Assam may face fresh separation demand
GUWAHATI, April 18 – If immediate steps are not taken to check growth of fundamentalist forces and unabated infiltration to Assam and other parts of North East, India may face fresh demand for separation within the next decade, warned former GOC of the 4 Corps of the Army, Lt Gen (retd) DB Shekhatkar.
Talking to The Assam Tribune, Lt Gen Shekhatkar, who served in the North East as an Army officer in different capacities for about 20 years, said that though the fundamentalist forces are lying low at this moment, the region is virtually sitting on a sleeping volcano, which may erupt at any time and “one should not be surprised if a demand for separation comes up by the end of the year 2018.”
Lt Gen Shekhatkar pointed out that effective steps must be taken to prevent infiltration of foreigners to the region and a close watch must be maintained on the activities of the fundamentalist forces. He suggested that the suspected nationals should be denied voting rights and work permits should be issued to them. Stress should be given on education of the children of certain communities living in the backward areas so that they cannot be lured by the fundamentalist forces into their trap.
The former GOC of the 4 Corps of the Army pointed out that there have been demands for inclusion of the North East in East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh since the time of Independence and even today, the demand is raised from time to time. The fundamentalist forces and Islamic militant groups are now lying low but they have their “sleeping cells”, which can become active when they feel that the time is ripe for them to strike. The militant groups backed by Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) including the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) are still active and there is no reason for the fundamentalist forces to use their manpower to create disturbance in the region at this moment. But they may strike whenever they gain enough strength and there is urgent need for keeping a close watch on the situation, he added.
Lt Gen Shekhatkar said that apart from Assam ,which is the worst sufferer to the problem of infiltration, Meghalaya may face serious problems as the state is rich in minerals, including Uranium and the anti-India forces would definitely try to set strong foothold in the state. Meghalaya is also vulnerable to infiltration as most parts of the Meghalaya-Bangladesh border are still not fenced, he said.
The former Army officer expressed the view that Pakistan would definitely try to create disturbance in the region by setting up bases in Bangladesh and in the past also, such attempts were made. Though the present Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina is inclined towards India, she is also under pressure from different quarters in her own country and the possibility of Pakistan creating trouble in North East through Bangladesh in the days to come cannot be ruled out.
From the security point of view, he pointed out that the North East region is connected to the rest of the country only by a 22 kilometre wide stretch and if the fundamentalist forces manage to establish strong bases in Bangladesh, they may try to cut off the region from the rest of India. In such a scenario, India will be in serious trouble as it will not be possible to move essential commodities as well as troops to the region by air and China may also try to take advantage of such a scenario, he warned.
There is no denying the fact that the demography of Assam changed alarmingly over the years due to infiltration of foreigners and the sharp rise in the number of voters in some constituencies is a matter of grave concern. If the matter is not dealt with immediately, a time may come when the situation in the North East may turn out to be worse than even Jammu and Kashmir, Lt Gen Shekhatkar warned.