by Bill Weinberg
“Osama bin Laden will be caught anytime—today or tomorrow.”
So said J. Cofer Black, US State Department coordinator for counter-terrorism, after meeting with officials in Bangladesh Sept. 5. Black boasted to reporters that 75 percent of al-Qaeda elements have been killed or arrested already, while a well-planned campaign is underway to eliminate the rest of the organization.
Black had just come from an anti-terror summit in the Indian capital, New Delhi, and broached the possibility of forming a joint Bangladesh-US working group on terrorism modeled on those the US has formed with India and Pakistan. (The New Nation, Bangladesh, Sept. 5)
At the Sept. 1 meeting of the US-India Joint Working Group on Terrorism, Black met with Meera Shankar, under-secretary for international security in the Ministry Of External Affairs, for talks focusing on cross-border terrorist operations and arms and narcotics trafficking in the region.
“The destabilizing impact of these linkages is a matter of growing concern to both countries,” said the joint statement released after the meeting. “Both sides agreed that, even as the challenge posed by international terrorism continues to mutate, it is important for the international community to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation to effectively meet this challenge.”
New training and intelligence-sharing programs were also discussed, expanding the mission of the Joint Working Group, first established in 2000. (Indo-Asian News Service, Sept. 1)
But India’s new “anti-terrorism” prowess is more likely to be used against ethnic guerilla armies fighting for independence in the country’s remote eastern corner than against al-Qaeda or related groups said to be operating in disputed Jammu and Kashmir in the north. The counter-insurgency wars India has waged in this forgotten region, sandwiched between Burma and Bangladesh, have claimed perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives since Indian independence in 1947. The neighboring states of Assam and Nagaland have been hardest hit—and the conflict in Assam is now rapidly escalating.
The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is said to be responsible for a bomb that went off at an Indian Independence Day parade Aug. 15 in the Assam town of Dhemaji, killing 15, including seven children, and wounding several more. A second blast left 12 wounded. On Aug. 26, near-simultaneous bomb blasts on a train, bus station and oil refinery in Assam left dead six and over 70 wounded. That same day, a woman said to be a ULFA militant was arrested in the Dhemaji attack.
The rebel groups in Assam and Nagaland accuse the Indian government of illegally occupying their lands and even of genocide against the region’s peoples, as well as the plunder of oil, timber and other natural resources with little return to the impoverished residents. They maintain that the region was illegally annexed to India in 1947 and denied self-determination. But the recent targeting of civilians by the ULFA has led to tensions within the coalition that unites many of the region’s guerilla armies.
The faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland led by S.S. Khaplang (NSCN-K) strongly criticized the ULFA for the Aug. 15 attack. “The crime perpetrated against innocent school children by ULFA in Assam is unacceptable and we are not going to remain a silent spectator to any organization that…advocates terrorism,” K. Mulatonu, a senior NSCN-K leader, told Indo-Asian News Service by telephone from Mon in Nagaland. “We will be forced and compelled to sever all relationships with ULFA if they do not stop the genocide and fratricidal killings immediately.”
The NSCN-K is among the oldest and the most powerful of nearly 30 guerilla armies operating in India’s northeast. It uses territory across the border in Burma (Myanmar) as a staging ground, and seeks to unite Naga lands on both sides of the border as an independent state. The NSCN-K and the rival NSCN-IM (led by Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah), have maintained a ceasefire with New Delhi since 1991, but Khaplang now heads an umbrella coalition of several guerilla armies, including ULFA–most of which are not covered by the ceasefire.
“We had maintained a good relationship with ULFA for more than 10 years now,” Mulatonu said. “We provided arms training to ULFA in our camps in Myanmar. We still have about 100 ULFA cadres sheltered in our camps in Myanmar.”
He said that top NSCN-K commanders are expected to meet ULFA leaders soon to discuss the recent violence in Assam. “We will soon meet the ULFA top brass to get a first-hand account of what is happening and prevail upon them to desist from such acts of genocide,” Mulatonu said.
The NSCN-K recently offered to broker peace talks between ULFA and New Delhi, even as Nagaland’s own status remains uncertain. At least 25,000 people have died in the insurgency in Nagaland, a state of two million people, since Indian independence. (IANS, Aug. 21)
Indian intelligence often portrays the guerillas in the east as being backed by Pakistan and Islamic militant groups. But Assam is overwhelmingly Hindu, and Nagaland is a mostly Christian enclave. The guerillas’ roots are generally in the Maoist movements that shook India in the 1970s, and their concerns are now with ethnic and regional self-government, not religion.
The Indian army’s paramilitary auxiliary in the region, the Assam Rifles, is currently embroiled in a scandal concerning human rights abuses. On July 16, security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a protest by women in Manipur state who were demanding that the paramilitary outfit be withdrawn following accusations that riflemen had raped and killed a local woman. Many of the woman protesters stripped naked to shame the security forces. The violence culminated a two-day general strike to demand withdrawal of the Assam Rifles from Manipur. (India Daily, July 16)
ULFA Web site:
South Asia Terrorism Portal (anti-terrorist think-tank) page on ULFA:
Free Nagaland homepage:
South Asia Terrorism Portal page on NSCN-K:
For more on the Assam struggle, see WW3 REPORT #94:
For more on J. Cofer Black, see WW3 REPORT #18:
Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, Sept. 6, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution