India's restive northeastern region saw the maximum number of fatalities in terror strikes in 2008, surpassing Jammu and Kashmir in the latest figures released by an independent security think tank.
The northeast, particularly Assam and Manipur, has turned into a veritable killing field with the region accounting for 1,057 deaths compared to 539 casualties in Kashmir in the past year.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a New Delhi-based security analysis agency, Assam reported 372 fatalities while the death toll in Manipur was 500, second only to Kashmir, which recorded 539 deaths.
The SATP figures show that the total number of deaths in the northeast has increased from 640 in 2006 to 1,057 in 2008.
And most of the casualties in the northeastern states like Assam, Manipur, and Tripura were in towns and cities with urban terrorism rearing its ugly head in a new trend.
"This is a really dangerous trend with Assam and other northeastern states now witnessing a new form of terrorism where militants or terrorists are striking innocuous civilian targets to get maximum mileage without really confronting the mighty Indian security forces," said Nani Gopal Mahanta, coordinator of the Peace and Conflict Studies department at Gauhati University.
The Oct 30 serial bombings in Assam killed about 95 people and wounded 400 more, some of them maimed for life.
In 2008, Assam, Manipur and Tripura witnessed close to 70 explosions, most of them at crowded marketplaces, besides a systematic pogrom against non-Assamese people, particularly targeting Hindi-speaking migrant workers.
"Militants in Manipur were not known to target civilians in the past, but now we see rebels attacking civilians in markets," said A. Singh, a rights campaigner in Manipur.
While 2008 saw the northeast surpassing Kashmir in terms of terror casualties, the New Year too began on a chilling note with serial explosions rocking Assam's main city of Guwahati Jan 1, killing six people and injuring 50.
The terror attacks on New Year's day shook New Delhi and exposed holes in the security and intelligence gathering mechanism in Assam.
"We are committed to tackling terror firmly and hence trying to introduce tough anti-terror laws in the state," Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS.
On Monday, the Assam government tabled an amendment bill in the state assembly seeking extension of judicial custody for a terror suspect from six months to two years.
"We want to have more stringent steps to tackle terror and hence tabled the amendment bill called the Assam Preventive Detention (Amendment) Act, 2009," Gogoi said.
The impact of terror on the region's already beleaguered economy has doubled with investors shying away from setting up businesses in the state coupled with flight of capital.
Assam is seeking compensation from the central government for the whopping loss of about Rs.250 billion that the state has incurred due to 30 years of insurgency.
"In the last 30 years, Assam's economy has been badly affected due to insurgency, leading to fall in investments and damage of infrastructure," the chief minister said in a memorandum submitted to the 13th Finance Commission last month.
"We want Assam to be treated like other insurgency-affected states like Jammu and Kashmir and want financial dispensation from the central government to the tune of Rs.250 billion for the economic losses incurred due to insurgency," Gogoi said.
"It is impossible to fight militants and terrorists with obsolete weapons and hence we need to modernize our police force, for which we require funds in the next five years from the commission," said Ajit Singh, Assam's parliamentary secretary for finance.
Report on 6th January 2009