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The Shiliguri Corridor
Question Mark on Security
Pinaki Bhattacharya

A critical futuristic threat perception vis-à-vis India’s North Eastern region has long preoccupied many analysts and the Indian security establishment. The projected exercise would involve Pakistan launching an attack on Jammu and Kashmir. At the other end, China would engage India militarily in the latter’s Northeast with movement from Tibet, through Bhutan and via Alipurduar in the Jalpaiguri district and consequently cut-off what is referred to as the eastern chicken’s neck or the Shiliguri corridor. An Indian strategists’ nightmare come true. A possibility that was touched upon in the recently published novel by a former BBC journalist, Humphrey Hawksley, called Dragon Fire.

In such a projected war scenario, while India battles Pakistan and China, behind the lines of the security forces guarding the narrow strip of land called the Shiliguri corridor, which at its narrowest is 20 kilometres long and just 20 kilometres wide in the general area south west of Shiliguri, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the Bodos, the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation and other subversives trained in Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan raise attrition to a feverish pitch. China could, it is projected, choose to cut the chicken’s neck with irreversible consequences vis-à-vis India’s Northeast.

A reasonable assumption of this nature reportedly influenced a group of senior Indian security officials to meet in May 2000.1 The meeting concluded that a constant vigil needed to be maintained at the Bagdogra airport in Jalpaiguri and railway stations like New Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar, as also at Kishanganj and Katihar in the State of Bihar. Such a constant vigil was directed towards monitoring the movement of those who are rather quaintly called ANEs (anti-national elements). The meeting also resolved that a joint operation of Assam and West Bengal police needs to be launched to flush out terrorists, besides beefing up the deployment of security forces.

In case such hostilities actually broke out, one of the crucial Chinese objectives would be to capture a large amount of territory in northern Sikkim to secure a strategic hold. In tactical terms, this would translate into denying a launching pad to the Indian forces for an assault on Tibet. The other element of this thrust, it is projected, would be centred on capturing areas in Bhutan – the ones traditionally claimed by the Chinese – thus posing a direct threat to the Shiliguri Corridor, a key item on the agenda.2

The Shiliguri Corridor3 is an area of 12,203 square kilometers connecting mainland India with the outlying border States of the Northeast. An intelligence report of one of security forces operating in the area states: "As geographical configuration puts the North Eastern States of our country at a disadvantage for a lack of strategic depth, considered necessary to provide a buffer, the tenuous lines of communication (that run through this corridor) connect mainland India to the Northeast." The corridor’s dimensions extend lengthwise approximately 200 kms with a width varying between 20 and 60 kilometres. It houses the all-important feeder highways number NH 31 and 31a and the North Frontier Railways.

During the Sino-Indian war in 1962, a division-strength of troops was moved in record time from Punjab to Shiliguri in order to protect north Bengal and Sikkim from the advancing Chinese. The Chinese were pressing ahead of the Tawang sub-division of what is now known as Arunachal Pradesh, which the Indian troops had vacated. The Chinese were also found to be amassing troops across Sikkim. As Pakistan had terminated river traffic through the then East Pakistan, all supplies for Assam had to be routed through railways from Katihar in Bihar to Baminigaon via the corridor, where the Brahmaputra river needed to be crossed by ferry.

The corridor is also significant in light of the vital installations located around it, like the airfields of Hashimara and Bagdogra, and the oil pipelines, which run through the corridor. These installations are considered to be lethal sabotage targets for insurgent groups lurking behind the lines of defence.

One of the key borders that abut the corridor is with Nepal, stretching 144 kilometres on the other side of north Bengal. Being unmanned, the long stretch of the border proves immensely conducive for infiltration and also as a point of egress for ANEs originating in Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Furthermore, the Indo-Nepal Friendship treaty of 1950, which guarantees free and unhindered movement of Nepalese citizens between the two nations, has been handy for infiltration exercises. The absence of security forces on the Indo-Nepal border also attracts agents of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the external intelligence agency of Pakistan, and their co-conspirators to opt for various clandestine, or even occasionally, regular or open routes in the area. Of course, in legal terms, while the Nepalese and the Bhutanese can enter and exit at any point on the border, the other nationals are required to adopt only an authorised route, which also acts as the trade route between India and Nepal. In practice, however, there is little to prevent the ANEs from crossing over at any point, virtually of their choice.

