What India should learn from the Manipur ambush

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Manipur  needs an integrated politico, military, socio-economic approach, says  Sanjeev Nayyar.

An  attack by Naga militants in Chandel district of Manipur resulted in  the deaths of 18 jawans. The last such attack was in 1987 when the  Nagas attached an Assam Rifles post in Manipur.

This  author had visited Manipur and Kohima in 2014 for Sangai and Hornbill  cultural festivals. Also drove 110 kms to the border town of Moreh  which is in Chandel district where the attack took place    .

Some  notes about attack. 

A  team of 6 Dogra Regiment was getting de-inducted (it was returning  after its stint). Units are mostly ambushed during induction (to  scare them) or de-induction (to give a message) thus all have to be  very alert.

During  deinduction other members of the battalion or another unit are  supposed to conduct a specific operation to clear the road called  road opening patrol. Unit has to move only after ROP is established.

According  to a media report there were 35 jawans in the vehicle and vehicles  too close to each other.

Brigadier  B K Ponwar, head of Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College  Kanker, says that 'in insurgency areas like the north-east before  deinduction, ROP should be in place by having cleared the road of  IEDs, piquet's having been established, mobile armed patrols along  the axis, first and last vehicle should have armed protection with no  other loads. As per rules, a distance of 100 to 150 metres between  vehicles is required and troop carrying vehicles must have 22  jawans.'

Going  by what happened it appears there was a gross violation of standard  operating procedures.

The  Telegraph newspaper reports that things got worse because the battalion's  commanding officer was on leave. His second-in-command had moved  ahead to Chandigarh and others officers of the ranks of major,  captain were on leave or temporary duty out of field area to take  examinations.

According  to an editorial in the Sangai  Express,  published from Imphal, the PRO of both the army and Assam Rifles were  on leave at the time of ambush adding to the confusion on what  exactly transpired.

The  hilly terrain and technology allows attackers to monitor movements of  army vehicles from heights. Guerrillas strike at weak spots, the unit  presented a weak spot. 

Tengnoupal  is very scenic but the terrain very difficult as you can see in pic.  During my visit found jawans doing an excellent job of checking since  local traders bring vehicle loads of consumer goods from  international market at Moreh. 

Who  was behind the attack and Myanmar angle?                        

Three  organisations are supposed to be involved: National Socialist Council  of Nagaland-Khaplang, Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup and the Kangleipak  Communist Party. In the past, the other two had maintained linkages  with NSCN-K. Note Chandel district is dominated by the Kuki  community, which invariably converts to Christianity.

The  primary objective of the NSCN-K is the establishment of a 'Greater  Nagaland' comprising of the Naga-dominated areas of the neighbouring  states within India, and contiguous areas in Myanmar. KYKL is a  Meitei group that wants to rebuild Manipuri society by clearing it of  all vices like immoral activities, drug trade and corruption. It is  primarily funded by extortion. The main objective of KCP is to  restore the independence of the erstwhile Manipur kingdom and to  bring about an egalitarian society.

There  is a Myanmar angle

During  1995 armies of the two countries conducted joint operations,  Operation Golden Bird, to get rid of north-east insurgents who after  training in Bangladesh would infiltrate into India through Myanmar.  'The 57Indian Mountain Division had tracked a column of 200  insurgents from various groups -- the NSCN, ULFA and Manipuri rebels  -- who had picked up a huge shipment of arms south of Cox’s Bazar  on the Bangladesh coast and was moving along the Myanmar border  towards Manipur. Between them, the troops from India and Myanmar soon  had the rebels trapped in a pincer movement.

It  was at just that moment that the government in New Delhi, which was  then a vocal supporter of the opposition in Myanmar, gave Aung San  Suu Kyi the Nehru Award for International Understanding. The military  junta in Myanmar were not impressed, and pulled out of the operation,  allowing the rebels to escape.'

India  should be guided by national interest and not assume that Myanmar's  fear of China's rise is powerful enough to push closer relations with  India.

 One  of the alleged perpetuators of latest attack, NSCN-K is also active  in Myanmar. The government there is in negotiation with 16-18  insurgency groups including NSCN-K for a long term cease-fire and  joining the democratic process.

Sensing  that it cannot deal with two hostile governments, NSCN-K has struck a  deal with the government of Myanmar to join the democratic process.  How then, can India motivate Myanmar to take action against NSCN-K?

