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Terror thrives in havens

india Updated: Dec 03, 2009 23:49 IST
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Do you remember the pictures of Saddam Hussein when he was caught? The dictator, who triggered three wars and sent a million people to their deaths, looked like a beggar. He lay on the ground, dishevelled.

V. Prabhakaran’s end was worse. The ‘tiger’, who had killed so many lay in the mud with half his head blown off.

In the end, they were both ordinary mortals. Without the protection of their soldiers they were nothing. That is a reality that many leaders of insurgencies in India’s northeast are coming to terms with. The United Liberation Front of Asom and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland have been feared forces in Assam. They derived a large part of their power from the fact that their leaders enjoyed safe haven in Bangladesh.

“Absent this refuge and these props, they will have a hard time surviving”, said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management. That refuge is now gone, and suddenly, the leaders of both these groups find themselves in captivity. ULFA Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, who could not be captured since 1979, was finally held in days, once the Bangladesh government decided to change its stance.

Of course, the ULFA is not quite finished yet. With Paresh Baruah (the head of its military wing) still at large, the group still has significant strike capabilities and potential for reorganisation. "This is particularly the case if intelligence reports suggesting an emerging active Chinese nexus prove true", Sahni said.

However, there is now a window of opportunity for peace in northeast.A similar chance might have emerged across South Asia if the government of Pakistan were to do what Bangladesh has done. It is well known that an assortment of extremist leaders from groups like al Qaida, the Taliban and Lashkar e Toiba are in Pakistan.

The United States has been forced to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan and will spend 30 billion more dollars, but President Barack Obama’s strategy is likely to achieve little as long as individuals like Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden enjoy safe haven on Pakistani territory.

This is not to say that all political violence in the region would end if Pakistan’s military changed its policy. The Maoists in India and Nepal, for example, would still be around. The desire of many Kashmiris for independence or more autonomy would still live on. Governments would still need to address legitimate political and social grievances.

But the random bomb blasts that kill innocent civilians might hopefully become rare.