Northeast after 1947 has lost its proximity to the entire nation, and 99 per cent of the region got surrounded by international boundaries. This proximity has exposed the region to be the practice ground for anti-India forces and compromise the nation’s internal security. Muddling the northeast has always been the strategy of anti-India forces even before Independence to keep India disturbed.
The northeast is a land bridge to ASEAN and South-East Asia; the strength of the geographical location of the northeast, when not leveraged, has turned into a vulnerability exposing it to be a practice ground for anti-India forces.
The northeast should be exploited as a platform to expand India’s political and strategic boundaries up to Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam through land, cultural connectivity, and Mekong cooperation. Sluggish and status quo mindset of political hierarchy in Delhi, within the northeast and bureaucracy, has allowed the region to remain frozen in time and space can be certainly termed as internal factors for the multiple problems faced by the region. Whereas the external factors responsible for instability in the region cause threat to national security, hindering growth, development and peace.
The northeastern states have recently seen a drop in violent activities, and accords with various insurgent groups have brought normalcy, but there is still work to be done. The Naga Peace Accord not concluding, ULFA faction under Paresh Barua, RPF of Manipur, and few other groups not coming to talks are causes of grave concern. Proxy support of Chinese intelligence agencies and ISI of Pakistan to reorganise and reignite the insurgency movement in the northeast causes a severe internal threat.
Chinese support to insurgents in the northeast came early in the 1960s; China’s proximity to the area and its relationship with India encouraged China to do so. China wants to keep India out of Myanmar; India out of Myanmar will be out of the lucrative markets of Southeast Asia and will also not be able to contain Chinese access to the Bay of Bengal.
Ever since India has decided to talk peace with various northeast groups to bring them to the mainstream, the Chinese have been on overdrive mode to help insurgent groups in this part of the country. Northeast India in turmoil benefits China. Therefore China would do everything possible to contain India along the Indo-Myanmar border to prevent India from encroaching upon China’s strategic, economic and political space in Myanmar.
Pakistan always had the northeast as a part of the scheme in its overall strategy, as history would reveal itself. From the very outset, Pakistan has shown its disagreement over the territorial division. Former Pakistani PM, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in his book, ‘The Myth of Independence’, laid claims to Assam and suggested that he wanted some areas of India’s northeast to be included in Pakistan” He openly confessed of Pakistani designs to convert Assam into a Muslim majority state by pushing in hordes of infiltrators and finally annexing it. The intervention of ISI through Jihadists in the northeast to establish its network through Jammat, political parties and indigenous insurgent groups has always been there to create instability in the region. The aim of such tactics is clear–to weaken India’s internal security system and to engage India internally to divert India from Kashmir and Pakistan.
Bangladeshi soil has been a base for the ISI to channel money and materials through Bangladesh to insurgent groups in the northeast. The anti-India operations have mainly been possible because of the large-scale illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in the northeast.
Northeast’s growing economy, democratic society and ethnocultural commonality with the bordering states have encouraged people from the neighbouring countries to migrate to India’s northeast. This population has been the prime target of Pakistani intelligence in every likelihood. Many influential groups in Bangladesh, who have had a dream of unification of Bangladesh with West Bengal and a part of Assam, are in a purposeful way working towards the realisation of this dream. Some of the influential groups described the north-eastern insurgents as freedom fighters.
The Golden Triangle’s proximity to the northeast is also an important factor that keeps the northeast destabilised. The Golden Triangle is the area where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. Most of the world’s heroin comes from the Golden Triangle. Myanmar is the second-largest producer of opium in the world. The Golden Triangle is now one of the world's leading areas for synthetic drugs exported to Australia, New Zealand, and across East and Southeast Asia. This drug corridor is an easy source of income for insurgents who collaborate with criminal gangs to smuggle drugs across the border. Criminals for their nefarious activities are misusing the proximity of India to the Golden Triangle. The growing nexus between drug smugglers and terrorist groups is a growing concern.
The external powers and their activities have impacted India’s northeast’s security. Historical and geographical factors have compounded the security concerns of the government. A number of factors are responsible for creating unrest and turmoil in the northeast. The role of the external powers in fomenting unrest in the region has not been understood clearly by the policymakers earlier. It is only in recent years that the destabilising role of the external powers and the security threat that they represent is being probed and countered.
The paradigm policy shift of the present Government from “Look East to Act East” has created trust in the populace of the northeast and development in a true sense has touched the region. Treaties and accords with the insurgent groups have boosted their confidence and made them feel important and equal.