Saturday, April 27, 2013


By M H Ahssan / Shillong

Manir Khan's 'operational area' was Assam. The sub-inspector with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence had executed two 'assignments' in the state. But he was third time unlucky, as Indian sleuths nabbed him from west Tripura in July 2010. 

Khan told interrogators that his duty was to ferry back “quality information” for better “tactical appreciation” of cross-national issues to his masters in Pakistan. In his initial visits, Khan had carried out “feasibility recces” of the Tripura corridor connecting Bangladesh-Tripura and Assam, says an interrogation report. 

Apparently, the ISI had been using the corridor to push Bangladeshi migrants into 
the northeast. But the fencing of the Indo-Bangla border in Tripura blocked the flow. 

“Khan stationed himself in the port areas of Kolkata. He then switched to Comilla in Bangladesh, before entering west Tripura,” Inspector General (Intelligence) Bishu Kishore Debbarma of the Tripura Police told INN.

Khan hibernated briefly in a densely populated fringe port in Kolkata named Kidderpore. “We know about the sleeping terror modules [in the Kidderpore area] and it is anyone's guess that they could be activated to trigger trouble anywhere in the country,” says an intelligence official. 

Security officers say Khan—a “utility support agent” of the ISI—always had Assam in his crosshairs. “He had interesting links,” says Assam Director-General of Police Jayanto N. Choudhury. “Presence like that of Khan's on our territory is worrying. It suits Pakistan to keep our armed forces bogged in internal security duties and issues on the northeastern frontiers.”  

Security sources say that the flare-up over the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Hill Council during the Assam panchayat elections, on February 12, 2013, was “engineered” to foment territorial unrest. 

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi blamed the absence of adequate ground intelligence and pointed to extraneous elements behind the flare-up. Union Home Secretary R.K. Singh, too, had said that the government believed Pakistan was behind last year's riots 
in Assam.

Pakistan's interest in Assam is not new. Shagom Ali, another ISI operative picked up from Tripura in 2011, too, had told interrogators that Assam was his “operational area”. But, officials are worried that the current sociopolitical conditions in the state could aid the ISI's long-term agenda.  

The ISI is not alone in the game. It has an ally in the Bangladesh's Directorate General of Forces Intelligence. And to top that we have an overarching China doing its bit. In fact, the Indian security establishment has zeroed in on two Chinese government agencies which are fuelling unrest in the northeast. 

The ISI found the going relatively tougher after Sheikh Hasina assumed power in Bangladesh in 2008. She reined in the DGFI at a time when hordes of illegal migrants flooded Assam, threatening to permanently alter the state's demography. But, with the ebbing of her popularity since late 2010 (and now the Shahbagh Square uprising), the ISI is back at it.  

The arrest of All-Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) president Ranjit Debbarma a few days before the Tripura Assembly elections on February 14 revealed that the ISI was gnawing at India through the northeast in more ways than one. 

The veteran militant apparently told interrogators that the ISI had been pumping in fake currency into India via militant groups. Between the late 90s and 2004, the ISI 'paid' ATTF at least three times. 

The new conduit is the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) which, according to Debbarma, has 19 active training camps in the Chittagong hills. Top intelligence sources say these camps are of “immense security concern” and that the NLFT has at least 150 well-trained militants waiting to enter India.

Debbarma told interrogators that the ISI was taking “renewed and firm interest” in the joint training camps of militant outfits like the NLFT. “The ISI has been wanting the northeastern insurgents to create mayhem in major cities,” says a top intelligence officer. “However, things have not worked according to their plan so far, and the ISI masters are peeved.” 

Debbarma's interrogation report says the ISI's current strategy is to “keep the northeast on perennial boil”. According to a Military Intelligence missive, the ISI “provides strategic guidance to militants to increase scale of terrorism” and indulges in “propaganda campaign” to create fissures in the country's social fabric. 

And the ISI's reported links with radical organisations in the northeast such as the Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam, the Islamic Security Force of India and the Muslim Volunteer Force are certainly not good news for India.

In fact, there is more bad news. Security officials say a section of the ISI, “entrusted” with northeastern affairs, is planning the “relaunch” of Ulfa's fugitive commander Paresh Baruah, in the event of  “favourable developments” in Bangladesh. 

Reports say Baruah, believed to be hiding in the Yunan province along the China-Myanmar border, has been pally with the ISI and the Chinese. Sources say the Ulfa's deviation from its core ideology was machinated by the ISI, which wanted the ethnic Assamese militant group to take migrants from Bangladesh under its wing. 

What worries the Indian security officials more is the ISI joining hands with Chinese agencies. A Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) assessment says Chinese agencies have been supplying money and weapons to northeast militant groups through the ISI. Incidentally, a recent report that the Ulfa has received about 3,000 radio-controlled improvised explosive devices has left security officials on tenterhooks.  

The Military Intelligence, too, has cautioned about a possible Ulfa resurgence and the ISI's “military training augmentation plans” for similar outfits in Chittagong.

Viewed in this light, the threat of the Strategic United Front mooted two years ago by China and Pakistan to bring together all militant formations in the northeast and Kashmir under one umbrella cannot be taken lightly. 

Intelligence officers say Assam's vulnerability has been accentuated with the ISI's “outnumbering game”. Its current game-plan is “construction of communalism” in the northeast. The “engineered and targeted migrations”, especially in Goalpara and Dhubri—the gateway districts to the northeast—are altering the local demography. At least in seven districts of Assam, migrants have become a majority or close to it.

Official assessments accessed by INN show that over 8,000 bighas across Assam have been “illegally occupied” by migrants. 

The last thing the security apparatus in the northeast needed was the Naxal fortification. Naxalites have been gradually tightening their grip in certain pockets of Assam, and the police are planning to raise a special commando group to tackle the threat. 

Aditya Bora, a former Ulfa chieftain who is now a Naxal commander in Assam, worked to get the Naxals closer to militant formations, says an intelligence report. And Bora's arrest from Saranda in Orissa in February 2011 confirmed the bonhomie between the Naxals of upper Assam and some leaders of militant groups like Ulfa. 

“We have concrete information that Naxals eyeing Assam are being trained in insurgent warfare at Camp Hebron run by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (I-M) in Dimapur district,” says a top police officer.  

The Naxals, indeed, have a strong sway among upper Assam's “tea labour community”, and the National Investigation Agency has arrested some top leaders in Assam over the past few years.  
Stray arrests will only show that the problem exists. What is needed is concerted action to root out the evil.

Terror trail

  • Interrogation report of Pakistani spy Manir Khan reveals that ISI wanted northeast militants to target Indian cities.
  • Bangladesh is a launching pad for the ISI to wage war against India. In March 2012, ISI admitted to funding the right-wing Bangladesh National Party (BNP) during the 1991 general elections. ISI plans to relaunch Ulfa chief Paresh Baruah in the event of a regime change in Bangladesh.
  • According to the Research and Analysis Wing, Chinese agencies have teamed up with the ISI to keep terror groups active in the northeast.
  • There are 36 major terror groups in Assam; Manipur has 39.
  • Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh together have 33 terror groups. The ISI allegedly uses the National Liberation Front of Tripura to pump fake currency into India according to the R&AW.
  • There are six terror groups in Meghalaya and Nagaland. Adding to security concerns, Naxals are being trained at Camp Hebron in Nagaland's Dimapur district, says a top security official.

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