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The Changing Internal Security Situation in the North East

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(This article is the first article in a four-part series documenting the changes in the Internal Security situation in the country since 2014)

The Centre’s decision to revoke AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) in Meghalaya and parts of Arunachal Pradesh provides us an opportunity to take stock of the situation that led to this development. The Home Ministry has registered substantial improvements on the security front in the North East which has been long prone to insurgency related violence. Let us take a look at the quantum of change since 2014.

The Background

The chequered history of the North East which has seen a number of armed insurgencies has led to the AFSPA being applicable in almost all the North Eastern states. AFSPA is seen as the legitimate option by the state in conflict zones when the police forces are unable to control the situation. This allows the armed forces to take control of the situation and gives them powers like searching premises and arresting people without a warrant on grounds of suspicion etc. The AFSPA has long been mired in controversy with many activists alleging human rights violations done by the Army in the disturbed areas. But, AFSPA continues to be the one way to handle extremely volatile internal security situations which cannot be contained without the involvement of the Indian Army. AFSPA is never the ideal situation in any area and hence the aim is to contain the situation so as to revert back to normalcy. Tripura removed AFSPA in the year 2015.

Now, as we are witnessing AFSPA being further removed from north eastern region, the real story lies in the success of present government in containing the insurgency related violence in the region thereby bringing marked difference in internal security improvement.

AFSPA was applicable along a 20 km zone near the Assam border and in 2016 was introduced in the Tirap, Longding and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh. Now, it has been removed from Meghalaya and is applicable in only 8 out of 16 police stations in Arunachal Pradesh.

Decrease in Security Related Violence

The decision to roll back AFSPA from certain areas has been on the basis of the decreasing trend of insurgency related incidents in the area. In 2009, 1297 incidents were reported which reduced to 1025 incidents in 2012. But by 2017, the number of insurgency related incidents had drastically reduced to just 308 incidents. One of the major issues that armed insurgency leads to is the loss of civilian lives who get caught in the crossfire. Because of the reduced number of incidents, the civilian casualty has been reduced to 38 in 2018 from 97 in 2012.  In fact, the year 2017 witnessed the lowest number of insurgency incidents in 20 years.

Two sets of data provided from Ministry of Home Affairs reflect upon the improving internal security situation in north eastern states of India. We have mapped the number of insurgency related incidents, number of arrested insurgents and the number of civilian deaths between 2009 and 2017. It shows a marked improvement compared to the UPA years. Between 2009 and 2011, the incidents of insurgency were reduced by nearly half but it again picked up in 2012 and by the end of 2013, there was about a 43 percent reduction in the incidents. But, if we compare the data from 2014 and 2017, we can see that there has been a 62 percent reduction in the incidents of insurgency. This could be one of the major reasons behind the partial roll back of AFSPA in the North East.

Major Security Indicators

To further make sense of the change, let us look at some of the security indicators and compare them between 2013 and 2017. Compared to 2013,

  • Insurgency incidents declined by 58 percent.
  • Civilian casualties decreased by 66 percent.
  • Security Force casualties decreased by 34 percent.
  • Kidnaping/ abducting cases decreased by 67 percent.

The year on year improvement also has been moving towards a very positive direction.

  • Insurgency related incidents have been reduced to 36 percent in 2017 (308) as compared to 2016 (484).
  • Security forces casualties in the region declined from 17 (2016) to 12 (2017).
  • Civilian casualties decreased from 48 (2016) to 37 (2017).
  • Number of Kidnapping/abducting incidents came down to 40% from 2016 (168) to 2017 (102)
Improvement of the security status in Meghalaya

Let us look at the case of Meghalaya where Garo militancy was at its peak in 2011-12. It is evident that the Centre rolled back AFSPA in the state only after ensuring that the internal security of the state has been remarkably improved. In 2012, 127 insurgency incidents took place in Meghalaya, resulted in 36 civilians being killed. When it comes to 2017, it came down to 28 incidents and the unfortunate death of 2 civilians.

Improvement of the security status in Meghalaya

Let us look at the case of Meghalaya where Garo militancy was at its peak in 2011-12. It is evident that the Centre rolled back AFSPA in the state only after ensuring that the internal security of the state has been remarkably improved. In 2012, 127 insurgency incidents took place in Meghalaya, resulted in 36 civilians being killed. When it comes to 2017, it came down to 28 incidents and the unfortunate death of 2 civilians.

Securing the stability in the North East

In order to ensure that the internal security situation of north eastern states remains stable, the present administration has taken multi-pronged measures. It primarily included strengthening the security apparatus to carry unhindered operations against militants, while opening up the peace process for the insurgency groups. The government has not just focused on taking forward the peace process but has also focused on the connectivity and the rapid economic development of the region in order to make the peace process sustainable. The North East of India is the key to the ‘Act East’ policy and in the past 4 years has been a focus area of the government. Let us look at some of the major points covering retaliation and peace processes that have reflected the will of this government in improving the internal security aspects in the North Eastern states.

  • In 2015, the army had conducted a counter insurgency attack on the insurgent group National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) (K) along Myanmar border area and reportedly inflicted heavy casualty on militants.
  • Two militant outfits of Meghalaya, the Achik National Volunteer’s Council (ANVC) and ANVC/B have been dissolved after the signing of the Memorandum of Settlement with the government in December 2014.
  • In August 2015, a framework agreement has been signed with National Socialist Council of Nagaland/Isaak Muviah (NSCN(IM)) and ceasefire agreements extended with National Socialist Council of Nagaland/Reformation and National Socialist Council of Nagaland/Nepao Konyak-Kitovi.
  • Since December 2014, there has been a sustained counter insurgency operation against National democratic front of Bodoland/Saoraigwra (NDFB/S). As on December 2017, 1015 persons tied with the outfit have been arrested, 60 militants killed and huge quantity of arms and ammunition recovered.
  • Suspension of Operations (SoP) agreement has been extended with the two Bodoland rebel groups in Assam while continuing the peace talks initiated in 2011 with ULFA.
  • Government has been engaging 23 under ground outfits of Manipur by extending SoP to some of them and also initiating political dialogue in June 2016.
Naga Peace Accord

The Naga Peace accord can be seen as the single biggest peace process initiated by the government through which militancy can be contained and rebels can be made a part of India’s democratic system. A framework agreement between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland was inked in 2015 which aims at ending six decades of insurgency in the state. The agreement with seven rebel groups is expected to be finalised before 2019. Once the expected aim of absorbing and accommodating Naga rebels in government is achieved, which according to media reports is likely to happen soon, it could very well make ground for further roll back of AFSPA across the North East.

Conclusion

It is adequately clear that the internal security situation in North East is changing for the better and the government has made two broad choices available to the militant groups. It is either negotiating with the government for entry into the democratic system or facing retaliation from the Army. The roll back of AFSPA in Meghalaya and parts of Arunachal is not an overnight development and the ground work is being done which will perhaps make AFSPA unnecessary in the states of Nagaland and Manipur as well.

(The next part of the series will examine the change in the internal security situation in the Left-Wing Extremism affected areas)

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