It is only in recent times that the Indian security apparatus has become aware of the situation on the Indo-Nepal border. According to reports, the Group of Ministers that scrutinised the Madhav Godbole Committee Report on border management has recommended that the 1,751-km border be policed by the paramilitary force, the Special Service Bureau (SSB)4. According to news reports, the Godbole report critically analysed issues related to "border-fencing, safeguarding of air space, checking infiltration and smuggling activities, restructuring of para-military forces guarding the borders and adoption of modern technology as a force multiplier."5 The group, headed by the Union Home Minister, L K Advani, has also suggested that the SSB’s armed wing be brought under the command and control of the Union Home Ministry to counter smuggling and ISI activities originating in Nepal.6

According to premier intelligence agencies, the Shiliguri corridor faces threat not only from this pattern of free movement of personnel and goods through the border areas, but also from insurgents operating from Bhutan and particularly in Assam. The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) militants have been using the corridor for their movement for a long time. The recent emergence of another insurgent outfit, called the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO),7 in north Bengal, is adding to the worries of the security forces. Intelligence reports indicate that, in 1993, certain members of the Rajbongshi community belonging to the ranks of the All Kamtapur Students’ Union (AKSU) approached ULFA cadres in the Kokrajhar district of Assam and sought arms training from them. They were primarily directing their efforts towards organising an armed struggle for realising their demand of a separate Kamtapur State, carved out of the districts of north Bengal. Following their contact, 12 Rajbongshi youth were allowed to be trained in a training camp organised by the ULFA in Bhutan to the north of the trijunction of Bhutan-West Bengal-Assam. The training could not be completed due to a constant threat from the security forces and also because certain ULFA cadres had surrendered.

The Rajbongshi leadership, primarily the AKSU, however, continued their efforts. They contacted some members of the central leadership of ULFA, who in turn agreed to train them on the condition that they form a secessionist outfit. This led to the formation of the KLO. Members of the newly formed KLO were imparted arms training during 1996-97 in Samdrup Jhankar in Bhutan where the central headquarters of ULFA is situated.8 The KLO also established its headquarters near the ULFA HQ at Samdrup Jhankar. The ULFA’s agenda was to prop up the Rajbongshi militants for its own gains, and the West Bengal tribals were aiding the outfit to create safe havens in North Bengal.9 The trained KLO cadres, on their return from Bhutan mingled with the activists of the Kamtapur Peoples’ Party (KPP) and AKSU, and have been working with them. An estimated 100 KLO terrorists have received arms training at the Gelengphu and Kalaikhola camps in Bhutan, and reports also indicate that the ULFA and KLO had reached an agreement to launch a joint armed struggle.10 The movement for Kamtapur has thus turned violent with sporadic incidents of looting, extortion, killings and sabotage. Of late, the KLO and the ULFA have started an extortion drive targeting the local tea gardens.11 They are most active in Alipurduar in Jalpaiguri and Shiliguri sub-division of Darjeeling.

Reports indicate that a large number of KLO cadres have received arms training at the ULFA camps in neighbouring Bhutan.12 There are also reports of growing terrorist and subversive activities by the KLO in league with ULFA militants. Pakistan-trained and ISI-backed ULFA insurgents are reported to have imparted arms training to three successive batches of KLO insurgents. Of the three KLO batches, one was trained in a forest in Jalpaiguri district, while the other two were trained in Bhutan.13 The arrest of a KLO activist from Matabhanga on May 29, 2001 exposed the linkages between KLO and ULFA and the training structures in the corridor.14 Earlier, three KLO insurgents arrested from Cooch Behar on December 8, 2000, confessed to having undergone advanced arms training in the ULFA camp in the Fifshu jungles of Bhutan.15 According to official sources, they were part of a 60-strong batch of KLO and ULFA cadre, who had received advanced arms training between April 15 and July 15, 2000, at ULFA’s Nichula area command camp.16 In certain instances, KLO militants have been reported to sneak into Assam after committing violent activities in West Bengal. The ULFA cadres are reportedly entering the plains of Bengal from the Kumargram village on the borders of Bengal, Assam and Bangladesh, to train KLO insurgents.17 ULFA cadres have been using north Bengal as a transit point to go from Bhutan to Bangladesh and vice versa, while some militants have also crossed over to Nepal through this area.18 The ULFA militants often visit north Bengal for medical attention and there are reports that ULFA cadres also use the area to transport arms and ammunition to their camps in Bhutan.19

