By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
On May 31,2019, an Army trooper, Amit Chaturvedi, was killed in an encounter with suspected United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) militants at an unspecified location in Arunachal Pradesh.
On May 21, 2019, suspected Naga militants killed 11 people including the National People’s Party (NPP) Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), Tirong Aboh and his son at the 12th milestone on the Khonsa-Deomali Road in the Tirap District of Arunachal. The fatalities included two Personal Security Officers (PSO’s). No organisation has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, nor is the motive behind the attack is known. According to reports, the State Government has decided to hand over the investigation to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
According to partial data collected by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 14 fatalities (11 civilians and three Security Force (SF) personnel have been recorded in the State in 2019 (data till June 14), demonstrating a rise in the numbers as compared to the corresponding period in 2018, when seven fatalities (one civilian one SF and five militants) were recorded. In total, 14 fatalities (one civilian, two SF personnel and 11 militants) were recorded in 2018.
The total civilian fatalities in 2019 (data till June 16) is the highest since 2001, when 40 civilians were killed through the entire year. Apart from the May 21, 2019 ambush in which nine civilians were killed, another two civilian fatalities were recorded.
On March 30, 2019, a former District Council member, identified as Seliam Wangsa, who was campaigning for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Honchun Ngandam, was killed by suspected NSCN (faction not known) militants in Nginu village in the Longding District. Seliam Wangsa was a surrendered Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) militant.
On March 29, 2019, a suspected militant of the NSCN-IM shot dead, Jaley Anna, the supporter of the NPP candidate, Tirong Aboh contesting from the Khonsa West Assembly Seat, at Kheti village in Tirap District.
No militant fatality has been recorded in the State so far. The last incident of militant fatality was recorded on November 18, 2018, when SFs, in three separate encounters, killed three NSCN (faction not known) militants near the Borduria and Laptang villages in Tirap District.
Further, insurgency linked fatality incidents were recorded in two Districts (Tirap and Longding) out of the 25 in the State. During the corresponding period of 2018, incidents of insurgency-related fatalities were recorded in four Districts (Tirap, Changlang, Longding and Namsai).
The spillover of militancy from the neighbouring States of Assam and Nagaland is especially prominent in the Districts of Longding, Changlang and Tirap, which also saddle the Indo-Myanmar border. Between January 1, 2000, and June 16, 2019, these three Districts have accounted for 116 fatalities: Tirap 81 (13 civilians, 10 SF personnel and 58 militants); Changlang, 20 (three civilians, three SF personnel and 14 militants); and Longding 15 (one civilian, one SF trooper and 13 militants). Tirap, Longding and Changlang are also claimed by the NSCN-IM as part of Nagalim (‘Greater Nagaland’). Neighbouring Myanmar’s Sagiang region is exploited by Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs) as their base to carry out ambushes into Indian territory.
The continued militant activity has led to the routine extension of the Armed Forces Special Forces Act (AFSPA) in parts of the State. On March 31, 2019, Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) decided to continue AFSPA in the three District of Tirap, Changlang and Longding, as well as areas falling under the jurisdiction of four Police Stations, declared as “Disturbed areas” for another six months (till September 30). The four Police Stations that will continue to be classified as “disturbed areas” are Namsai and Mahadevpur in Namsai District; Roing in Lower Dibang Valley District, and Sunpura Police Station in Lohit District. Significantly, the notification excludes another four Police Stations, Balemu and Balukpong in West Kameng District, Seijosa in East Kameng District and Balijan in Papumpare District.
There are also reports of imposition of ‘taxes’ by militants in the Tirap, Longding and Changlang Districts. However, on June 6, 2019, when a journalist asked about reports of NSCN collecting a percentage of Government employees’ salaries as ‘tax’ from these Districts, newly inducted State Home Minister Bamang Felix, dismissed her question, declaring, “we have not received any [report] till now that salaries are going to NSCN…”.
The illegal drug trade also benefits the militant groups operating in Arunachal Pradesh. According to a May 8, 2019 report, a local Police official admitted, on conditions of anonymity, that “There is lots of military intelligence about the chain of finance leading to the militants, especially in Tirap and Changlang, but no operation (against them) is possible yet.” Arunachal Pradesh is situated near the ‘Golden Triangle’, comprising border areas of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, known for opium and heroin production and trade.
Additionally, according to SATP (Data till June 16), two Incidents of abduction and one incident of extortion were recorded in 2019 (a majority of such incidents go unreported, as victim families seek a ‘private’ settlement with abductors). One incident of abduction was reported in the State during the corresponding period of 2018. In the latest incident on April 17, 2019, two workers of NPP were allegedly abducted by NSCN-Khaplang (NSCN-K) militants in Longding District. The abductees were identified as Apong Wangsu and Yatun Wangsa. They were later released on the same day. Arunachal Pradesh Police records show that there were 128 abductions and 64 extortion cases reported in 2018. This data does not maintain a distinction between insurgency-linked and other cases.
