India: Corridor Insurgencies In Arunachal Pradesh – Analysis
By Mutum Kenedy Singh*
On March 9, 2023, a militant of the Niki Sumi-led faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K-NS), Jangwang Tangjang, surrendered before Security Forces (SFs) in the Tirap District of Arunachal Pradesh.
On January 27, 2023, a militant of the Isak-Muivah faction of the NSCN (NSCN-IM), Ngamnya Wangsa, surrendered before the Executive Magistrate in Tirap District. Wangsa, a resident of Longbo village in the Khonsa Circle of Tirap District, laid down one .32 mm pistol with a magazine and two live rounds.
These are the two incidents of surrender reported in 2023, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP). 27 insurgents surrendered in in the State in 2022: NSCN (faction not identified), 14; NSCN-IM, five; the Yung Aung-led faction of NSCN-K (NSCN-K-YA), three; National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Unification (NSCN-U), two; All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA), two; National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Reformation (NSCN-R), one.
There were 41 surrenders in 2021: NSCN-K-YA, 13; NSCN-K, eight; NSCN-IM and NSCN-R, five each; NSCN-U, four; Eastern Naga National Government (EENG), three; Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khango Konyak (NSCN-K2), United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I), one each. The group identity of one surrendered cadre could not be ascertained. Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on insurgencies in the Northeast, 188 insurgents have surrendered in Arunachal Pradesh.
Meanwhile, on February 28, 2023, the Assam Rifles Khonsa Battalion, in a joint operation with the Police, arrested a militant of the NSCN-IM, identified as Nali Homnyu Nyamtey, along with weapons from Noglo village in Tirap District. He was said to be involved in threatening locals and village leaders in Noglo and Laju circle of Tirap District, creating an atmosphere of fear in the area.
On February 27, 2023, SFs arrested an unidentified militant of NSCN-IM, who was part of an extortion racket, from the premises of the State Bank of India in Longding District. The arrested militant confessed to his involvement in illegal extortion on behalf of NSCN-IM.
According to the SATP database, five insurgents have been arrested in the state in 2023 (data till March 12, 2023). These include three NSCN-IM cadres and two cadres of NSCN-K-YA. In 2022, 38 insurgents were arrested: NSCN-K-YA, 13; NSCN-IM and ULFA-I, six each; People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak-Red Army (PREPAK-RA), five; ENNG, four; NSCN-U, three; and NSCN-R, one. There were 76 arrests in 2021. The arrested cadres belonged to NSCN-IM and NSCN-K-YA, 19 each; NSCN-R, 15; ENNG, 11; ULFA-I, three; NSCN-U, two; NSCN-K-NS, NSCN-K and Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), one each. Since March 6, 2020, when SATP started compiling data on insurgencies in the northeast a total of 691 insurgents have been arrested in the state (data till March 12, 2023)
Though no insurgent killing has been reported so far in the current year, three insurgents were killed in 2022. Two of them belonged to NSCN-IM and one was an over-ground worker of the NSCN-K-YA. In 2021, seven insurgents were killed: five cadres of NSCN-KYA, one cadre of Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khole-Kitovi (NSCN-KK) and one cadre of NSCN-R. Since March 6, 2020, 172 insurgents have been killed in the state (data till March 12, 2023).
On the other hand, 37 SF personnel have been killed in the state since March 6, 2000. The last SF killing was reported on May 22, 2021, when one Assam Rifles trooper was killed during an encounter with insurgents near Longvi village, near the Indo-Myanmar border, in Changlang District.
Indeed, SFs have maintained dominance on the ground, providing a relatively secure environment for civilians. 30 civilians have been killed in such violence since March 6, 2000, including one in 2022. On October 9, 2022, suspected NSCN-KYA militants killed a businessman, Atar Singh Sharma (40), in Longding District.
The insurgency in Arunachal Pradesh is a spillover from other states of Northeast India, such as Assam, Nagaland and Manipur, which continue to disproportionately affect three Districts of Arunachal Pradesh – Tirap, Changlang and Longding (TCL) – all lying on the Indo-Myanmar border. Arunachal Pradesh continues to be used as a transit route by various militant groups, whose camps are situated in the Sagaing Region of Myanmar. The Noa Dihing river flowing through Changlang District in Eastern Arunachal Pradesh acts as a navigational aid for the movement of these rebels.
TCL remains the ‘axis’ of conflict in the state. This is attested to by the fact that, of the 239 insurgency-linked fatalities in the state since March 6, 2000, 183 fatalities were reported from the TCL region. The last confirmed fatality outside this ‘axis’ was reported from Namsai District, on January 24, 2018, when an Army trooper was killed in a militant ambush on a military convoy in the Nangtaw Khamti area of Namsai District.
