Manipur Ambush orchestrated by the ISI?

The attack on Army convoy in Moltuk valley at Parolong in Chandel district of Manipur bordering Myanmar at 0830 hours on June 04, 2015 in which 18 personnel of 6 Dogra were martyred is being ascribed to the NSCN (K). Even the name of the insurgent leader (Starson Lamkang) who led the attack is doing rounds. Inspired leaks to the media also allude to collusion of Military Intelligence of Myanmar. These inputs are misleading and detract from the real perpetrators and their objectives. At best the NSCN (K) may have played a marginal or collusive role.

The real culprit are Islamic groups based in Manipur, particularly the Peoples United Liberation Front (PULF). The objective of the attack was to sabotage Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh. It was therefore directed both against Modi and Sheikh Haseena. It could not have happened without the orchestration of the ISI and indulgence of proxies like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).

The link between LeT and the PULF has been in evidence for some years now. The first reports with regard to this nexus emerged in December 2006 with the arrest of three Manipuris, i.e. ‘Salmaan Khurshid (23), Abdul Rahman (24), and Mohd Akbar Hussain (20) by the Delhi Police. They were carrying 20 Kg of RDX, detonators and hand-grenades. T. Khurshchev Singh of the IDSA has written a detailed article LeT finds new base in Manipur, wherein he has written about the interrogation revelations of the said militants. He maintains that these Manipuris had received extensive training in PoK. They also served liaison between LeT modules in Bangladesh and PULF. The PULF and other Islamic jihadi groups began to grow in Manipur following communal clashes between Meitei and minority Pangal in 1993. The other jihadi outfits active in Manipur are Islamic Revolutionary Front (IRF), Islamic National Front (INF), United Islamic Revolutionary Army (UIRA) and United Islamic Liberation Army (UILA).

Interrogation reports also established the links between the PULF and the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) of Bangladesh, and Pakistan ISI. It may be mentioned that the ISI has deep inroads in the DGFI, facilitated by the earlier Khaleda Zia dispensation. This symbiosis has been weakened to an extent under the present Awami League regime, nevertheless it endures considerably. Manir Khan, an ISI operative was arrested in West Tripura in July 2010. Another operative Shagom Ali was also picked up in the state in 2011. They disclosed that the ISI found it difficult to operate from Bangladesh when Sheikh Haseena came to power in 2008, but was back in business when her popularity began to wane since 2011, especially after the Shahbagh Square uprising, staged on the lines of Arab Spring in West Asia or Anna Agitation in India. Most PULF cadres constitute Muslim youth, recruited from the Madrasas in Manipur and sent for arms training to Pakistan via Karimganj in Bangladesh.

The PULF aims to establish an Islamic country in India’s northeast.

Most pointedly, the PULF leaders are based in Chandel district of Manipur, where the attack on the 6 Dogra convoy has taken place.

T. Khurshchev Singh, based on his learning first hand from local sources, refers to the growing phenomenon of illegal Bangladeshi migration into Manipur and the consequent extension of Pakistan based terrorist network in Manipur and Myanmar. The involvement of the Myanmar dispensation has not been authenticated and seemsunlikely in light of the fact that it is seized of Muslim fundamentalist groups like the Ommat Liberation Front (OLF), Kawthoolei Muslim Liberation Front, Muslim Liberation Organisation of Myanmar and the Rohingya insurgents. Officially, the Myanmar authorities have been reiterating that they would not permit Myanmar soil for staging terrorist activities in India. However, it cannot be denied that the Manipur based LeT and other insurgent groups are taking advantage of the testing Indo-Myanmar border and insurgency environment.

The ISI has categorically admitted to fomenting terrorism in India’s northeast and funding of Khaleda Zia’s BNP in elections. This admission was made by a former ISI Chief Asad Durrani during a Supreme Court hearing before a three Judge Bench, which included the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary.

Khaleda Zia was held guilty for her tacit support to the Indian insurgents at the bidding of Pakistan by the Local Govt Minister Syed Ashraful Alam when in 2010 he said that Musharraf during his visit to Bangladesh had a meeting with ULFA leader Anup Chetia for 90 minutes.

Further a very senior official of the Intelligence Bureau of India accused the CIA and ISI of instigating insurgency in the northeast. He said: “The ISI-CIA combination, active in the region, is fomenting insurgency to destabilize the region”. This author recently warned a Bangladesh Minister of Western country trying to use the Jama’at ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) as leverage against Sheikh Haseena to browbeat her into providing base facilities in and around Chittagong. The same JMB is being used to leverage the West Bengal government as evidenced by the Burdwan blast.

Again in December 2007, one ISI operative SM Alam alias Mujibullah Alam alias Asfi Alam was arrested in India. He was a member of JeI and Chatra Shivir of Bangladesh and had joined Harkat-ul-Mujahideen in 1993. He was recruited by the ISI, underwent training in PoK in 2000, and shifted his base to Northeast in 2006.

Intelligence reports also suggest the formation of a ‘Strategic United Front’ by ISI and China to bring together militants outfits in Northeast and J&K. This explains the Bhindranwale poster in Jammu by the residual Khalistanis at the behest of the ISI in concert with the LeT sponsored attack on 6 Dogra convoy. The wikipedia maintains that the ISI spends around Rs. 24 million in order to fund insurgency and terrorism in J&K. This money, as is well known, is divided between the mainstream parties in the Valley, the separatists, and some amount goes towards keeping Khalistan Movement alive.

