Sunday, August 13, 2006

India's "internal Iraq"

The sectarian fighting going on at present between the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds in Iraq, has its parallel in India's north-east, which has seven of India's 29 states, and is surrounded by China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan.

The largely hilly northeast is linked to the rest of India by only a tiny strip of land that is, at its narrowest point, just 32 km (20 miles) wide - which is of course why the Chinese attacked here in their unprovoked war against India in 1962.

In spite of the strategic, cultural and resource-related importance of the area, India's northeast is little known, even to most Indians.

It is home to not three (as in Iraq itself) but over 200 ethnic and tribal communities - and two dozen groups which are or have been involved in guerrilla warfare in support of their "nationalist" demands.

Nine of these rebel groups, having entered peace talks with the Central government in New Delhi, are at present observing ceasefires. Others are observing ceasefires voluntarily. But some are not. And the question is: how long will this situation continue? Will it deteriorate or get resolved?

The rise of Maoist rebels in the whole of India's east is an additional worrying factor.

Can India, will India, tackle its "internal Iraq"?

I have written on this area since 1977 or so, but for a recent story on this matter, see: Sphere: Related Content

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