The first time arrest of three Manipuri Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) members in Delhi on December 19, 2006 indicated the existence of direct linkages between Pakistan-based terrorists and the Meitei Pangal (Muslim) ultras. The incident has revealed once again the capabilities of the terrorist organisation to penetrate and established intricate networks in all corners of the country. It has also revealed a new trend wherein Manipur, with its unemployed minority Muslim youth, seems to be emerging as a fresh recruiting ground for the LeT.
Demographically, the Meitei Pangals constitute just over seven per cent of the total population of Manipur. Their literacy rate is low and the community has not progressed economically. A majority work as common labourers. Under these circumstances, religion serves as a powerful lure. Some of these youth from madrassas in the Lilong, Mayang-Imphal and Thoubal Districts of Manipur get recruited as terror operatives and are sent for training to Pakistan or Bangladesh. Funding for these madrassas comes from both Bangladesh and Pakistan as well as from Arab countries.
The three LeT militants, Salman Khurshid Kori (23), Abdul Rehman (24) and Mohammad Akbar Hussain (20), were arrested with two kilograms of RDX, two detonators and one hand grenade by the Delhi police on the morning of December 19, when they alighted from a Jammu-based bus in the Red Fort area. Joint Commissioner of Police (Special Cell) Karnal Singh believes that the three arrested Manipuris had received extensive training from LeT camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). It has been learnt from them that they were trying to establish a base in the capital to carry out multiple subversive attacks at crowded market places. Interestingly, one of the arrested militants, Salman was thought to have been the intended recipient of explosives that two Bangladeshis, Alamgir Hussain Roni and Abdur Razzaq Jiwon, were carrying when they were arrested on October 16. That the LeT terrorists are active in the capital can be assessed from the fact that out of the 33 terrorists arrested by Delhi Police in 2006, 17 belonged to the LeT.
In fact, Salman was in charge of recruiting LeT cadres in Manipur under the instruction of group commanders Abu Faris and Abu Furkan. Interestingly, he was also a liaison between LeT modules in Bangladesh and People's United Liberation Front (PULF), an active Muslim outfit in Manipur formed after a communal clash between dominant Meitei and minority Pangal on May 3, 1993. In fact, this 1993 clash, which resulted in the death of 150 people, directly led to the creation of Islamic militant outfits like Islamic Revolutionary Front (IRF), Islamic National Front (INF), United Islamic Revolutionary Army (UIRA) and United Islamic Liberation Army (UILA) in the region. Their main goal was to protect the Muslim community from such violence. PULF is today considered the strongest organization among Muslim outfits in Manipur. Most of its leaders are based in Chandel district. Besides seeking to safeguard the interests of the minority Muslim community in Manipur, PULF's purported objective also includes securing an Islamic country in India's northeast through an armed struggle in collaboration with other Islamist fundamentalist groups. It is alleged that the PULF has links with the Directorate General Field Intelligence (DGFI) of Bangladesh and Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), both of which provide it with arms and ammunition. Weapons like AK-series rifles, sten guns, carbines, explosives, hand grenades and gelatin sticks are commonly found in their arsenal. Till 2001, before it established links with DGFI, PULF only had a few vintage weapons. The main task assigned to this group by DGFI is to establish a safe corridor through Karimganj for its own agents and for those of Pakistan's ISI It has also been reported that Muslim youths selected from different Madrassas in Manipur to undergo arms training were sent to Pakistan via Karimganj and Bangladesh.
Does all this mean that the LeT really has a base in Manipur? The answer can be derived from the bomb blast at a Hindu temple (ISKON) in Imphal on August 16, 2006, which took four lives and injured 66 others. No outfit operating in the region claimed responsibility for the blast. Even though most outfits including PULF condemned such a heinous attack on a religious place, it is worth mentioning that such attacks against holy places is a model usually followed by the LeT. Evidence for this includes a number of recent terrorist attacks in India, which were meant to foment communal tensions. The Malegaon (Maharashtra) serial blasts at Arehmani Masjid (mosque) and Bada Kabrastan (cemetery) after the Friday namaaz on August 8, 2006 which took 41 people and injured 297 others; the two low-intensity explosions that injured 13 people on April 14, 2006 at Jama Masjid, New Delhi; the Mumbai 7/11 serial train blasts that killed 200 people and wounded 700, are all thought to have been perpetrated by LeT groups with the support of local Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMIs) and under the supervision of ISI to bring about communal disharmony and violence.
One interesting fact that was revealed after the arrest of the three LeT members was Myanmar's involvement as a training ground for the group. On December 21, 2006, Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil and his Myanmarese counterpart Major General Maung Oo agreed to cooperate on security issues, especially on the question of the movement of Northeast insurgents and Pakistan-based terrorists through the Indo-Myanmar border. Consequently, they have agreed to set up a "Police Liaison Post" for sharing information at the field and national levels. Though Myanmar had assured India earlier that it would not allow its territory to be use by any insurgents, security agencies believe that since the last one year LeT groups in collaboration with Assam's United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) had been using Myanmar's soil to train cadres. The ULFA camps situated in Myanmar provide infrastructure facilities to LeT operatives drawn from Muslims in Manipur. Unlike Bangladesh, Pakistan (or POK) where most of LeT bases are situated, Manipur shares borders with Myanmar and hence Manipuri LeT operatives take advantage of easy mobility through the country for training and hide-out. Myanmar has Rohingya (Muslim population of northern Arkan) insurgent groups like Ommat Liberation Front (OLF), Kawthoolei Muslim Liberation Front and Muslim Liberation Organisation of Myanmar. At present these militant outfits do not appear to be significantly active in Myanmar. However, their integrated connection with ISI, DGFI, Al Qaeda al Sulbah and Jamait-ul-Mujahideen (of Bangladesh) could be considered vital for encouraging future insurgency in Myanmar.
Unofficial local sources have claimed that a large number of illegal Bangladeshis had covertly migrated into Lilong and Hatta (Muslim pockets in Imphal) in the recent past. The above facts suggest not only the extension of Pakistan-based terrorist networks in Manipur or Myanmar, but they also indicate the threat that the Manipuri Pangal ultras pose to the security of the country. With the support and encouragement of foreign-based intelligence agencies and the LeT, Pangal militants might become a more significant threat and they might even step forward to challenge Meitei insurgent groups leading to communal tensions.