Estd. 2006
Building Bridges: The Indian Army's Role in Northeast

Major Ph Manidhon Singha (R)

THE NORTHEAST REGION of India is known for its stunning landscapes, diverse cultures, and abundant natural resources. However, the region's geographical location and socio-political dynamics have given rise to several challenges in the form of insurgencies, cross-border issues with neighboring countries and separatist movements.

The Indian military and paramilitary forces have played a big role in maintaining stability and peace in the region and their efforts have yielded positive results. Today's generation enjoy the results. Of these, the Indian Army and the Assam Rifles have played a vital role in maintaining law and order in Northeast India and safeguarding the borders.

The 8 Northeastern States hold a significant strategic position due to their shared borders with Myanmar, China, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. However, over the years there have been ongoing conflicts between different insurgent groups and the central government, as well as between indigenous people and migrants from different parts of India, including those who entered illegally.

Other challenges the Indian armed forces have faced include harsh terrain, lack of infrastructure like roads and bridges and a hostile environment.

Throughout history, there have been several notable uprisings in India, including the Nagaland insurgency in the 1950s. Additionally, the state of Assam has also experienced insurgency activities, with groups like the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and the Bodoland Liberation Tigers Force (BLTF). Another state affected by similar issues is Mizoram, where tensions arose due to the influx of non-indigenous groups leading to a secessionist movement led by the Mizo National Front in 1966.

Other states like Meghalaya and Tripura have also faced bouts of insurgency.

It was during these times that the government enacted the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in 1958, which granted the Indian Armed Forces special powers in areas classified as "disturbed". The act's territorial jurisdiction covers all seven northeastern states.

In recent times, some state governments, such as Tripura, have decided to revoke the act due to a considerable decrease in terrorist incidents in their respective states. It took several years for the Indian government, with assistance from the military, to resolve them.

This was achieved through the signing of various accords, such as the Mizoram Accord of 1986 and the Shillong Accord of 1975.

In the case of Assam, the Indian military and the local police forces were engaged to launch "Operation Rhino" in the 1990s, where four divisions were put into action, backed by 270 companies of paramilitary forces that aimed to neutralize the ULFA insurgents.

By the end of the first week of operations, 258 activists and sympathizers were held and 12 camps were raided.

Cross-border problems were also prevalent in the North-East region for a long time. In the past, certain insurgent groups such as the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, Manipur insurgent groups, ULFA, and National Democratic Front of Bodoland, have been known to acquire weapons from Thailand.

These weapons were then brought into Bangladesh and subsequently transported into the region. As a consequence, "Operation Golden Bird", an Indo-Myanmar military operation was conducted in 1995 by the 57th Mountain Division of the Indian Army.

The objective was to locate and halt a large group of rebels who had acquired a substantial quantity of weapons and were transporting them from Wyakung Beach on the Myanmar-Bangladesh coast to Manipur. The operation was a success as the illegal smuggling of weapons and rebels were apprehended by the armed forces.

I'd like to mention my own experience of being posted in 14 Bihar Regt under 181 Mountain Brigade in Assam. Our OP Alert used to be in Tuting (Arunachal Pradesh), where we used to walk four days straight from Yingkeong, crossing the Brahmaputra River multiple times emptying our bags of rations along the way to make it lighter to reach our destination.

Another time, during a posting in Manipur, an operation involving the capture of a dreaded militant caused my fellow soldiers and I to spend many sleepless nights to successfully complete the mission. It is under these types of extreme conditions that the armed forces act as a guardian to ensure the peace and security of the North-East region.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Indian Army and paramilitary forces, through successful operations and the signing of various accords, insurgent groups have been neutralized and issues resolved. The Army's dedication to protecting the sovereignty and citizens of the nation is truly commendable, and their work in the region serves as a testament to their unwavering commitment.

A region that once bled profusely due to insurgency for decades is now undergoing a massive change with the Army cutting down its once sprawling counter­insurgency deployment to a single brigade due to improved security situation. Clearly, the Indian Army has been instrumental in bringing the Northeast on the path of progress.

August 14 2023