China Factor in North East Insurgency – Alarming Signals
Ajit Doval, KC - Former Director, VIF

Nations accustomed to episodic response to high profile security events run the high risk of missing out subterranean trends and realities that could have unaffordable consequences. Small print news of a Chinese spy woman Wang Qing, masquerading as a TV reporter, visiting Headquarters of Naga rebel group NSCN(IM) in Hebron, 30 kms. from Dimapur, being quietly arrested and deported attracted little attention in the country . Working for Yunan unit of the Chinese intelligence agency, People’s Security Bureau, she had a four hour long closed session with T.Muivah, Naga leader holding talks with Government of India. Wang on arrest, admitted to be a spy working for China who had been maintaining close contacts with Naga rebels. NSCN(IM), however, wanted the government to believe their spokesperson Phunthing Shimrang’s assertion that “The General Secretary (T.Muivah) has made it clear that we are holding talks here and that we have no relations with China”

North East security discourse, of late, has been marked by good news of peace engagement with the rebels, improved security cooperation from Bangladesh, dissensions within insurgent groups etc. However, external factor in a region that has 5,215 kms contiguous international border with other countries and only about over 1% with the Indian main land though pivotal is often glossed over. External factor has and will continue to remain a vital factor in our management of North Eastern security.

China, with which India has uneasy security relationship, shares a border of nearly 1,561 kms with NE states. It also has a dubious track record of meddling with local insurgent groups till mid eighties. After a long lull, there is increasing evidence of China reviving its Covert offensive in the North East. Chinese support to the rebel groups has waxed and waned depending on content and direction of bilateral relationship, their evaluation of the strength and grit of people in power in Delhi, viability and reliability of insurgent groups etc. It is also noteworthy that whenever assistance from erstwhile East Pakistan, and later Bangladesh, to NE insurgents became difficult, the Chinese stepped in to fill in the gap.

Naga insurgents were the first to establish trans-border contacts in early sixtees. Facilitated by Pak intelligence in Dhaka, self styled Prime Minister Kughato Sukhai sent a letter to Chinese leaders on May 29, 1963 alleging persecution and oppression by India. The letter exhorted the Chinese to “Honour and follow their principle of safeguarding and upholding the cause of any suppressed nations of Mongolian stock”. 1962 hostilities catalyzed the process and 300 strong contingent of Naga rebels led by Thinusilie and Muivah were welcomed by China in November, 1966. After a long training they returned in January, 1968 laden with huge quantities of arms and equipment. The gang on arrival established a big camp in jungles of Jotsoma which was attacked by the Indian forces on June 7, 1968. It led to recovery of large quantities of Chinese arms and incriminating documents. Armed with incontrovertible evidence, on June 19, 1968 India handed over a strongly worded note to Chinese Charge d’ Affaires accusing China of “master-minding this covert scheme in order to stir lawlessness against the legally constituted authority in India”. Responding, Peking radio in its broadcast expressed its solidarity with North East insurgents and warned that “Neither armed suppression nor political deception can curb the development of the armed struggle of the Nagas, Mizos and Kukis as their cause was just and they will assuredly win the final victory. Chinese intentions and strategy was clear.

This opened the floodgate of NE insurgent groups making regular forays to China through Myanmar for training and weapons. Besides the Nagas, the Mizos, Meiteis, Kuki and Assamese groups were patronized by China. Some of the high profile visits included that of Mizo rebel leader Laldenga, who met t Chinese Premier Chou –en Lai. On 28 Sept. 1970, visit of Kuki leader Damko Seik, Mizo Commander Biakvilla, ULFA leader Paresh Barua etc., are few in the long list of gangs that visited China. Over the years, the drill of procurement of weapons from Yunan, their transportation through land route of Myanmar or sea route, liaison arrangements with insurgent groups in Thailand, arrangements for money transactions etc got streamlined and institutionalized.

However, with regimes less sensitive to Indian security concerns assuming power in Bangladesh the centre of gravity shifted to Bangladesh. After early eightees there was gradual slowing down in China’s direct involvement, at least of its government, though it never stopped completely.

There are definite indications that, after a long lull, there is major policy shift in China. In October, 2007, on the invitation of Chinese authorities, Anthony Shimray incharge foreign affairs of NSCN(IM), visited China and held meetings with Lee Wuen, head of intelligence of Yunan province and Chang local intelligence head at Dehong Mansi near Kunming in China. Shimray, handed over a letter to the Chinese authorities signed by Muivah, self styled Prime Minister of NSCN(IM). The letter informed Chinese of appointment of Kholose, a Sema Naga from Zunheboto, as their permanent representative in China. Chinese welcomed this institutionalized arrangement and wanted Nagas to keep them informed through Kholose about (i) Activities and movements of Indian Army, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh, (ii) Intelligence regarding activities of Dalai Lama and Tibetans in India and (iii) Progress of peace talks with India. Chinese also tasked them to keep track of other NE insurgent groups and progress of their peace parleys with India. One of the major responsibilities of Kholose was procurement of weapons from China.

In April 2009, the self styled President of NSCN(IM), Isak Chissi Swu, leader of group talking to India, accompanied by Shimray visited China for which the Visa was arranged by the Chinese intelligence in Philippines. They held a high level meeting with one General Lee and three senior Chinese intelligence officers. The Chinese while assuring them of Military cooperation, again reiterated their earlier requirement regarding information abut army movements in Arunachal, activities of Dalai Lama etc. NSCN(IM) leadership subsequently iniated follow up actions in Delhi, Dharmshala, Arunachal Pradesh and NSCN(IM) headquarters to meet Chinese intelligence requirements. Steps in the meantime also commenced to ship 1000 weapons from South Chinese port of Beihei to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh for the NSCN (IM).

Paresh Baruah of ULFA after being pressurized by Bangladesh security agencies, also visited China in 2010. Reports indicate that he led a group of about 80 that after receiving training in Ruili in Yunan was provided substantial quantities of weapons. It is significant that ULFA has been a source of procurement of weapons by Left Wing Extremists and possibility of some of the Chimes weapons reaching them through ULFA channels can not be ruled out.

Reality of Chinese renewed interest in NE insurgency can not be wished away in our security calculus. It assumes special import in the back drop of China’s emerging aggressiveness, military activities in border areas, claims on Arunachal Pradesh and linkages of Left Extremists with NE insurgent groups. The government in pursuing its policy of engaging the rebels in peace talks needs to display greater clarity of vision, well defined objectives and strategic precision. Mistaking the talks as an end rather than means to an end can push India into a self made strategic trap. While the rebel groups are enhancing their capabilities, establishing trans border linkages, procuring new weapons and recruiting new cadres, the government appears to be calculating publicity mileage and possible electoral advantages as their sole gains. This can be a self defeating strategy.

Published Date : 31 January 2011

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