Leadership: Chinese Home Delivery


October 4, 2011: Last month, India signed another agreement with separatist group ULFA. Both India and ULFA agreed to work out a mutually satisfactory peace deal. This was done despite reports that, last May, Chinese smugglers had delivered $2.5 million worth of weapons to ULFA, shipped straight from Chinese factories. This sort of deal needed, at the very least, the assent of the Chinese government. India suspects that China is encouraging these kinds of sales, as greater unrest in northeast India, where ULFA is based, suits China just fine.

India has been fighting separatist tribal rebels in the northeast for decades. Over the last decade, India seemed to be winning. India's long term strategy against tribal separatist rebels in the northeast (Assam) appeared to be paying off. Four years ago, one of the more prominent rebel groups, the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) seemed to be falling apart. Back then, ULFA was losing over a thousand members a year (surrendered, accepted amnesty, killed or captured). Many more simply quit. Several leaders also surrendered or were arrested. The key to this success was a campaign, begun a decade ago, to shut down ULFA sanctuaries in neighboring countries. In 2003, Bhutan cooperated, and ran the ULFA out. Then India made deals with Bangladesh and Myanmar to shut down ULFA camps there. Inside India, life was much more dangerous for ULFA fighters, and getting chased around by soldiers and police got old real fast.

All this happened at the time that many of the rebels were getting tired of their seemingly futile effort to achieve independence, or at least a lot of autonomy, for the tribes in the northeast. The fatigue was enhanced by the fact that many resistance group senior leaders were living in exile. After twenty years of struggle, these leaders had lost touch with the people they purport to represent. Moreover, ULFA was founded by men who believed communism was the future. The collapse of the Soviet Union, and evaporation of communist rule in so many nations, has made it difficult to keep believing.

Like many rebel organizations, the ULFA has largely turned into a criminal gang just to survive. But that's a hard life without sanctuaries across the border. The ULFA did not just fade away. Part of it survived and became a continuing irritant. That, plus growing success with criminal enterprises, help from China and new foreign base areas, kept the ULFA in the game.



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