There could not have been a louder wake-up call. After a period of lull, North-eastern insurgents signalled their ability to strike at will when they attacked an army convoy, killing 18 soldiers and injuring 11. The Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-K, along with the Kangleipak Communist Party and the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup, has claimed responsibility. This deadly attack seems to have been planned in neighbouring Myanmar.
There are several worrying developments in the Northeast that the government has to address if it wants to tackle this lethal form of insurgency. There has been a recent bonhomie among the various militant groups that have come together under the umbrella of the United Liberation Front of Western South-east Asia, comprising five rebel groups from across the region. The aim is to put up a united struggle.
Last year alone, 450 people were killed in militant violence. The grouping of the rebels makes the work of the security forces all the harder. This time too, the authorities concerned seem to have overlooked the intelligence inputs, which suggested that such an attack could be in the offing. Significantly, the Armed Forces Special Protection Act (Afspa), which gives the security forces sweeping powers, is in effect in the area where the attack took place. Tripura recently lifted Afspa, leading to hopes that other Northeastern states may follow suit. That is clearly not a possibility anymore. The only way to tackle the insurgency is to bolster development in the largely neglected region and also address the issue of militant hideouts in neighbouring countries. In this regard, the Modi government has done well to engage both Bangladesh and Myanmar in its efforts to deal with the problem. Bangladesh has been particularly helpful in sharing information with India and making it difficult for insurgents to operate from its soil. The periodic killing of civilians either wittingly or unwittingly by security forces ensures that anger is never very far from the surface in the region. A great deal of money has been pumped into the region by the Centre with little to show for it, thanks to endemic corruption and poor governance in most of the states.
Now is the time to engage the political establishments of the Northeastern states and formulate a coordinated response. The attack on a relatively soft target, a convoy engaged in road opening operations, was a warning shot. The government cannot afford to take its eye off the ball on this issue. Apart from improving security measures, it is imperative that the central and state governments take measures to win over public support, which has often been a lifeline for the militants.