The forests on the border of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan with West Bengal also provide ample space for the insurgent groups to operate. The recent encounter20 between security forces and the Gorkha Liberation Organisation (GLO), a radical breakaway faction of the Subhash Ghising-led Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), cadres in the Tinkatari jungles provides ample testimony of the preparedness of the insurgents in the area, as also their growing co-ordination with various groups, particularly with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland –Issak Muivah (NSCN-IM). The attempted assassination21 of the Gorkha leader, Subhash Ghising, while he was returning to Darjeeling after a meeting with Union Home Minister Advani is an indicator of this collusion. The attack is widely believed to be the handiwork of Chhatre Subba, a one-time Ghising protege who has turned against the GNLF supremo for his purported betrayal of the Gorkhaland cause. One of the slain assailants was also identified as an NSCN-IM member. And the fact that the other team members were reported to have fled to Nepal is indicative of a broader conspiracy. The NSCN-IM is also allegedly training certain Gorkha and Nepali youths.22 Two NSCN-IM cadres were killed in an encounter in the Shamsingh forest in Darjeeling district on November 12, 2000.23 According to intelligence sources in Shiliguri, the NSCN-IM cadres were part of an instructors’ group that had travelled to West Bengal to impart arms and explosives handling training to the GLO.

Reports also suggest that the ISI was supplying a large quantity of arms and ammunition to the various Northeast terrorist outfits from the stockpiles of the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia after their defeat and eventual obliteration.24 These were picked up from the markets of Thailand and were transported to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, eventually to be used on Indian soil. The arms were shipped from Thai ports to Cox’s Bazaar and were then carried on headloads for rest of the way.25 The recipients were the NSCN-IM, ULFA and the Bodo groups.

The NSCN-IM has gradually become the primary militant outfit in the region, providing training and resources to various other groups. Recently, however, the Myanmarese authorities initiated a crackdown on the terrorist groups operating from their soil in the area. Media reports have indicated that an NSCN-Khaplang (NSCN-K) camp was attacked by Myanmarese and Indian security forces in the Konyak region of Myanmar, adjacent to Nagaland.26 Earlier, in October 2000, a botched operation of the Myanmar Army caused the death of five Assam Rifles personnel during an encounter with the Khaplang group cadres.27 Evidently, this mounting pressure has made the NSCN-K amenable to a cease-fire, which the Indian government offered recently.

Reports indicate that while there are no training camps of the ULFA and NSCN in Coochbehar and Alipurduar, there are indications that Bodo militants have their training camps in the adjoining areas at the tri-junction of these two districts with Bhutan, in the jungles of Kalikhola in that country. The security forces have arrested certain couriers transporting ration and also ascertained the frequent movement of Bodo militants along the banks of the Sankosh river near Kalikhola. Terrorist training camps in Bhutan also exist in the areas of Goberkundi, south of Udang river, Lungkhavgma, Merungphuc, Sukhini and Dinsing river. Even though these areas do not abut the Jalpaiguri district, arrested militants have confessed to having obtained training in these areas. An ULFA terrorist, Tarani Biasya, arrested in Alipurduar on February 9, 1998, had confessed to having been trained in Sukhini. These militants often transport small arms from Bangladesh to Bhutan through the Shiliguri Corridor on trucks that transport goods to and from Bangladesh, inducing the truck drivers and owners by threats and money.

Shiliguri town is a gateway to Guwahati in Assam, Gangtok in Sikkim and Kishengunj in Bihar. It also shares borders with three countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. The town’s cosmopolitan character, grown out of it being "an island of prosperity," makes it easier for outsiders to get assimilated into the local populace, thus providing perfect cover to the subversives. In fact, the West Bengal government had admitted on the floor of the State Legislative Assembly in 1999 that the Shiliguri corridor ran the risk of being sabotaged by ISI agents. This was admitted by the then Deputy Chief Minister and Minister in-charge for Home, while responding to the Opposition’s charges following a bomb blast at New Jalpaiguri Station of north Bengal on June 22, 1999. Some 10 persons, including two Indian Army personnel bound for Kargil, were killed and more than 80 persons injured in the incident.28

Security agencies are also concerned at the mushrooming growth of mosques and madrassas (religious seminaries) in the region. According to their estimate, in the last five years the total number of madrassas that have come up in the Shiliguri Corridor area are as follows: Coochbehar – 45, Jalpaiguri – 44, Shiliguri – 63 and Islampur sub-division, North 5, Dinajpur – 467. Of these only 23 in Coochbehar are recognized by the West Bengal government; eight in Jalpaiguri; two in Shiliguri and seven in Islampur. Yet, the others are flourishing with no dearth of funds. Intelligence sources suspect that people having linkages with Pakistan-based terrorist outfits have set up at least some of these mosques and madrassas.

