Sunday, January 11, 2009

Any foreign hand in Assam terror?

Rajinder Puri

Official police agencies have claimed categorically that Monday’s bomb blasts in Assam were carried out by the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa). The blasts coincided with Union Home Minister P Chidambaram’s visit to Guwahati. They occurred along the route he was to take. They heralded the New Year. They occurred on the day when the government’s new anti-terror law went into operation. Did the timing contain a message? If so, from whom?

Pakistan is reputed to guide the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. Does any foreign power influence Ulfa? Consider the events immediately preceding the Assam blasts. China’s Vice-Foreign Minister He Yafei visited Pakistan to advise the President, the Prime Minister and the army chief to talk peace with India. All three made conciliatory statements. The Chinese dignitary then telephoned External Affairs Minster Pranab Mukherjee from Islamabad advising him to reciprocate. He indicated willingness to visit India and facilitate the process.

A leader of deputy minister rank advising the governments of India and Pakistan amounted to barely concealed impudence. Beijing clearly was attempting to assume the role of Big Brother in South Asia. Mr Mukherjee quite properly snubbed the Chinese vice-foreign minister by refusing the offer and not inviting him to New Delhi. Shortly thereafter terrorists targeted Assam. But does any foreign power influence Ulfa, which reportedly carried out the attack? After an earlier Ulfa attack in Assam, Indian police and intelligence officials late October 2008 had claimed that the outfit was seeking shelter in China. They claimed that Ulfa’s top commander Paresh Baruah was camped near the Burma-China border seeking sanctuary. Indian intelligence officials said that an estimated 50 Ulfa militants were holed up in China’s Yunnan Province led by Partha Jyoti Gogoi.

In quick succession after India’s snub to the Chinese official the Assam terror occurred. Should one draw any conclusions from this?

(The writer is a veteran journalistand cartoonist)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

On the Offensive---Islam in Assam, India

Monalisa Gogoi

Assam is a case study of illegal Bangladeshi migrants on the warpath, natural when the border with an overpopulated country isn’t sealed, says TSI''s Pranab Bora Sixty-five-year-old Lakhiram Bodo describes every moment of the past three months in the relief camp as ‘harrowing’. Despite belonging to the Bodo community – the earliest inhabitants of Assam, and the supposed ‘bhumiputras’, he and the entire Bodo population of Dalgaon Batabari were thrown out of their homes by Bangladeshi immigrants in a matter of minutes. Today, their existence at the relief camp has been brought down to this: a tin shed, four kgs of rice, 1.1 kg of dal, 250 ml mustard oil and some salt, “per person, per week”.

“Fifty years ago, there were hardly a hundred such families here; today there are thousands of families. When they attacked us after the first skirmishes in August this year, we couldn’t resist them; our village was burnt and they killed our people…” Bodo’s voice trails off.

Dalgaon Batabari – near Rowta in lower Assam – is one of many villages that has borne the wrath of the immigrant Bangladeshi, albeit with citizenship papers available everywhere, thanks to the corrupt babus and an apathetic administration that thrives on the Bangladeshi votebank. On August 14, the Bodos brought out a procession opposing the Assam Bandh called by the Muslim Students’ Union of Assam (MUSA) that was protesting against the “harassment of genuine Indian Muslims who were being thrown out of upper Assam districts such as Dibrugarh”, as 23-year-old Badrul Islam, MUSA president, says. The total immigrant Muslim population in lower Assam is about seven million. At the time of independence, the Muslim population in Assam stood at 1.9 million. Now, the average growth rate of Muslims in Assam stands at 18 per cent; that of Hindus at 14. Six of Assam’s 27 districts now have a Muslim majority population. While in 13 districts, the growth rate of Muslims is less than 30, in seven it is less than 40. In Karbi Anglong, it is as high as 73.6 with the population going from 10,000 to 18,000 in 10 years.

Statements from two state Governors – SK Sinha and Ajai Singh – along with the Gauhati High Court in recent times now buttress what organisations like All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), that led the six-year-long anti-foreigners’ agitation beginning 1979, have said all along: that the state has been inundated by Bangladeshis who endangered the very existence of local communities. It was the detection of hundreds of Bangladeshis in the voters’ rolls in 1979 at Mangaldoi that sparked AASU’s anti-foreigners agitation.

Yet, the modus operandi of political groups who speak for the illegal migrant remains the same. MUSA’s Islam accepts that census reports show dangerous population growths in these districts, where other indigenous communities showed normal growth. Yet, every time suspected illegal migrants moving to the upper Assam are handed over to the police, the MUSA protests against the “inhuman treatment meted out to them”. The August 14 bandh call was one such protest.
The October 30 serial bomb blasts in Assam – the state is now home to a number of Islamic militant groups – that killed 90 and injured hundreds was a culmination of events. The blasts were claimed by the militant group Islamic Security Force (Indian Mujahideen). While the Congress-led government continues to blame the blasts on militant groups like United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), till date nothing has come out of its so-called investigation.

