Politicians in power, security personnel and former militants in Assam now admit there are persistent threats from Islamists in the North-east. Initially shy of talking about religious fundamentalists, various voices have now joined in the chorus that Assam, in particular, faces serious challenges from Islamist terrorism.
In the past, the Union home ministry had alerted all North-eastern states to remain vigilant with regard to jehadi activities in the region. It also alerted the intelligence agencies to keep a close watch on areas bordering Bangladesh to check any mischief by religious fundamentalists.
Union minister of state for home affairs, Kiren Rijiju, who hails from Arunachal Pradesh, publicly admitted that not only home-grown religious terrorists but also the notorious Islamic State of Iraq and Syria cadres were trying to cause trouble in the region.
Pointing out that the North-east, which shares borders with Nepal (98 km), Bhutan (516 km), Tibet/China (1,300 km), Myanmar (1,643 km) and Bangladesh (1,880 km), had always been vulnerable to intruders, Rijiju asserted that the threat of fundamentalists was also not new. The issue of jehadi terrorism was also discussed in the Assam assembly&’s budget session, where, cutting across party lines, legislators admitted that the state faced external threats. They unanimously urged chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal to strengthen his personal security cover.
Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, while expressing concern over the emerging threat of jehadi terrorism from Bangladesh, announced special schemes for empowering the police forces. He proposed to allocate adequate funds to provide them Internet connectivity and basic tools for cyber crime detections. He also declared that there will be a budgetary allocation to recruit 4,000 police personnel.
It is worth recalling that over 50 cadres belonging to the Jamatul-Mujahideen Bangladesh were arrested in Assam as the terror perception unfolded in Burdwan, West Bengal, on 2 October 2014. The sinister design of JMB terrorists – to create an Islamic State based on Sharia laws – covering Bangladesh and large parts of West Bengal and Assam, was uncovered with the confessions of many terrorists.
Understanding the gravity of the situation, Sonowal, who is also in-charge of the home portfolio, recently asked the Rajyik Sainik Board to organise mass rallies in Assam to mobilise public support against jehadi activities in the region. He insisted on organising such rallies involving all segments of society without disturbing the thread of communal harmony in the state.
Assam police chief, Mukesh Sahay also admitted that his force had intelligence inputs about the entry of suspected persons from Bangladesh. He, however, commented that reports of Jehadi elements’ entry to Assam were yet to be verified. But security machineries were on maximum alert following the recent terror attacks in Bangladesh.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, at least 57 Islamist terrorists were arrested in Assam last year. They belonged to various outfits, including the JMB, Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam. Muslim Liberation Army and People&’s United Liberation Front.
“Most Islamist militant groups in Assam were established between 1990 and 1996 with the prime objective of safeguarding the ‘overall interests’ of the minority Muslim communities in the region. At least 20 Islamist terror formations have operated in Assam at different periods,” said a statement of SATP.
It also added that the demographic transition in Assam and problems relating to the influx of illegal Bangladeshi migrants to the North-east further complicated the situation. Though the Assam government started the process of updating the National Register of Citizens since February 2015 to identify those who illegally entered Assam after 1971, its implementation had been sluggish. “Though Assam has seen a steady decline in insurgency-related violence after 2014, the recent spurt in jehadi activities and the nexus between jehadi elements and ethnic militant groups in the region make the security situation in the state vulnerable. At a juncture when pan-Islamist terrorist networks are trying to make inroads into Bangladesh – with whom the region shares a porous border – extreme vigilance on the part of both the state government and the Centre, to strengthen security along the border, is necessary,” added the SATP statement.
Ulfa general secretary Anup Chetia, while interacting with scribes in Guwahati recently, admitted that Assam was vulnerable to Islamists’ terrorism. Recenly extradited from Bangladesh after 18 years and now on bail, he commented that the emergence of Islamist outfits had created major confusion over the armed revolutions in the region. He said he met many JMB leaders in the Bangladeshi jail and pre-empted their alarming design for Assam in particular and the North-east in general. The JMB inmates also informed Chetia that they had already started activities in Assam with the objective of creating a state under Khalifite rules.
The writer is The Statesman&’s Guwahati-based Special Representative.