Intelligence reports also state that the Pakistan-based Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA) – renamed as Harkat-ul-Mujahiddeen (HuM) – and active in Jammu and Kashmir, has spread its tentacles in the region, with Nepal and northern West Bengal as their preferred ground. It is reportedly spreading Muslim fundamentalism and establishing a string of bases in the Northeast, as also in northern West Bengal. The HuA is reported to have succeeded in raising a large number of supporters in the Dangipara area of Shiliguri town, as also in adjoining areas like Naxalbari, Fulbari, etc.

According to intelligence sources, another organisation called Tabligh-e-Jamaat is also reported to be active around the Shiliguri Corridor. They hold regular meetings along Champasari and Bardhaman Road near Hawra camp in Shiliguri and are also in contact with the Harkat-ul-Ansar in Nepal. There are also indications of close linkages between the two groups, with senior members of each attending the meetings of the other. Although the activity of the organisation is discreet, it reportedly includes anti-India propaganda, ‘universalisation’ of Islam and raising funds for ‘Islamic causes.’

Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar districts, which constitute the Coochbehar sector of the corridor, are bounded by the Bhutan border in the north, starting from Phuntsholing to Kalikhola tri-junction, and are also contiguous with 410 kilometres of international border with Bangladesh. To the east from Kalikhola the boundary runs south along the western bank of the Sankosh River, parallel to Kokrajhar and Dhubri districts in Assam. From the Bangladesh border, there are three points where the Bhutan border is at a distance of approximately 60 kilometres. This area not only has NH 31 and NH 31A running through it, but also has broad-gauge and metre-gauge railway lines passing through before entering Assam. The demographic character of the area along the Bhutan border comprises Santhals, Bodos, Nepalis and Rajbongshis. In the Cooch Behar sector live the Bengali Hindus, Rajbongshis, Bengali and Bihari Muslims. Rajbongshis, Bengali Hindus and Muslims live in the areas along the Bangladesh border.

The demographic profile within a 5-kilometre belt of the international border with Bangladesh has undergone rapid changes. According to intelligence sources, in Jalpaiguri district, while the population of Hindus and Muslims has been 1,35,938 and 1,63,522 respectively in 1981, in 1991 it rose to 1,90,805 and 2,35,733 respectively. In Coochbehar, the figure in 1981 was 2,17,588 and 1,41,001 respectively; while in 1991 it was 2,94,038 and 1,85,528 respectively. In the Shiliguri sub-division of Darjeeling district, the numbers were 48,110 and 71,215, respectively, in 1981; while in 1991, they were 72,518 and 1,12.302, respectively. In the Islampur and Raigunj sub-divisions of north Dinajpur, they were 1,78,583 and 2,60,507, respectively, in 1981; rising to 2,51,472 and 3,41,325, respectively, in 1991.

In early 1999, a media report had indicated that a significant demographic transformation was occurring around the Corridor, causing serious concern among security agencies. The report, quoting official sources, pointed out that, while in 1971 the Muslim population was 15 per cent, in recent years it has touched a high of 70 per cent in some areas, primarily due to illegal immigration from Bangladesh. The report referred to the phenomenon of a large number of Muslim immigrants residing in Islampur of North Dinajpur district as also Kishangunj of Bihar. The report had also claimed that untrammelled passage through these areas was available to the thousands of Bihari Muslims who claim Pakistan’s nationality but remain in Bangladesh because the former refuses to take them in.29

Given the criticality of threat perceptions, one needs to discern the reasons for such an apparent laxity in vigil. It is plausible to seek explanations in the tradition of thin policing of the borders in the area. Security force levels in the Cooch Behar sector30 consist of four units of the Border Security Force (BSF) deployed along the 410 km of the international border, from border post number 814 to 1001; on the Assam-Bhutan border, a three-company strength of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is deployed. The West Bengal Armed Police maintains a platoon and an Army unit is deployed in Cooch Behar, but is not assigned internal security duty. SSB companies are also deployed in Tufanganj, Natuarpur and Hindusthan, and in other areas in the sector. The configuration of intelligence agencies in the area has the Intelligence Bureau at the apex followed by the Field Intelligence Units (FIU) of the Army, SSB and the BSF. Efforts are currently being directed towards seeking a unified effort and greater co-ordination in operations of the security forces.