The NSCN-K-YA is currently not engaged in peace talks, nor has it signed a ceasefire agreement, with the Government of India (GoI). It continues to fight for ‘Naga sovereignty’ in both India and Myanmar, and is currently the most active militant outfit in the TCL region. Yung Aung has also struck up a friendship with ULFA-I ‘chief’ Paresh Baruah, and the two militant outfits operate in cohesion. Some of the operations by the two groups in 2022 included:
August 9: Suspected ULFA-I and NSCN-K-YA militants attacked a newly built Army camp at Pangsu Pass, near the India-Myanmar border, in Changlang District, injuring a junior commission officer (JCO) of the Indian Army.
May 9: The president of Pumao village, Alai Wangsu, was abducted at gunpoint by two NSCN-K-YA militants from Pumao village in Longding District.
May 8: The Gaon Burah (village headman), Napho Boham of Lauksim village, was kidnapped by suspected militants of NSCN-K-YA from Longding District. The Gaon Burah, is believed to have been kidnapped at gunpoint by militants coming from the Mon District of Nagaland.
More worryingly, though the NSCN-IM is engaged in peace talks with the GoI, it continues to engage in unlawful activities in Arunachal Pradesh.
For instance, Ngamnya Wangsa, the militant arrested on February 27, 2023, confessed that he was involved in illegal extortion in Longding District on behalf of the NSCN-IM. Earlier, on March 6, 2022, a gun battle took place between the NSCN-IM and the 6th Assam Rifles in the area between Kapu and Bera villages in Tirap District. This encounter was resulted after NSCM-IM militants made extortion demands from the road construction agency based in the village.
On September 30, 2022, to contain and neutralize the activities of these insurgent groups, the Union Government extended the ‘disturbed area’ status of these three Districts for another six months. The notification read,
Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts in Arunachal Pradesh and the areas falling within the jurisdiction of Namsai and Mahadevpur police stations in Namsai district of Arunachal Pradesh, bordering the State of Assam, are declared as ‘disturbed area’ under Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, for a period of six months with effect from October 1, 2022, unless withdrawn earlier.
Moreover, there are ethnic insecurities among ‘locals’, primarily due to a fear of losing political dominance and socio-economic benefits. Three clear instances of such insecurities are the local opposition to the demand for a Permanent Resident Certificate by six communities (Ahom, Deoris, Sonowal, Kacharis, Morans, Adivasis and Mishing) living in the Lohit, Namsai and Changlang Districts of the State; the persistent objection of the indigenous groups on giving permanent resident status to the Chakma and Hajong refugees settled in Arunachal Pradesh; and the opposition by a section of the Yobin community to the renewal of lease agreements for ex-servicemen’s families (mostly Gorkhas) settled in the Vijaynagar area of Changlang District, and their participation in Panchayat elections.
The most egregious socio-political issue prevailing in the state is that of the issuance and withdrawal of “residence proof certificates” to the Chakma Hajong communities residing in the state. These communities are considered ‘refugees’ from Bangladesh, and not natives of Arunachal Pradesh. Indigenous communities of the state have been demanding the ouster of Chakmas and Hajongs from the state since the 1990s. The All–Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU) has been demanding their resettlement somewhere else and has spearheaded mass movements against granting citizenship to the two communities. On August, 2022, the Arunachal Pradesh government announced that it would no longer be issuing “residence proof certificates” to the state’s Chakma and Hajong refugees. These documents attest to people’s place of residence and are necessary for education, employment and government schemes. The state government’s decision to suspend the issuance of these certificates was an outcome of a stir by the All–Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU).
Around 65,000 Chakmas and Hajongs, who are residents of the state, vehemently protested this decision by the state government and interpreted such a decision as majoritarian appeasement and vote bank politics. Persistent protests by the Chakmas and the Hajongs led to the state government announcing, in December 2022, that the residential proof certificates would be replaced by temporary settlement certificates. However, the agitators refused to budge, and the non-cooperation movement continued.
These complex socio-political issues are likely to continue driving a wedge, based on the insider/outsider dichotomy, between the various communities living in the state.
Maintaining peace and stability in Arunachal Pradesh is critically important due to its geostrategic location on the trijunction with three countries: Bhutan, China and Myanmar. Though insurgency-related fatalities have declined significantly, the state continues to face persisting threats from the spillover of the ‘residual’ insurgencies of other states in the Northeast, and the militant sanctuaries in neighboring Myanmar. Sustained counterinsurgency operations against Naga insurgent groups and ULFA-I in TCL areas are necessary to neutralize this threat. There is also a need to engage politically with the ethnic and student bodies leading various protests, so that their apprehensions are properly addressed and the potential for future trouble is checked. A critical external threat, moreover, is Chinese geo-political ambitions in the state, which needs to be effectively countered by a proliferation of critical logistics and military infrastructure in the border regions.
*Mutum Kenedy Singh
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management