Media  reports state that terror groups in the north-east, under Chinese  influence, have regrouped to form United Liberation Front of Western  South East Asia under the leadership of Khaplang, chairman of  NSCN-K. 

Some  more observations:

One, trade at border town of Moreh is done both legally and illegally.  Betel nuts, drugs and timber are smuggled in large quantities, said  locals. This could be a source of funding for terror groups.

Two,  rarely do terror groups target local politicians. Why? Many locals  told me of an unholy nexus between local politicians, contractors and  terror groups to milk huge financial grants from the Centre. Some  added that sections of the police force were involved too. That  leaves only the army to control insurgency. Not a good situation to  be in.

Three, the N Santhosh Hegde Commission (appointed by the Supreme Court)  indicted the security forces for extra judicial killings. An Officer  admitted there might be some excesses but added that the commission's  report had a demoralising impact on the armed forces.

Four, the Dimapur-Kohima-Imphal road is Manipur's lifeline. This has given  the Nagas undue control over Manipur. They block the highway at will  and prices in Manipur skyrocket.

Five,  according to the December 3 2014 issue of Eastern  Monitor Kohima,  24 per cent salaries of its one lakh employees is being deducted by  Naga political groups. Also a shop owner from Chennai, now married in  Kohima, said terror groups come and negotiate tax to be paid. In her  book War  and Taxes, Rakhee Bhattacharya calls it a 'revolutionary tax'. Local sources say  annual budget of NSCN-IM is over Rs 10,000 crore.

Six, the Meitei insurgent groups feel that the government has always paid  more attention to the Nagas. I am sure public perception in the rest  of India is similar.

Seven, Nagas need to reflect on their achievements of 50 years of statehood  and realise that the concept of Greater Nagaland (includes areas of  adjoining states and Myanmar) will never be allowed by Myanmar and  India. 

What  then is the way forward?                              

One, The Modi Sarkar needs to seriously engage with the government of  Myanmar simply put engage with all centres of power.

Two, India must strongly take up the matter of terror groups with Myanmar  and explore conduct of joint operations like in 1995. The army chief  should visit Myanmar.

Three, improve  people to people contact by starting the long discussed bus service  from Imphal to Mandalay. This would allow more Indian tourists to  visit Myanmar using Imphal as a base and Burmese devotees to visit  Bodh Gaya. (there could be regular flights from Imphal to Gaya).  Inflow of tourists will boost economies on both sides of the border.

Four, the road from Silchar in Assam to Imphal should be repaired ASAP.  Locals told me that a small section is controlled by Kuki community  who are against its repair. Note that Manipuris are a very brave and  proud people hence dislike being held to ransom by Nagas.

Five, come down strongly on smuggling especially of drugs. With broad guage  connectivity to Silchar done it has now become easier for Indian  companies to send their products to Myanmar.

Six, take an integrated approach to dealing with insurgency across various  north-eastern states.

Seven, engage with the Meitei insurgent groups. Manipur has a rich tradition  of music and dance like other states of the north-east.

Eight, every time PM Modi has a Madison Square type event it should be  preceded by performance of artists from Manipur, Nagaland etc. All  states to be encouraged to hold weeklong cultural festivals, one day  for each of the seven states. Cannot tell you how happy Manipuris  were to meet a Mumbaikar.

Nine, whilst urging utmost care the government must support the armed  forces totally and withstand pressure from international human rights  groups. 

Ten, the armed forces must ensure PRO is available at all times and better  media management at local level.

Eleven, promote tourism to north-east, Manipur in particular being in one  corner of India. Did you know that the largest freshwater lake in the  Indian sub-continent is, the Indian flag was first hoisted in Manipur  not to forget the state being birth place of Polo.

Lastly improve the quality of governance at the state level. Corruption and  extortion have to fall substantially.

Tripura  is an excellent example where insurgency was resolved through an  integrated politico, military, socio-economic and psychological  effort with the chief minister as orchestra-commander. People have to  be made to realise that in India, democracy allows anyone to win  elections and work for the benefit of people. Violence has short-term  and limited impact. Read: AFSPA  removal: Why Tripura and J&K are very different Click here to read

I  enjoyed every minute of the ten days I spent in Manipur. Amazing  dance, rocking music, indigenous games fun to watch, great markets  and lovely people.

India  needs to recognise who its friends are and then invest in  relationships.

Also  see pictures of
1. Loktak Lake
2. IMA Market Imphal
3. Indigenous Games Manipur
4. Polo at Sangai Festival
5. Moreh Border