One of the key security concerns of the area is gunrunning. According to a media report, there were two routes through which this lucrative trade was being conducted. In the first, arms were first sent to certain safe havens in Shiliguri and later dispatched in small quantities by local couriers who would typically travel by road or rail. Consignments were then loaded on Dooars-bound buses heading towards Jaigaon on the Indo-Bhutan border. Gunrunners also utilise the metre-gauge railway line between Shiliguri and Alipurduar via Hashimara and Birpara. They are then transferred to hideouts in the Jayanti hills in the north or Alipurduar in the south.31 The other preferred route is through the riverine tri-junction in Kishangunj in the Coochbehar district of West Bengal. The loads are ferried by country boats at night and later transported in small numbers by local carriers to Islamabad in Madarihat and Falakata in the Jalpaiguri district.

Another cause for concern for the security apparatus is the growing nexus between the militant groups and illegal timber traders. Along the Assam-West Bengal border, timber trading is a lucrative business due its high demand in West Bengal and in other parts of the country. Various sawmills in the area north of Bakshirhat in Cooch Behar are reported to be recipients of smuggled timber, including teak and sesame wood, from Assam. Sawmill owners enjoy the patronage of terrorist outfits based in Assam, who in turn extort large sums of money from them in return for security. In their operations, the militants also utilise various modes of transport like trucks, mini vans and motorcycles owned by the sawmill owners. Recent developments show that the Bodo militants, as also the ULFA, have shifted base to the forests of Bhutan, traversing from their earlier safe houses in Bangladesh. At the narrowest point in the region, the distance between the Bhutan border and the Bangladesh border is a mere 60 kilometres. And considering the fact that the Cooch Behar sector is relatively calm, it is policed lightly. Furthermore, there are no mobile checkposts in the region to challenge any movement of suspicious nature.

Intelligence agencies fear that many key installations in the Shiliguri Corridor are liable to sabotage by militants. Such installations include the bridge on the national highway near Barovisha in Darjeeling district, the railway-bridge over river Raidhak, the bridge connecting the national highway and the railway-bridge over Sankosh River.

Before 1947, the North Eastern States, especially Assam, were connected with the mainland through waterways, road and railway networks running through what was then a part of the Bengal Presidency and later named East Pakistan and, eventually, Bangladesh. Thus, linkages between that country and the Assamese were deep, and these, the ISI later sought to exploit. In fact, a Foreign Service officer of Bangladesh, Mohammad Siddique, has claimed that "India had received the corridor at Shiliguri, though Bangladesh (i.e. the then East Pakistan) had more claims over the territory because of population characteristics."32

Such a mindset has created worries in the security establishment, and these were articulated by the former Director of the Intelligence Bureau and former Governor of West Bengal, T V Rajeshwar: "It is not Kashmir alone which should cause anxiety. The Bangladeshi infiltration, which continues unabated, has changed the demographic pattern of eastern India. There is a grave danger to the Shiliguri Corridor, which is the lifeline of the seven North Eastern states and Sikkim, because of the concentration of the Bangladeshi migrants there. Bengal’s premier in 1946, Nizamuddin, wrote to Governor R.G. Casey that Bengal would soon become a Muslim majority province if left undisturbed. Even if his dream was belied because of the Partition, Dr. Henry Kissinger’s foreboding of a Muslim majority state emerging from within Indian borders is there to contend with."33

Thus, it is evident that the Shiliguri Corridor faces major threats in its geographical vicinity from the overbearing Chinese presence as also from relatively minor neighbours like Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Furthermore, the overarching consideration in the security framework is the ability of Pakistan to subvert the regimes in these countries and consequently increase insurgent pressures in the area.

Since the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the architect of Bangladesh and its first Premier, every regime in that country has fostered anti-Indian forces within its territorial ambit. Indeed, Begum Khaleda Zia, the current Premier, had gone to the extent of calling the Northeast insurgents, "freedom fighters."34 The crucial leverage that Bangladesh has gained in its endeavour to create instability in India at a low cost is the large number of its own people residing on Indian soil. The Bangladeshis have a novel way of ‘legalising’ their immigration in India. The relatives who are in India reportedly get the names of those across the border included in the voters’ list during enumeration. As their names finally appear in the list, messages are then sent across to them to finally cross over. It is this population that reportedly creates a buffer of non-combatants for the militants and they utilise them as perfect cover.

