The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Many northeastern states have militancy as their common problem; yet they do not have a common strategy to fight it. The move by the chief ministers of Assam and Meghalaya to jointly tackle the problem can set an example for the whole region. True, the states have longstanding disputes among themselves. Assam has old boundary disputes with Meghalaya as well as Arunachal Pradesh, which again has territorial problems with Nagaland. But these disputes should not be allowed to stand in the way of working out a common strategy to tackle the challenges posed by militant outfits. The importance of this approach can hardly be overstated in view of the links among the outlawed groups and their mobility across the states. The United Liberation Front of Asom, for example, uses parts of the Garo hills in Meghalaya as one of its bases and helps the “Garoland” rebels of the Achik National Volunteers’ Council in return. Thus the battle against either the ULFA or the ANVC can be handicapped unless the two states join hands. Once the importance of this approach is realized, the nitty-gritties of joint operations can be sorted out. Meghalaya’s chief minister, Mr D.D. Lapang, need not be unduly worried about the suitability of the anti-insurgency “unified command” of the army and the state police that Assam has had for several years now. His Assamese counterpart, Mr Tarun Gogoi, may also have his doubts about a “joint command” for the whole region. None of these should detract from the crucial need for a comprehensive strategy.

In fact, other states in the region as well as West Bengal, which also borders Assam, should join hands to fight the menace. Bodo militants are known to have taken shelter in parts of north Bengal after being chased by the Assam police. The Kamtapuri militants of north Bengal have links with Assamese extremist groups such as the ULFA and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland. There is a strong case for setting up a permanent anti-insurgency cell that will have representatives from all these states and the Centre. While it can function as a platform for sharing intelligence and planning the battle against militancy, it can also take care of the states’ problems of financing the entire exercise. After all, the insurgencies in the Northeast are a national problem. Such a strategy should not necessarily mean an interference in the states’ constitutional jurisdiction over law and order. New Delhi’s role cannot be limited to providing the army, paramilitary forces or funds to the states. What would ultimately matter is a holistic approach.

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