The president of All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), Ranjit Debbarma was arrested on 14-February-2015 before the elections in Tripura. He revealed that there were 19 insurgent camps in Chhittagong Hills. He further revealed: “ISI’s current strategy is to keep Northeast on perennial boil”. As per interrogation reports, and intelligence sources, the militants receive strategic guidance from the ISI in its bid to bolster its terrorist activities and propaganda campaign to destabilize India.

The biggest concern for the Indian security establishment is the ISI joining hands with the Chinese agencies in the Northeast. Reportedly these agencies have been supplying weapons and equipment to militant groups not directly but through the ISI. Some recent reports have revealed about supply of 3,000 radio controlled explosive devices to the ULFA by the said China-ISI channel.

The other pressing concern, as mentioned earlier is the formation of common force comprising Northeast insurgents and the Maoists at the behest of the ISI and China. The DGP of Assam, Khagen Sarma spoke about the efforts by ULFA faction leader Paresh Baruah (reportedly now in Yunan province of China) of trying to establish partnership with the Maoists. In fact, Mr Sarma, considers the Maoists more dangerous than the insurgents of northeast. Mr Sarma said in an interview: “Paresh Baruah is bringing Northeast militants together. He has invited them and the Maoists for a meeting next week – outside support like that of ISI is also there… The Kamatapur Liberation Organisation active in Assam and West Bengal as well as the anti-talk NDFB (Songbijit) group were also invited by Baruah for the meeting…”. He further spoke about the ISI links with the Maoists. He said: “Maoists are biggest threat. They have 100 trained cadres in the state and many supporters.”

It has also been reported that Aditya Bora, ULFA chieftain and now the Maoist leader in Assam, exerted profusely to bring the Maoists closer to ULFA. He was arrested from the Maoist stronghold in Saranda forest in Jharkhand in 2010. Maoists are also receiving training in guerrilla warfare at Camp Hebrun run by NSCN (IM). The Maoists are known to exercise total sway over the labour community in the Tea gardens.

As per Ministry of Home Affairs report of 2013, there are 65 terror outfits operating in India. Of these 34 were active in Manipur. It may be underscored that most of these groups active in Manipur have ultra-leftist orientations and some of them have deep nexus with the Maoists in the hinterland. Manipur insurgents are not only conduit for weapon supply to the Maoists but also provide training to them in jungles of Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. The Maoists have not only established themselves in Assam but Arunachal Pradesh as well. Two groups from Manipur, i.e. the North East Revolution People’s Front and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), have forged strong links with the Maoists.

The Northeast has therefore become a volatile mix of jihadi outfits, Maoists, insurgents, the ISI and Chinese agencies. They are all feeding into each other. Bangladesh continues to serve as a base for anti-India activities by the ISI in the northeast just as Sri Lanka served as a base for terrorist operations in South India. Tapping into this volatility are Western funded NGOs, who are serving vested economic interests to cripple India’s Tea industry as well as mining industry, which includes Uranium deposits in Meghalaya. The high quality Uranium deposits in the state by some estimates have the potential to obviate our dependence on Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG). In 2013, the Dutch government funded NGO CORDAID organized training of activists in Shillong. The training included GPS tracking to map oil wells, mines, dams, forests and habitation for an updated GIS platform on extractives in the region. As per a Times of India report: “The trainers at the session, two Dutch and an American, constantly reminded the participants that oil reserves in the northeast were as large as those in the entire Gulf region and that the precious resources must be preserved by the local tribal for their own use. They alleged that the government of India was, in collaboration with MNCs, ‘stealing the resources of the region and refusing to remove the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, or AFSPA, (from Manipur) as it needed Indian Army to extract those resources’.”

All the vested interests therefore have added to the volatility of the Northeast. The ISI is probably having a field day in this vitiated environment. Given this prevailing flux and abysmal security discourse, it was not difficult for the ambush to be sprung on the Army convoy. Zia-ul-Haq had embarked on the policy of K2, i.e. Kashmir and Khalistan against India, and now there is the added dimension of Northeast. Sadly, apart from ISI, elements in Bangladesh and China, there are enough collaborators within. All these collaborators wanted to sabotage or at least sully Modi’s visit to Bangladesh. The target was Sheikh Haseena as well because she has shown unrelenting conviction in taking on the jihadis in Bangladesh.

Pakistan watchers may have noticed that in the last three weeks there have been series of deadly terrorist attacks in the country, targets being mostly Shias and the MQM. Karachi is burning and the Pak Army is handling affairs. Then there is the Zarb-e-Ajb operations being conducted in FATA. So the terrorism in Pakistan is essentially a recoil of years of jihadi discourse. Yet, to delude its people the Army Chief after Corps Commander Conference blamed the R&AW for terrorist attacks within the country. Nawaz Sharif echoed the same after a meeting in ISI headquarters. It may be recalled that Modi’s swearing in ceremony, wherein Nawaz Sharif was a guest was greeted with an attack on Indian consulate at Herat, orchestrated by the ISI. The plan was to take the Counsel General hostage.

This time too, the massive geopolitical and strategic shift scripted by Modi and Shieikh Haseena was like pulling the rug from under the feet of Pakistan, therefore the attack in Manipur. More such attacks in Northeast may be expected.

(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)

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