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North-eastern security challenge

In its latest strike, ULFA terrorism in Guwahati has claimed 14 lives. It is a problem that will not go away by itself — or through talks, indirect or direct. The time has certainly come for the Central Government to go after the armed extremists resolutely. It must upgrade intelligence and tighten security to prevent further attacks. It needs to work closely with the State governments in the north-eastern region to defang the United Liberation Front of Asom, whose mode of hit-and-run, low-intensity strikes are neither new nor particularly difficult to handle. What is needed to counter them is the force of numbers and a comprehensive sweep on the ground. It is well known that ULFA's cadre strength and firepower have declined sharply over the past few years even though it continues to pose a threat to civil society. There have been recent intimations of serious differences on ultimate goals among top ULFA leaders. If it is the case that the extremist outfit has been able to exploit the Government-initiated ceasefire to shore itself up (among other things by stepping up extortion), that advantage must be neutralised by hitting hard at its resource base and build-up.

It is significant that a meeting in Guwahati last week of the police chiefs of the seven north-eastern States as well as West Bengal and Bhutan, besides senior officers of the Army, the paramilitary forces, the intelligence agencies, and the Union Home Ministry, has responded to the overall situation with a new seriousness. The call for a tougher and more cohesive strategy to combat the multiple insurgencies and "fundamentalist movements with foreign links" in the larger region was on the ball. While the politicians can work out the eventual socio-economic and political solutions, the various security arms must coordinate their anti-insurgency plans and operations more urgently. The Unified Command Structure, which is now in place, should be able to improve deployment, coordination, intelligence-gathering, and information-sharing. Some of the rebel groups are known to be operating as a loose confederacy, sharing bases in adjacent States to elude or escape security offensives. Tightening security and intensifying patrolling along the border with Bangladesh must be given a higher national priority. New Delhi must pressure Dhaka, and also persuade it by offering fresh incentives, to follow the example of Yangon — whose army moved recently along the border with India to eliminate ULFA training camps and flush out its cadres.

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