Arunachal Pradesh: Transit Hub

It is quite evident that the state has not had any active state-based insurgent group for a long time.

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Arunachal Pradesh, India [Photo: Sohan Rayguru/ Unsplash]

On January 13, 2024, Assam Rifles along with Arunachal Pradesh Police arrested one over-ground worker (OGW) of the Independent faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-I) in the Jairampur area of Changlang District in Arunachal Pradesh. The arrestee was involved in various extortion-related activities

On January 11, 2024, Assam Rifles arrested two ULFA-I operatives, identified as ‘2nd lieutenant’ Manuj Buragohain aka Pramod Axom and Masud Karim Sarkar aka Fatik Axom from Tirap District in Arunachal Pradesh. The arrestees, from ULFA-I’s Hachi Camp in Myanmar, were detained while trying to enter India across the Indo-Myanmar border at Lazio in the Khonsa Town of Tirap.

On January 11, 2024, Security Forces (SFs) arrested six insurgents of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) in Longding District. The arrestees were identified as the ‘secretary’ of the Wancho Region, Wangpang Wangsa, ‘major’ Pansa, ‘captain’ Mikgam, ‘captain’ Alung Ngodam, ‘sergeant’ Thangwang and ‘lance corporal’ Jamgang Gangsa. On interrogation, the arrested cadres, revealed information about a concealed cache of arms located between Knoknu and Khasa villages in Tirap District. Longding Superintendent of Police Dekio Gumja disclosed, “Operations in the area [specified] resulted in the recovery of three MQ assault rifles, detonators, mobile phones and other war-like stores.”

According to partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), in the current year (data till February 18, 2024) nine terrorists have been arrested in three separate incidents – NSCN-IM (six cadres) and ULFA-I (three cadres). In 2023, 39 insurgents were arrested in the State in 26 separate incidents – Yung Aung-led faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K-YA), 20; ULFA-I, eight; NSCN-IM, six; National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Reformation (NSCN-R) and NSCN-K, two each; Niki Sumi-led faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K-NS), one. In 2022, 38 insurgents were arrested in the state: NSCN-K-YA, 13; NSCN-IM and ULFA-I, six each; People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak-Red Army (PREPAK-RA), five; Eastern Naga National Government (ENNG), four; National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Unification (NSCN-U), three; and NSCN-R, one. Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data, a total of 734 insurgents have been arrested in the state. 

24 insurgents surrendered in the State in 2023 in nine separate incidents: ENNG, 15; NSCN-IM and ULFA-I, two each; and NSCN-K-YA, NSCN-R, NSCN-K, Eastern Naga National Organisation (ENNO) and NSCN-K-NS, one each. 27 insurgents surrendered in the State in 2022: NSCN (faction not identified), 14; NSCN-IM, five; NSCN-K-YA, three; NSCN-U and All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA), two each; and NSCN-R, one. No surrender has been recorded, thus far, in 2024. Since March 6, 2000, a total of 210 insurgents have surrendered in the state. 

Three insurgents were killed in Arunachal Pradesh in 2023, as in 2022. In 2023, the three insurgents were killed in three separate incidents and belonged to three separate groups: NSCN-IM, NSCN-K-NS and ULFA-I. In 2022,three insurgents were killed in two separate incidents and belonged to two separate groups: NSCN-IM and NSCN-K-YA. Since March 6, 2000, a total of 175 insurgents have been killed in the state.  

One trooper was killed in the state in 2023, as against none in 2022. On March 26, 2023, two NSCN-K-NS insurgents, identified as Tipu Kitnya and Rocksen Homchha, escaped from the Khonsa Jail in Tirap District after killing a police constable, Wangnyien Bosai, and critically injuring another trooper. A total of 38 SF personnel has been killed in the state since March 6, 2000, yielding a SF:Militant ratio of 1:4.6, clearly demonstrating SFs dominance on the ground.  