Sitting in his small “Office of the Muslim Marriage, Divorce, Registration and Kazi” at Dalgaon, Qazi Md Afzal Hussain, an Assamese Muslim says: “During my father’s time, this was a place of forests where tigers have killed people.” Now, Dalgaon is dominated by immigrants, where Muslims have wiped out tribal belts. As for empowering the Bangladeshi migrant woman – most of them illiterate and some bearing up to 20 children, Hussain says he hasn’t heard of the new nikahnamah released by the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board.

The results are evident. As opposed to the sparsely populated Bodo relief camp at Rowta; the displaced immigrants lodged at camps at Dalgaon lives in squalor, the camps overpacked with unthinkable living conditions. Bashid Ali, one of the inmates, claims their village was attacked by Bodo and Bengali Hindu people, an indication that the Hindu and Muslim Bangladeshis are now at loggerheads in what, all said and done, is a war for land. The rate at which the immigrant Muslim rampages through the districts of Assam is something that local communities have found impossible to resist. At the receiving end is not just the Bodos, Karbis, Assamese or Bengalis but also the original Assamese Muslim (known as goria), a community that has broken away from the so-called Muslim ‘minority’. “Expect a Bangladeshi as Chief Minister within the next 20 years in this state,” says Nekibur Zaman, Gauhati High Court lawyer, an Assamese Muslim and founder of an organisation ‘Khilonjia Muslim Unnayan Parishad.’ “They may call themselves minorities but there are 20 Bangladeshi MLAs even now in the state Assembly.”

For the “mainstream” politician, all of it is to be shrouded in skewed, convenient statistics. Maulana Fazlul Karim Qasimi, a goria Muslim and the convenor of the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF), agrees that there is a conspiracy: “For many political parties, keeping the immigrant population an uneducated, proliferating Bangladeshi lot helps their interests, as children born today will vote after 18 years.” Its victims are both the immigrants and local communities. The toll in the August-October clashes stood at over 50. Add to that the 855 students killed during the Assam agitation, followed by the thousands who have been killed during the insurgency that was an offshoot of the agitation. And as people here point out – this is what is happening to India in its northeast, thanks to the our calloys and self-thanking politicians.

Kayani comes out of the closet

Rajinder Puri

At last, General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani has come out of the closet to vindicate an apparent truth that the world had refused to acknowledge. Namely, that it is Beijing and not Washington that calls the shots in Islamabad. America wields clout with the politicians. China has control over the army. The army controls the politicians. Ergo, China controls Pakistan.

Condoleezza Rice, John Negroponte, Richard Boucher and Admiral Mullen were at the head of a procession of US bigwigs who trooped into Islamabad to read the riot act to politicians and the army. There was no impact. Islamabad remained defiant. When politicians such as Nawaz Sharif did speak the truth they quickly retracted to toe the army's line. Worse, even in the comparatively outspoken media, with a few honourable exceptions, noted columnists endorsed Pakistan's farcical state of denial inspired by the army.

Well, China's vice foreign minister came to Islamabad and offered gentle advice to the politicians and the army. Whoosh! General Kayani deflated like a punctured balloon and somersaulted 180 degrees to promote de-escalation! Beijing therefore has left nobody in doubt about Pakistan's source of defiant strength. What lesson should India draw from this? Primarily that it should not be carried away by silly sentiment.

If China has pressured Pakistan now it is for the same reason that it reluctantly climbed down on the Indo-US nuclear deal. With America, Russia and Europe ranged against Islamabad's role in terrorism, China cannot afford to be bracketed with Pakistan which is increasingly perceived as a rogue state. So take with a bucket of salt China's newfound endeavour to restrain Pakistan. Focus instead on the fact that Pakistan's role against India during the last few decades in Kashmir and elsewhere was sustained and encouraged by Beijing.

Nothing has changed as yet. Witness the nitpicking shyster arguments parroted by Pakistani politicians and news columnists that the evidence presented by India on the Mumbai blast would not stand scrutiny in a court of law. What they need to effectively answer is whether the captured terrorist, Kasab, is Pakistani or not? Did the terrorists come by sea from Pakistan or not? The rest is irrelevant.

But Pakistan remains adamant on the core issue. General Kayani has a lot more to do than make a lame statement to restore confidence. India will smell change only after the civilian government in Pakistan visibly enforces its writ on the army. That most likely will be done only after the Communist government in Beijing succeeds in visibly enforcing its writ on China's People's Liberation Army.