Even though an Indian protectorate, the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan has, in the recent past, played host to ULFA and Bodo militants, who have found a comfortable habitat in the southern part of the country. In fact, some reports claim that captured ULFA cadres have vouched to witnessing three visits by the King of Bhutan to their camps. However, recent reports reveal that the Bhutanese government has commenced fortification of its borders with Assam, ostensibly to deter the free passage of militants. They have reportedly deployed 3,000 troops on the border and are planning to put more forces on the ground.35 But the King and the government indicate marked reluctance to engage the militants on the grounds that "We are not sure of the kind of support these militant groups enjoy in Assam and in case there is an armed conflict between the Bhutanese security forces and the militants, it would have a major impact on the country’s economy and its age-old relations between the people of Bhutan and Assam would be seriously affected. It may take many years before the relations normalised."36

Certain analysts perceive eastern Nepal, bordering the Shiliguri Corridor, to be the springboard for Pakistan-sponsored insurgency in the Northeast. Nepal’s proximity to this passage assumes significance because of its strategic importance. Bound by Nepal and Bangladesh in the south, the use of this passage for transferring small arms and contraband from both the countries is now well established.37

The fact that Nepal has been open to subversion by ISI operatives is also beyond dispute. Yakoob Memon, one of the accused in the 1993 Mumbai blast case, was traced in Nepal,38 and then the infamous IC-814 hijacking had its origins at the Tribhuvan International Airport, causing substantial damage to bilateral relations between India and Nepal, which took some effort in mending. But the fact that the Nepalese are not adopting a laid-back attitude about taking actions against those who are using their territory for launching anti-India campaigns is evident in the recent arrest and incarceration of a senior Pakistani diplomat, who was found in possession of large quantities of explosives.39

In 1962, when the Chinese had begun their troop concentration across the border, Indian security planners were rightly worried about the possible threat to eastern India. This had led to a decision to withdraw troops from the Punjab border with Pakistan and mass them in Shiliguri focusing on the area of the Corridor. This was a difficult decision to make because intelligence agencies were suspicious of General Ayub Khan’s intentions. Yet, the then Defence Minister, V.K. Krishna Menon, had obtained the necessary clearance from the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to move troops from the Northwest to the East.40

One may take note that the Kamtapur Peoples’ Party (KPP), which contested the recent elections to the State Legislative Assembly in West Bengal, had failed to secure a significant mandate. Receiving an average of seven per cent of the total votes polled, the KPP has been humbled in vast tracts of North Bengal, which it wants to be a part of their ‘new State’ of Kamtapur. But now that they have failed to secure democratic sanction for themselves that could have validated their demand by providing numerical muscle, what will the party’s next agenda be? There exists a sense of collective denial about the existence of any insurgent action committed by anyone attached to the movement for a separate Kamtapur.41 Almost to a man, the KPP leadership has refused to acknowledge the existence of the KLO, even as the security agencies were equally insistent about its threatening presence.

In the light of these developments, it is imperative to critically scrutinise the significance of the Shiliguri Corridor and to initiate steps to render it safe in the larger interest of maintaining the sovereign security and integrity of the region as also of the nation.


# Pinaki Bhattacharya is a Special Correspondent with Mathrubhumi, and is based in Kolkata, covering West Bengal and the Northeast.

  1. The meeting took place in Assam. Source: Intelligence reports.
  2. "Evaluation of the Chinese Threat", See

  3. The corridor comprises Islampur sub-division of Darjeeling district, Jalpaiguri Sadar and Alipurduar sub-divisions of Jalpaiguri district and Toofanganj, Mathabhanga, Coochbehar Sadar, Dinhata and Mekhliganj sub-divisions of Coochbehar district.

  4. Based on the report of the Kargil Review Committee chaired by K Subrahmanyam, the then Convenor of the National Security Advisory Board, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee constituted a Group of Cabinet Ministers (GoM) in April 2000 to review the national security system and to formulate specific proposals for implementation. The GoM set up four task forces, one each for intelligence apparatus, border management, internal security and management of defence. Madhav Godbole, a former Home Secretary, headed the task force on border management. He submitted a 499-page report to the GoM, headed by Union Home Minister L.K. Advani.