2023 recorded one civilian fatality, as in 2022. On December 16, a former Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Arunachal Pradesh, Yumsem Matey, was killed by suspected NSCN-K-YA militants, along the Indo-Myanmar border in the Tirap District. A total of 31 civilians have died in the state in insurgency-linked violence since March 6, 2000.

It is quite evident that the state has not had any active state-based insurgent group for a long time. However, it continues to witness some violence as it serves as a major transit route to Myanmar for the militants from Nagaland and Assam, who also set up camps and engage in extortion in the state. Most militant camps are, however, located in the Sagaing Region of Myanmar.

Three districts of Arunachal Pradesh – Tirap, Changlang, and Longding (TCL) – that are located on the border between India and Myanmar are the axis of continuing violence in the State. Out of Arunachal Pradesh’s 25 districts, only eight have recorded fatalities since March 2000: Tirap (110 fatalities: 76 terrorists, 18 SF personnel and 16 civilians), Changlang (50 fatalities: 32 terrorists, 10 SF personnel, and eight civilians), Longding (28 fatalities: 24 terrorists, three civilians and one trooper), Lohit (39 fatalities: 35 terrorists, three civilians and one trooper), Anjaw (one terrorist), Papum Pare (one civilian), Kurung Kumey (one trooper) and Namsai (one trooper). The last confirmed fatality outside this axis was reported on January 24, 2018, when an Army trooper was killed in a militant ambush on an Army convoy in the Nangtaw Khamti area of Namsai District.

NSCN-K-YA has been involved in a host of activities ranging from killing, kidnapping as well as extortion. The other active insurgent groups in Arunachal include NSCN-K, ULFA-I AND NSCN-IM. The region provides a marginal recruitment ground, particularly for the various factions of NSCN, because of a significant Naga population in the TCL Districts.

On February 17-18, 2024, ten workers employed at the Finboro coal mine in Changlang District of Arunachal Pradesh, were abducted for unpaid extortion money by suspected NSCN-K-YA and ULFA-I insurgents. According to reports, a group of seven armed militants held the workers at gun point and transported them in a dumper truck towards Old Longtoi, a remote location within Arunachal Pradesh. SFs later rescued seven out of 10 coal miners. Police after the incident noted,

Tirap, Longding, and Changlang districts in Arunachal Pradesh are vulnerable to insurgent activities due to their proximity to the Myanmar border. Militant groups, including ULFA-I, often utilize Myanmar camps as safe havens. They exploit jungle routes for easy escape after carrying out attacks. Unfortunately, this is not the first abduction incident in Changlang. Similar events have occurred previously.

Not surprisingly, on September 26, 2023, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) extended the disturbed area status in TCL region for another six months, noting that a further review of the law-and-order situation in Arunachal Pradesh had been undertaken. The notification read,

Now, therefore, Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts in Arunachal Pradesh and the areas falling within the jurisdiction of Namsai, Mahadevpur and Chowkham police stations in Namsai district of Arunachal Pradesh, bordering the State of Assam, are declared as ‘disturbed area’ under Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, for a period of six months with effect from October 1, 2023, unless withdrawn earlier.

On January 5, 2024, Arunachal Pradesh Governor Lt. Gen. (Retd.) K. T. Parnaik met Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Anil Chauhan, in New Delhi, and discussed security issues and developmental projects related to defence forces in the State. The Governor reiterated his call for adopting strategic measures to further strengthen and secure the areas bordering Tibet and Myanmar, including the insurgency-hit TCL region.

Maintaining peace and stability in Arunachal Pradesh is critical due to its geostrategic location. The Tirap, Changlang and Longding Districts of Arunachal Pradesh, which fall along India’s international border with Myanmar, are among the region’s last hotspots of insurgent activity. Even if SF operations have significantly reduced the threat, periodic escalations are likely to persist unless substantial infrastructure is built along the porous border. Neutralizing this threat will require ongoing counterinsurgency operations against ULFA-I as well as Naga insurgent groups in TCL areas.

Afsara Shaheen

Afsara Shaheen is a Research Assistant at the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, India

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