By M.A. Athul*
On September 8, 2019, Arunachal Pradesh Governor Brigadier (Retd.) B.D. Mishra sought assistance from the Government of India (GoI) to strengthen counter insurgency operation in Tirap, Changlang and Longding Districts, observing, “there is an intense drive by various insurgent groups to pick local youth from Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts for recruitment.”
Indeed, contrary to the overall trend in the North East Region (NER), where insurgency related fatalities have recorded a continuous decline since 2015, the fatalities recorded in Arunachal Pradesh as whole, and these three border Districts in particular, have witnessed a cyclical trend, with noticeable spikes in years 2018 and 2019. Acknowledging the trend, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, in a report released on July 21, 2018, noted,
The committee is also constrained to express its concern that unlike the overall north-eastern region, which shows a declining trend of insurgency-related incidents and casualties suffered by the civilians and an improvement in the security scenario, Arunachal Pradesh has seen a rise in the number of such incidents…The committee, therefore, recommends that the government should intensify its efforts to contain the spill-over insurgency activities from other states and improve the overall security scenario.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), overall fatalities in the entire NER (including Arunachal Pradesh), have declined from 469 in 2014, to 279 in 2015, 168 in 2016, 107 in 2017, 73 in 2018 and 24 in 2019 (data till September 29, 2019). On the other hand, fatalities in Arunachal have increased from nine in 2014, to 10 in 2015, came down to nine in 2016, and further down to six in 2017; but it more than doubled, reaching 14 in 2018. The State has already recorded 15 fatalities in 2019. The combined fatalities recorded in Tirap, Changlang and Longding Districts, at eight in 2014, increased to 10 in 2015, came down to nine in 2016, six in 2017, increased again to 13 in 2018 and 15 in 2019.
Significantly, these three Districts have been the epicentre of insurgency-related violence in the State for long. According to partial data compiled by SATP, since March 6, 2000, when SATP data commences, the state has recorded 216 [24 civilians, 34 Security Force (SF) personnel, 158 militants)], fatalities (data till September 29, 2019). Of these, the three Districts of Tirap, Changlang, and Longding accounted for 159 fatalities (23 civilians, 25 SF personnel and 111 militants), i.e. 73.6 per cent of the recorded.
Out of the 159 fatalities in these three Districts, Tirap accounted for 101 fatalities (15 civilians, 16 SF personnel, and 70 militants), i.e. 63.92 per cent; followed by Changlang, 44 fatalities (eight civilians, eight SF personnel and 29 militants), i.e. 27.6 per cent; and Longding, 14 fatalities (one civilian, one SF trooper and 12 militants), i.e. 8.8 per cent.
Of the 16 fatalities recorded in the State in 2019, 15, i.e. 93.7 per cent, were recorded from these three Districts. The location of one fatality, Army trooper Amit Chaturvedi on May 31, is unspecified. Again, of the 14 fatalities from these three Districts, Tirap accounted for 12 (10 civilians and two SF personnel), followed by Changlang (one militant) and Longding (one civilian).
During the entire period between March 6, 2000, and September 29, 2019, the State recorded 100 incidents of killing. The combined number for these three Districts stood at 72 [Tirap (30), Changlang 30 and Longding 12)]. In 2019, five of the six incidents of killing recorded in the State were reported from these three Districts. The location of one incident is not specified.
Of the 99 incidents of killing reported from the state between March 6, 2000, and September 27, 2019, 19 were major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities). 12 of these major incidents were reported from the three Districts [nine in Tirap District and three from Changlang]. In 2019, the only major incident reported in the state was reported from Tirap District: on May 21, 2019, a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Tirong Aboh and 10 others, including two Personal Security Officers (PSOs), were killed in an ambush by the militants of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) on the Khonsa-Deomali Road in Tirap District.
Although these Districts in particular and Arunachal Pradesh at large do not have any indigenous insurgency, the region is continuously used by insurgents from Assam and Nagaland as a transit route to and from Myanmar where their camps and infrastructure are located. Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs) have traditionally used these Districts as a logistical hub as it falls along the international border with Myanmar. Significantly, Myanmar was a safe haven for IIGs till recently, before operations by the Myanmar Army uprooted long-established rebel encampments.
Another reason for insurgents using this area as transit route is the topography. According to a January 27, 2019, report most of the camps of Assam Rifles (AR) along the Myanmar-India border, are located well inside Indian territory and not on the border, which gives an advantage to the militants to sneak through. AR camps cannot be created right on the zero line because of the lack of infrastructure and militants take advantage of this lacuna.
The major insurgent groups operating in the region include the NSCN-IM, the Khaplang faction of the NSCN (NSCN-K), Unification faction of the NSCN (NSCN-U), the Independent faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-I), and that Saraigowra faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland-Saraigowra (NDFB-S). Out of 23 civilian deaths attributed to terror outfits in the region, 19 were attributed to the NSCN-IM, two to the NSCN-K, one to the NDFB. One civilian death remains unattributed.
The region also provides a marginal recruitment pool, particularly for the various factions of NSCN, because of a significant Naga population in these Districts.
SFs have taken strong action to control the menace in the region. According to SATP data, at least 111 militants have been killed in the region since March 6, 2000, of which at least 59 were killed in clashes with SFs. This number included 20 NSCN-IM cadres, 15 NSCN-K, nine ULFA-I, five NSCN-U, five NSCN-R, one Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), one Surrendered ULFA (SULFA) and one Arunachal Pradesh Deprived People’s Front (APPDF) militant. Group affiliation of two militants could not be identified. At least 52 militants were killed in factional clashes in the region.
SFs also arrested 500 militants in the region during the period between March 6, 2000, and September 29, 2019.
Nevertheless, policing continues to be a serious concern in the State. The dire straits of the Police force were laid bare when they could not even handle or gather intelligence on the 2019 February protests, essentially a law and order issue. The capabilities of the Police force are unlikely to be augmented significantly in the near future, with a continuous dip in budgetary allocations for Police modernisation. Recent reports indicate that allocations for the State’s Police Modernisation are declining. INR 47.9 million was earmarked for Police modernisation for 2017-18, of which only INR 34.2 million was released. In comparison, INR 42.5 million was allocated in 2018-19, while only INR 10.34 million was actually released. For the year 2019-20 the allocated funds have been reduced further to INR 39.2 million.
Unsurprisingly, Arunachal Pradesh’s three troubled Districts continue to bear the brunt of the State’s insurgency. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) remains in force in the three Districts. AFSPA was once again extended on March 31, 2019, for six months (till September 30).
The Tirap, Changlang and Longding Districts of Arunachal Pradesh, which fall along India’s International border with Myanmar, are among the region’s last hubs of insurgent violence. While SF operations have done much to contain the threat, unless significant infrastructure comes up along the porous border, periodic escalations are likely to continue.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management