14 May 2016. Monyakshu, Near Nagaland-Myanmar Border.
Vinayak Barua sat idly in his old Gypsy while he waited for his contact. Time for the meeting was 21:30, late enough for most of the village to start making preparations for a good night’s sleep and not late enough for people to think twice about a neighbour going out for an after dinner walk. It was already 15 minutes past the meeting time and he was tempted to make a phone call to check what was holding him.. OPSEC (Operations Security) policies dictated that he’d leave the area within the next 15 minutes if other person didn’t arrive in time. So his anxiety increased with each passing minute.
His contact who used just a single name Khekaho was a middle level over-ground worker in National Naga Freedom Council (NNFC). It was one of many militant groups operating in some north-eastern states of India. Some such organisations started out as a way of protest by the local people against the slow progress and lack of economic opportunities. A small number were clan or tribe based groups which started out due to their real or imagined grievances against another tribe and people branded as outsiders in the region. Many of these groups were mostly political in nature and had little interest in violence for the sake of it. Quite a few of them were financed by Christian missionaries who used the tribal and ethnic tensions to their own advantage.
Then there were a few rag tag bunch of wannabe gangsters and petty criminals who gave their groups names consisting of words like freedom, republic to sound cool and add a air of legitimacy to their business of extortion, drugs, theft, robbery and murder.
Intelligence agencies kept a tab on all of them for various reasons like political alliances, local business interests, maintaining peace and so on. Leverage used by the security agencies was used often to shift loyalties in order to bring a certain political party in or out of power and thus to keep anyone from becoming too powerful.
An even smaller number were groups like this NNFC were different from the rest. Financed by enemy nations, their major reason for existence was to keep the pot of violence and instability boiling in the region. Their cadres joined groups like these for various reasons ranging from some grievance against government, money, desire for a separate nation and so on. Majority were motivated and trained well in skills of guerilla war and intelligence gathering. They were not big or armed enough to cause serious disruption to normal life by themselves like muslim terrorists in Kashmir. But their occasional actions like ambushes of small parties of soldiers, threats and extortion kept Indian security apparatus on it’s toes.
It had been like this for decades. There were many groups like NNFC before and most of them operated for a few years before dying out for various reasons such as lack of leadership, members giving up arms for a return to normal life, pressure by security agencies and so on. The complex tribe based social structure in Nagaland and nearby states meant that maintaining a common ground and unity in a big organisation was never easy. Even NNFC was one of the splinter groups from another violent group Nagalim Socialist Council (NSC) which in 1993, had disbanded after the majority of leadership and cadres surrendered to go back to non-violent civilian life.
Current head of NNFC was Nuzota Swuro who commanded loyalty of a significantly large faction in NSC. A very large number of members of this faction had suddenly disappeared a few days before the disbandment was formally announced. Intelligence reports indicated that they had gone to Myanmar and China, both of which hosted numerous camps for training and shelter for these militants groups.They had trickled back in to India over the next few years along with a significant amount of modern weapons and training to use them. Over the next 15 years, NNFC became the biggest and most dangerous militant group in the north-east with almost a paramilitary like structure. They had training camps and supply pads in China, Myanmar and Bangladesh which were mostly out of reach from Indian defence forces and intelligence agencies. Ill equipped security forces of two neighbouring countries had little interest and no resources to act against the terrorists hiding in deep jungles who rarely if ever operated against their interests.
They raised some of their funds from extortion, drugs and illegal smuggling. But the major source of their funding, weapons and training was China. All of their top leadership had spent some time in Chinese training camps at one time or the other. After Swuro’s death, his deputy Khochero Elias took over control of the group. Unlike his predecessor, he was not content with being a glorified mafia boss and had increased the degree of violent crimes. Within 1 year of his taking over the reigns of the group, there was an increase of 30% in murder of civilians and number of attacks on police and army had increased too. Many of the group’s members were caught or killed by the security agencies but it had only a marginal effect on the activities of NNFC.
Another thing which concerned Indian authorities was the sophistication of weapons and tactics employed by the group. In previous years, most of the militants used old Chinese AK-56, hunting rifles, an occasional grenade, low quality explosives and other miscellaneous weapons smuggled in from neighbouring countries. But after Elias took over, they were using much better weapons and using high grade explosives in their acts of sabotage of bombings. Their tactics had also improved significantly which pointed to increased Chinese involvement.
Indian security agencies had responded to the increased threat and provocations as quickly they could. The new regime in center had given local intelligence and counter-insurgency units a lot more freedom, funds and they had justified the faith put in them. Increased cooperation and improved relations with Bangladesh and Myanmar had helped a lot too. Using carrot and stick policies, India had managed to demolish a number of NNFC bases in the two countries and apprehended or killed key members of the militant group.