  5. See "Ministerial group gets report on border management",; The Godbole report recommended that paramilitary forces such as the Border Security Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Assam Rifles should man international borders, but operate directly under the army in cases where the boundary line is unsettled or under dispute.

  6. The Telegraph, Kolkata, December 11, 2000

  7. The Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) was formed in 1995 by the Koch-Rajbongshi tribes to carve out a separate Kamatapur State, comprising six north Bengal districts and Goalpara district in lower Assam through an armed struggle. For a profile of the KLO, see South Asia Terrorism Portal; India; Terrorist Groups; Assam; KLO;

  8. "WB separatists woo Assam tribals"

  9. Ibid. The decision to prop up Rajbongshi rebel outfits was taken by the ULFA in December 1995 at the initiative of Raju Baruah, a senior leader of the ULFA's military wing. Subsequently, the ULFA entrusted the then chairman of its Darrang district unit, Ajit Kachari, with the task of setting up the Koch-Rajbongshi Liberation Organisation (KRLO) in Lower Assam. Simultaneously, the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) was formed in North Bengal following a meeting at Kumargram. The first batch of 25 KRLO members went to the ULFA camps in Bhutan for training in December 1995.

  10. "India: ULFA, KLO to launch joint movement in Assam". Both the outfits also decided to indulge in joint extortion drives in Assam. This decision was taken at a meeting in Bhutan in July 2001.

  11. "India: North Bengal turning into hotbed of militancy",

  12. See South Asia Terrorism Portal ; India; Terrorist Groups; Assam; KLO;

  13. "West Bengal seeks more forces"

  14. "Kamtapur-Ne Nexus Uncovered",

  15. "Ominous Kamtapur Nexus Unearthed",

  16. Ibid. Nichula base is adjacent to Kalikhola on the Indo-Bhutan border north of Uttar Haldibari. The camp, reportedly, is approximately 8 km north of Allay bust, the last Bhutanese border village, inside the Fifshu jungle.

  17. "Separatist movement in North Bengal gets Ulfa help",

  18. "Bengal CM cautions against ultras",

  19. Ibid.

  20. Two suspected militants were killed in an encounter with police at Tinkatari near Samshing, close to the Bhutan border on November 12, 2000. Those killed were reportedly cadres of the Gorkha Liberation Organisation. One security force personnel was killed and another injured during the encounter. See "Naga ultras killed in shootout", Statesman, Kolkata, November 13, 2000.

  21. On February 9, 2001, militants armed with sophisticated rifles and grenades attacked Ghising’s convoy bound for Darjeeling from Shiliguri on a narrow and winding mountain road. See "Thunder in the hills", Hindu, Chennai, February 18, 2001. Subba was arrested on March 23, 2001 near the Indo-Nepal border.

  22. "Stealthily, a rebel Gorkha group builds a base",

  23. "Bengal CM cautions against ultras",

  24. "Ultra Getting Arms from Khmer Rouge",, See also "ISI training outfits in camps across Bangladesh",

  25. See South Asia Terrorism Portal; India; Assessment;

  26. Times of India, New Delhi, May 19, 2001.

  27., October 26, 2000.

  28. Pioneer, New Delhi, June 23, 1999. Also see "The Islamization of West Bengal", tiowb.html

  29. Times of India, February 15, 1999.

  30. Intelligence sources.

  31. Telegraph, December 13, 2000.

  32. "Kathmandu Revisited", People’s Review, Kathmandu, August 7, 1997.

  33. T.V Rajeshwar, "The Lessons of Kosovo", Hindu, May 5, 1999.

  34. Sreeradha Dutta, Security of India’s Northeast: External Linkages", Strategic Analysis, New Delhi, November 2000, Vol. XXIV No. 8, p. 1506.

  35. Times of India, May 19, 2001.

  36. Times of India, April 16, 2001.

  37. Hindu, September 8, 1999.

  38. Dutta, "Security of India’s Northeast", p. 1506.

  39. Police in Kathmandu arrested a senior Pakistani diplomat Mohammad Arshad with 16 kg of RDX on April 12, 2001. According to official sources, the arrested diplomat, the first secretary in the Pakistani Embassy, was due to return to his country after a posting in Nepal. See

  40. B.N. Mullik, The Chinese Betrayal, Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1971, p. 382.

  41. This was made evident during the writer’s visit to the region.






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