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Published in the 1-15 Jan 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

No evidence of ISI in the N-E: US official

Imphal: The United States Consul General in Kolkata, Mr George Sibley in a recent visit to predominantly Christian state of Nagaland emphatically said that "there is no evidence of ISI in the Northeast region". He further said that "we are not being targeted in the region by Al-Qaeda inspired people". His observation on the presence of ISI in the region is significant in the context of the increasing assertions in the sections of media that Northeast has become another front of a kind of "ISI- Al-Qaeda joint venture" using Bangladesh as a launching pad.

The Jamat Islami-backed govt. of Khalida Zia is depicted to have been concentrating only on infiltrating of Bangladeshis into Assam and giving license to ISI to "shock and awe" the Northeast region. While we don't know the possibility of the ISI presence in Bangladesh and elsewhere, and the extent to which they are helping the insurgency outfits - almost all of them except one or two are non-Muslims - in the region, the disturbing fallout is the stereotyping of Muslims as "bad-guys", supported and backed by the enemies of the country. When Hindu-outfit ULFA and Christian outfit NSCN(IM) are reported to have been supported by the same enemies of the country , all Hindus and all Christians are not sought to be put in the same basket. Why this singling out of Muslims.

In a recent newspaper report in Manipur it was reported that authorities were worried over the presence of "Jihadi elements in Bangladesh and presence of ISI in the Northeast region" and this prompted the govt. to consider the enforcement of a Preventive Detention law in Manipur. What eludes any explanation is the fact what nexus could have been between the Jihadi elements and, say, NSCN(IM), the strongest in the region which proclaims that the salvation of mankind rests in Jesus Christ.

It should be noted that neither the report mentions any specific militant group as establishing nexus with those Jihadi elements and ISI, nor is there any active Muslim outfit in Manipur. All militant outfits are Hindus and Christians, and these outfits claim that they feel alienated from the system of the country. But mentioning the word like Muslims when Jihadi elements are mentioned the people of the region , already bamboozled into thinking in terms of black and white only, tend to see an Osama in every bearded man , and an ISI in every Muslim, bearded or not . This is the reason when somebody mentions ISI or anything of the sort in the region Muslims, to put it very plainly, tremble. Marginalized, neglected and vilified, Muslims are understandably terrified. To what end, one wonders.

The real problem in the northeast is the complex issue of interplay between ethnicity, regionalism and language related problems. The force generated by these issues is further complicated by the outside forces such as RSS which, seeing a golden opportunity in the ethnically divided region, is trying to cash in on. Instead of facing the real problem that underlines the present turmoil, focusing on peripheral issues is no way to bring about normalcy in the region. Even problems related to ethnicity are sought to be covered up or brushed aside by bringing in religion. K.S.Sudarshan's recent provocative statement in Imphal that Manipur is a Hindu Land which should not be disturbed in any settlement of Naga (who are predominantly Christians) problem is one such instance. Almost fifty percent of Manipur's population is not Hindu as Sudarshan desperately asserts them to be. His statement does more harm than good to the integrity of the state. It is very clear that forces, both from outside and from within the country, which thrive on divided society will try to sustain and perhaps also widen the schism between various groups, most notably between religious groups, for in it they have a cause - whether it is our enemy like ISI or home-grown organizations.

- Shakil Ahmad

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