victim denied paying any ransom.
Moreover, Longding and Tirap, the two most insurgency affected Districts of Arunachal Pradesh (besides Changlang) share a border with Myanmar, which is being used by North East militant groups as a base. The Indo-Myanmar border has unsurprisingly witnessed significant violent activities in 2017 and earlier Between January 1, 2000, and December 28, 2017, these three Districts have accounted for a total of 93 fatalities: Tirap, 66 (two civilians, eight SF personnel and 56 militants); Changlang, 18 (three civilians, three SF personnel and 12 militants); Longding, 9 (all militants).
Providing details, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir informed the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) on April 10, 2017, that between 2015 and March 2017, the Indo-Myanmar border witnessed a steady rise in insurgent activities, with as many as 206 encounters reported between militants and SF personnel, spread across Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. Among the four States sharing a border with Myanmar, the maximum number of encounters took place in Arunachal Pradesh – as many as 81, in which three SF personnel and 13 militants were killed. 114 suspected insurgents were arrested in the first three months of 2017 alone and there were 13 incidents of encounter between SFs and militants.
India and Myanmar share a 1,643-kilometers (km) long boundary, of which 520 kms lie along Arunachal Pradesh, followed by Mizoram (510 kms), Manipur (398 kms), and Nagaland (215 kms).
Arunachal Pradesh also faces the problem of illegal settlement of foreigner, particularly the presence of about 54,000 Chakma and Hajong refugees (primarily Buddhists and Hindus respectively) who had settled in the State since the 1960’s from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in erstwhile East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh). The Chakmas and Hajongs are predominantly settled in Subansiri, Lohit and Tirap Districts, the last two of which are also afflicted by insurgency.
On September 13, 2017, the Government of India (GoI) decided to grant citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refugees, acting on a 2015 Supreme Court ruling which called for ‘limited citizenship’ for the refugees, implying that they will not get land rights or be recognized as Scheduled Tribes (ST) of Arunachal Pradesh. Opposing GoI’s decision, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU), a State level student’s organization, called for a day long strike on September 19, 2017. Violence was reported from several parts of the State, including the Capital, Itanagar, where public transport vehicles came under attack. At least four State-owned buses were damaged and several private vehicles were attacked.
Perturbed by the move, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu, in a letter to the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, on September 18, 2017, Stated:
As mentioned by me in our meeting recently, I reiterate that the people of my State are not ready to accept any infringement on the Constitutional protection bestowed on the tribals of Arunachal Pradesh and want to ensure that the ethnic composition and the special rights enjoyed by the tribes of my State are safeguarded at all cost.
Later, on December 3, 2017, the All Papum Pare District Students’ Union (APPDSU), a local level student body, appealed to the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) of Balijan Circle in Papum Pare District, not to include the names of Chakma voters in the fresh electoral rolls of the Doimukh Assembly Constituency.
Moreover, according to an April 28, 2017 report, an unnamed National Investigation Agency (NIA) official noted that a new Naga militant outfit, identified as Eastern Naga National Government (ENNG), based in the vicinity of Changlang District, was formed on January 14, 2016. NSCN-IM is said to be the brain behind this outfit, with the objective of destabilizing NSCN-K, which largely dominates the three Districts of Changlang, Tirap and Longding in Arunachal Pradesh, which provide a densely forested gateway to Myanmar. Several cadres of NSCN-K reportedly joined ENNG, and significant internal clashes were expected because of the defections. However, no such incidents were recorded through 2017 in the State. Moreover, no incidents of NSCN-K militants defecting to ENGG have been recorded till date in the current year. However, ENGG is involved in extorting from contractor working on infrastructural projects in the State.
Amidst some of these worries, the Government is expectedly pushing forward with development projects in the State. A significant infrastructure project is the 9.15-kms long flagship of Bhupen Hazarika Bridge built over river Lohit connecting Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The bridge, inaugurated in May 2017, reduced the travel time between the two States by as much as four hours. Earlier the ferry service, the only available mode of transport, normally took more than six hours between Dhola village and Sadiya. The newly constructed bridge reduces the travel time between the Dhola village and the remote Sadiya subdivision of Tinsukia and opens up another route to the eastern Districts of Arunachal Pradesh. Crucially, the Roing area in the Lower Dibang Valley District of Arunachal Pradesh is connected to Chapakhowa the main town in Sadiya subdivision, which in turn is connected to Tinsukia town via the Dhola-Sadiya Bridge.
According to a September 22, 2017 report, the National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) will invest INR 150 billion in the State, to cover 800 kms of road. Additionally, in a significant boost for Hydel projects, the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited (NEEPCO) signed a loan agreement under the Indo-German Bilateral Development Cooperation (IGBDC) for completion of the Pare Hydro-electric Plant in Arunachal Pradesh. The agreement provides for an additional funding of Euro 20 million.
While security measures must be sustained, accelerated development initiatives in the fields of infrastructure and economy are of enormous significance for the long-term stabilization of this strategically critical State.
* M.A. Athul
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management