By Col. Anil Bhat (Retd.)

Decades of illegal migration from erstwhile East Pakistan, later Bangladesh, into Assam, eventually led to the bloody anti-foreigner agitation in 1983. Initiated by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), it produced a political party called the Asom Gana Praishad (AGP), and an armed wing called the United Liberation Front of Assom (ULFA), which, by the late 1980s had penetrated all departments of the state government and developed into a deadly menace, extorting money and killing with impunity. In late November 1990, when President’s Rule was promulgated and the army launched against it, its boss, Paresh Barua and close cohorts fled to Bangladesh, thereby betraying that very cause. Soon they came under the influence of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and establish contacts with other violent groups in that region.
ULFA became an effective tool of the ISI pursuing its aim of inducting and settling illegal Bangladeshi migrants in various parts into Assam, raising new madarassas and controlling old ones and trying to convert ethnic Assamese Muslims to fundamentalism, creating communal tension, circulating fake Indian currency, trafficking arms and narcotics, sabotaging installations, particularly rail and oil, and public services, carrying out assassinations and massacres and generally spreading terror. Whenever ULFA felt the heat of army operations, its oft-repeated ploy was to cry out for ceasefire and negotiations, only to get a respite and reorganise itself.

After 9/11, pressed by the US to dismantle terrorist tanzeems, Pakistan sent some elements to Bangladesh and added more after its peace process with India began in early 2004, thereby upping the ante in India’s NE. By 2008, with sustained operations depleting ULFA’s ranks and with the Assamese tap for reinforcements going dry owing to AASU’s alarm bells about a major demographic shift, Barua began a recruitment drive in Bangladesh, which fetched a good response from the Harkat I Islami (HuJI-B), who has spread to various parts of Assam and even Tripura launching bomb attacks, including the October 30, 2008 serial blasts in four districts.

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