Nov 20, 2006 | 22:47 GMT

4 mins read

India: A Strategically Located Train Bombing

Two explosions on a passenger rail car in the Indian state of West Bengal on Nov. 20 left at least six people dead and 50 injured. Indian authorities suspect the Kamtapur Liberation Organization of carrying out the bombing.
At least six people are dead and 50 injured after two explosions on a passenger rail car in the Indian state of West Bengal on Nov. 20. The explosion occurred on one carriage as it was about to be connected to a larger main train, railway officials said. The Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) attacked Mumbai passenger trains June 11, but the location and small scale of the Nov. 20 attack suggest a different perpetrator. West Bengal Home Secretary Prasad Ray said the Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO) is the current suspect. The KLO is a very small group, but has links to the wider separatist movements. Notably, it is well-connected to the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the most powerful of India's separatist insurgent groups in the northeast. Talks between ULFA and New Delhi on resolving their decades-long dispute recently broke down, prompting ULFA to resume its bombing campaign in Assam, attacking oil infrastructure and civilian targets including markets in Guwahati. The KLO is a small-time group that has not engaged in major operations of late. If KLO did bomb the train in West Bengal, it likely did it at the request or at least with the aid of ULFA.
The attack occurred at Belakoba railway station, a few miles from New Jalpaiguri, 415 miles north of Kolkata. A few months ago police discovered two powerful bombs placed at gas stations in the nearby town of Siliguri. The Belakoba station is about eight miles from the New Jalpaiguri station, which is where the police suspect the bomb was supposed to go off since it is a busy station with heavy passenger traffic. There was a similar explosion at the New Jalpaiguri station in June 1999 that killed 10 people.
The location is telling; New Jalpaiguri is in the heart of the small bottleneck of Indian territory formed by Nepal and Bangladesh. The Siliguri corridor ranges from 13 miles to 25 miles at its thinnest stretch. India's rail and infrastructure connections to its militant-filled northeastern section all pass through this tight bottleneck; one modern gauge railroad, a national highway and an older meter gauge railroad run through the corridor. New Jalpaiguri is located at the intersection of the different gauged railroads — the nexus in a complex rail system, with direct links to Kolkata and Mumbai. Though this train was a smaller passenger train going from Haldibari to Siliguri, it would have had to stop at New Jalpaiguri for a long time, since the train was likely switching to a rail line with a different gauge. If for some reason the train and highway links in Siliguri were cut — not too difficult a task, as the bottleneck is so small — India would have to depend on Bangladesh for access into its northeast. India is loath to rely on Bangladesh for transit rights, as the country is full of Islamist militants who have been cooperating more with LeT to engage in attacks in India. India has gone so far as to negotiate with Myanmar to develop a port and water route for alternative access to the northeast, rather than deal with Bangladesh. The most interesting feature of the attack is the timing; Chinese President Hu Jintao is on a four-day visit in New Delhi to make a renewed push for Chinese and Indian economic cooperation. One of the outstanding issues between the two countries is China's claim to Indian territory in the northeast, notably sections of Arunachal Pradesh, over which the two sides fought a border war in 1962. China's envoy to India reiterated the claim Nov. 14, although the Chinese Foreign Ministry quickly downplayed it. India depends on the Siliguri corridor to maintain a hold on that region. China is far more interested in economic cooperation with India than in minor border disagreements. China and India are not going to fight a war over the area any time soon; however, India still has great anxiety over its ability to maintain power in the area. The separatists could have planned the blast to remind India that its hold on the northeast is tenuous, and that India must come to terms with the separatist groups in the region if it is to maintain control.

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