SFs continue to act against militants and have arrested 31 in 2019 (Data till June 16): 10 of the Arunachal Pradesh Deprived People’s Front (APPDPF); nine of NSCN-Reformation (NSCN-R); four of ULFA-I; two each from Kanglei Yowel Kanna Lup (KYKL), NSCN-IM and NSCN-Khaplang (NSCN-K); and one each of the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland-Saoraigwra (NDFB-S). In the latest incident of arrest on May 5, 2019, SFs arrested a NSCN-K militant, ‘sergeant major’ Kijen Rangwang, from Chinghan village in Tirap District. One militant has also surrendered in 2019.
Further, news reports suggest that, following operations by Tatmadaw (the Myanmar Army), the IIGs based in Myanmar have now moved to Pangmi and Konyak Naga dominated regions of Myanmar, adjoining Changlang District in Arunachal Pradesh and Mon District in Nagaland. In a positive development, Tatmadaw cracked down on the IIGs operating from Myanmar soil starting February 17, 2019. Subsequently, a second phase (May 16-June 8) of the operations was launched codenamed Operation Sunrise 2. Latest reports suggest that seven to eight camps have been destroyed and around an estimated 70 to 80 IIGs were arrested in this phase. The Indian Army’s Special Forces are also reportedly engaging militants that are trying to infiltrate from Myanmar into India, fleeing the assault.
Besides militancy, there are other flashpoints in the State, especially related to the strained inter-tribal relations and the presence of refugees.
The divide in tribal society came to fore when three people were killed and more than 35 (including at least 24 Police personnel) were injured during three days of protests (February 22 -24, 2019), after a Joint High Power Committee (JHPC), constituted on May 1, 2018, submitted a recommendation to the State Government for Permanent Resident Certificates (PRC) to be provided to six non-Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribe (Non-APSTs). The violent opposition forced the Government to back down. The six communities which were to be given PRC were the Deori, Sonowal Kachari, Moran, Adivasi, Gorkha and Mishing, concentrated in the Namsai and Changlang Districts. The APSTs believe that giving the PRC to non-tribal communities will lead to land alienation and cultural marginalization of the APSTs.
The presence of more than 54,000 Chakma and Hajong refugees (forced to migrate to India from the East Pakistan in the 1960s), is another source of tension. These people are settled in Arunachal Pradesh [the then North East Frontier Agency (NEFA)]. The move to grant them citizenship is strongly opposed, particularly by the influential students’ body, All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU), which rigidly maintains the stand that granting Citizenship to the refugees is ‘unacceptable’. Further, with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the dominant party of ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government at the Centre, having won the recent elections with even a bigger mandate, there is a greater possibility of the BJP bringing the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) back on its agenda. CAB will help six minority communities, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have migrated to India without valid documents, to get Indian citizenship after six years of stay in the country.
Earlier, local organizations, mainly led by AAPSU, had vehemently opposed the passing of the now lapsed CAB (2016) in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) that would have enabled Chakmas and Hajongs to apply for citizenship. AAPSU president Hawa Bagang stated on January 7, 2019, “If the Bill is passed, we will be left with no option but to take up arms to protect our indigenous population.” CAB was passed in the Lok Sabha January 8, 2019, provoking protests across the Northeast. The Bill was later allowed to lapse by not introducing it in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament), and General Elections were announced, heralding the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. Any move by the ruling party to bring back the CAB will certainly ignite resentment in the State and the wider Northeast.
Meanwhile, the incumbent Chief Minister Prema Khandu led the BJP to a massive victory in the 2019 Assembly Election, held simultaneously with the Parliamentary Elections. BJP secured 41 seats (with 50.86 per cent of the votes); the Janata Dal (United) seven (9.88 per cent of votes); the National People’s Party (NPP) five (14.56 per cent); the Indian National Congress (INC) four (16.85 per cent); the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA), one (1.73 per cent of votes). The remaining two seats were won by independent candidates.
Containing the residual threat in this strategically important and natural resource-rich State is hugely important. There is a need for greater cooperation between the Police forces of the neighbouring States, especially in the Districts along interstate boundaries and along the Indo-Myanmar border. Further, close cooperation with the Myanmar Government, especially on security, can further neutralise the insurgency. Issues such as PRC and CAB need to be delicately managed, as they have the potential to destabilize the State and to incite violence as well.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management