Catch 22 in North Cachar Hills (Sentinel/1 Aug 2009)
: DATELINE Guwahati/Wasbir Hussain
Too many cooks spoil the broth. That’s what is happening in Asom’s North Cachar Hills district, spread over an area of 4,890 sq km, that has suddenly catapulted as one of the worst insurgency hot-spots in the Northeast. Well, I am talking about the turmoil in the district created by a band of 158 heavily armed men (the police would like to round up this number to 200) who operate under the banner of the Dima Halam Daogah (Jewel group) or DHD (J) in short. Starting March this year, this rag-tag group sans ideology has upped the ante in the area, killing security personnel, attacking symbols of governmental authority, particularly the railways, and creating a situation that has led to a violent feud between the majority Dimasas and the minority Zeme Nagas living in the district. The situation deteriorated to such an extent that Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had to call a special review meeting in New Delhi to discuss the situation in North Cachar Hills and rushed Union Home Secretary G K Pillai to the State for an on-the-spot assessment.
Now, let us take a look at the counter-DHD (J) operations that’s on in the district: it appears that every security force that is available in the area or its vicinity is engaged in combating the men of the outfit. As of now, there are 54 Assam Police and paramilitary companies operating in the district. Besides, 22 Army columns, most of them para commandos, besides men of the Special Task Force (STF) are out there, supposedly battling the DHD (J) militants. Roughly, there are around 8,000 security personnel on the trail of the elusive DHD (J) desperados. Still, the outfit continues with its hit-and-run strikes and its cadres are known to be within the district. The DHD (J) cadres are even reported to be regrouping with the assistance of the anti-talk faction of the NDFB.
A simple question: why has the security forces numbering around 8,000 not been able to neutralize 200 men of the DHD (J)? Here, I’ll like to rely on that old adage that I have used as the opening sentence of this column. As things stands today in North Cachar Hills in so far as counter-insurgency operations go, it is a classic case of lack of coordination among the various security forces engaged in battling the DHD (J). The unified headquarters arrangement of the Army, police and the paramilitary may not actually be in operation in the district because the Army units in the area are under the Nagaland-based 3 Corps instead of the northern Asom-based 4 Corps as is the case elsewhere in the state. I would even think that various forces are in competition in the district to claim credit for whatever successes achieved against the DHD (J). The result is not difficult to predict: a low success rate in neutralizing the militants of the group.
It is common knowledge that the rebels are familiar with the terrain in the district unlike most of the visiting security personnel. That may be one advantage that the DHD (J) militants could be enjoying over their pursuers from the security forces. Besides, there are just two major roads in the district leaving vast stretches inaccessible. The security forces obviously prefer to be located along these two roads and the railway line. But, could there be other advantages? Yes. One, of course, was the patronage of the group for whatever reasons by local politicians. The arrest of the chief executive member of the NC Hills Autonomous District Council Mohet Hojai on charges of links with the DHD (J) and of funding the group is one such instance. The other advantage for the DHD (J) could be its source of arms and ammunition. People in the security establishment now believe that weaponry for the group were being sourced from the international arms bazaar and routed through Bangladesh via the border that Mizoram shares with that country. Well, the third advantage could be the support the DHD (J) is enjoying from the anti-talk NDFB faction as well as a section of the Naga militants.
What is still a puzzle is the ability of the DHD (J) to even exist after the arrest of its leader Jewel Garlossa by the Assam Police from Bangalore last month. It means that second and third rung leaders of the group have taken over command and could now be lying low to strike at an opportune moment sooner than later. The group has given a formal offer for truce, complete with a list of weapons and demands. But, the authorities are aware that the group had betrayed the trust in the past and are therefore watching. The battle has certainly not been won by the security forces. Having said that, it would be necessary to even think of agreeing to a truce offer by the rebel outfit.