Loosened purse strings and more freedom meant that ground level intelligence officers like Barua could cultivate a lot more sources and gather better intelligence. Unlike most of his newer recruits, Khekaho was one of the older and more reliable ones. He was involved in taking care of NNFC’s finances and thus had fairly good knowledge of the group’s inner working. His intelligence had always been accurate and had helped IB counter NNFC influence and defuse their operations a number of times in the past. Usually it was Barua who called for meetings, but Khekaho had contacted him this time and promised something big. So Barua was a bit more forgiving and willing to wait even at the risk of violating the usual OPSEC.
There was a single ring on Barua’s mobile phone from Khekaho’s phone signalling his arrival. Barua got out of his Gypsy and walked to the tree line to find his Naga informant chewing supari nonchalantly. He nodded at Barua and spat out the well chewed supari before speaking, “Sorry, got held up at the house by children.”
Barua considered asking him about the details and then decided against it, “Staying on time is essential for safety of both us Khe.”
“I know, I know. But it was unavoidable. When I have ever let you down before, eh ?.” Khekaho grinned apologetically and continued. “What I have for you this time should more than make it up for this long wait. It’s about your long lost friend, Kivigho Chishi.”
Chishi was considered by many to be the backbone of NNFC due to his role in arranging finances and weapons for the militant group. He had been arrested once as a lower level operative in 1999 and was sentenced for three years in jail. After his release, he had spent a few years here and there in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland keeping a low profile. Then he had suddenly vanished from the surveillance network and there were occasional reports of his sightings in Bangladesh. Multiple intelligence sources confirmed that he had joined hands with some local muslim terrorist organisations in order to smuggle weapons for them as well as terrorist groups in India in addition to NNFC.
After increased cooperation between Indian and Bangladeshi intelligence agencies, he had vanished again two years back and not heard of since then.
Barua’s ears perked up upon hearing the name but he feigned disinterest, “What about him ?”
“Do you know where is he now and what he is doing ?”
“Come on Khe,” Barua sighed, “Enough with the games.”
Khakaho spat out remaining supari from his mouth and lowered his voice as if wary of someone eavesdropping, “He is in Bangkok right now finalising shipping for a huge consignment of weapons. Elias’s people transferred 20 lakh to a Thai hawala last week to pay for this. There was perhaps more, but I don’t know how much.”
Hawala/Hundi is an informal and illegal way of transferring money in certain parts of the world in which a person can transfer money to someone else through an intermediary without any involvement from banks or regular financial channels.
“20 lakh isn’t much for the weapons.” Barua seemed unimpressed.
“This amount is just for the “shipping” of one consignment. You didn’t hear me right. Here is the consignment list. Read it when you get back, don’t light up anything here. For anyone who noticed me take a walk, I am just taking a piss here. ” Khekaho handed him a handwritten slip of paper and looked at Barua expectantly.
It was quite dark but Barua could guess that the expression on Khekaho’s face would be that of expecting some payment. But he was not going to just give away money just like that. “What’s in the consignment ?”
“Consignments actually, three from what I know so far. Two will be on ships from Bangkok, One for Sonadia in Bangladesh and second for Sittwe in Myanmar in 3rd week of May. Third will directly come from either Zhuhai or Shantou, I don’t know about the dates or destination or type or name of ships. You’ll have to find that out for yourself.
And before you pay me, I’ll just speak out some of the weapons in the consignment, right ?
600 Kalashnikovs with 2.2 lakh rounds, 60 RPG-7 with 170 rockets, 180 9 mm pistols with 50 thousand rounds, 1000 grenades, 450 kilos of plastic explosives, 30 electric detonators and there are some drugs, light machine guns, grenade launchers and 6-8 mortars too, but I don’t remember the quantity. The paper I gave you has them all and some more.”
Since we are such old friends, I’ve scribbled down the phone number for one of the hawala guys that Elias used. All you have to do now is, well… do whatever you James Bonds do.”
Barua stared at the slip of paper in his hand trying to read it in the dark and said without looking up, “This consignment of weapons is enough to fight a full fledged war for weeks and should cost tens of crores. How reliable is this information and who is paying for it ?”
Khekaho chuckled, “I’m not that big of a fish Barua sahab to know all the details. I just provide you with what I know. Nothing more, nothing less. Who paid for all this shouldn’t be difficult for you to find out. But I absolutely have to go now. My wife thinks I’m having an affair.”
“Well, you are not that good looking at this age to have another affair.” Barua took out an envelope and handed it over. “The usual. If this information is correct, then more next time we meet.”
Khekaho pocketed the envelope and both men shook hands to leave. Barua had tried to play it cool but he felt excitement he had not felt in years. If Khekaho was correct, they had the chance to deal a huge if not a finishing blow to NNFC.