Updated December 29th, 2023 at 16:09 IST
Sun rises in North East: Assam's road to peace and the ULFA deal
After the decades-long insurgency Assam sets its eyes to witness a historic peace deal signing on December 29.
ULFA peace deal: For decades, Assam has dealt with insurgency, leading to significant interventions by central paramilitary and armed forces. Among the notable operations conducted were Operation Bajrang and Operation Rhino, aimed at curbing the activities of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).
This prolonged conflict resulted in the loss of civilian lives, armed forces personnel, state police, and members of ULFA. As a consequence of these insurgent activities, the Disturbed Areas Act and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) were enforced in Assam back in 1980. However, presently, their application is limited to specific districts in Upper Assam.
Transition and rehabilitation programs
Since assuming office in May 2021, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has overseen a transition, witnessing over 7,000 insurgents from various rebel groups laying down their arms to integrate into mainstream society. The state government has further initiated various rehabilitation programs to provide opportunities for these former insurgents to lead dignified lives.
"To build the capacity of the SoO (Suspension of Operations)/surrendered cadres of different insurgent groups, the Home & Political Department has initiated a scheme called 'Swavalamban.' Through this program, entrepreneurship and skill development will be imparted to 16,000 cadres in phased manners," the government stated in a prior announcement.
Furthermore, Assam's Chief Minister has repeatedly urged ULFA(I) leader Paresh Baruah to rejoin the mainstream. Underlining dialogue, Sarma aims to resolve all outstanding issues amicably.
Efforts by Armed Forces for regional stability
However, it is important to acknowledge the efforts of the Armed forces that contributed to regional stability in Assam.
- Operation Bajrang: Launched on November 27 in the wake of imposed President's rule in the dense forests of Lakhipathar in Assam’s Tinsukia District, the Army deployed 15 of its brigades as per sources. This operation resulted in the apprehension of 2,800 suspected militants and a significant seizure of weapons and finances. ULFA retaliated, claiming 58 lives but subsequently declared a ceasefire in March 1991, allowing peaceful polls. The operation concluded on April 20. Interestingly, this operation was instrumental in revealing the ULFA-LTTE link. A senior LTTE member was visiting the ULFA camp, and it was also found that the landmines used by ULFA were similar to the ones which LTTE used. Following this, the Army, via intelligence ops, found ULFA fighters were training in Jaffna, and from there, they were provided weapons and explosives.
- Operation Blueprint: Initiated under Hiteswar Saikia's leadership, granting general amnesty to ULFA detainees. Despite this, ULFA regrouped, triggering the abduction of 14 officials. Following that, the army activated Operation Blueprint, intensifying surveillance to counter ULFA's resurgence and monitor new camps in Arunachal Pradesh.
- Operation Cloudburst: Executed as a surgical strike on September 15, 1991, coinciding with Operation Rhino, this operation by the Mountains division, Kumaon regiment, and Rajputana rifles together under the Eastern command led to the destruction of three discovered ULFA bases near Jona village and another in Arunachal Pradesh's Kopatali Chapri. Troops, following the success of their strike, sealed routes before commandos were air-dropped on forest bases, resulting in many vital seizures and arrests.
- Operation Rhino: Launched extensively across the state and its borders, the operation aimed to compel ULFA to engage in negotiations. Four divisions and 270 paramilitary companies were mobilised, leading to numerous arrests and raids on ULFA camps. Despite these efforts, top ULFA leaders remained elusive.
Toward peace and integration: the landmark peace accord
Authorities underlined a collaborative effort between the army, civil administration, and local support to address the insurgency issue. Although challenges persist, the strategic advantage continues to drive efforts toward sustained peace and development in Assam. And today,on December 29, the top delegation of ULFA’s pro-talk group shall ink a peace deal with the Central and state government to address the grievances and charter a new course for the assimilation of ULFA into the mainstream. According to sources, the peace deal is scheduled to be signed around 5:00 PM today. The signing ceremony, to be held in New Delhi, will see Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, and more than a dozen key leaders from the pro-talks faction of ULFA, led by Arabinda Rajkhowa, in attendance.
Published December 29th, 2023 at 15:43 IST