The Paraolon Ambush: Time to recognize the state of armed conflict
- Part 1 -

Kangujam Sanatomba *

Condolences given to departed soul at Tuhilal Airport who expired at Paraolon on 6 June 2015
Condolences given to departed soul at Tuhilal Airport who expired at Paraolon on 6 June 2015 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

The existence of armed conflict in Manipur has been re-established by the Paraolon Ambush

The armed hostilities that took place between the Indian Army and the combined force of the insurgent groups (sic. NSCN-K, KYKL and KCP) at Paraolon in Chandel District of Manipur on June 04, 2015 was a landmark event in the history of insurgency and conflict in the region. In that unfortunate incident, 18 personnel of the 6 Dogra Regiment of the Indian army died and 11 others injured. On the side of the armed groups, only two died in the ensuing gun fight. The incident was perhaps the most dreadful ambush ever laid by any insurgent forces involving the valley-based armed groups. The ambush triggered serious ramifications both at the national and international levels and captured international headlines.

In the retaliatory action, on June 09, 2015, elite commandos of the 21 Para of the Indian army carried out a surgical strike at two insurgent camps deep inside Myanmar reportedly neutralizing about 40 insurgents belonging to the outfits involved in the ambush. However, on the next day, Myanmar categorically denied that Indian forces had carried out an attack on insurgents inside the country while stating that military operation was performed on the Indian side at India-Myanmar border. The denial on the part of Myanmar was a diplomatic setback for India.

National security advisor Ajit Doval was the master-mind of the June 09 operation. The Indian military operation inside Myanmar is fraught with serious political and military implications in the region. The incident led to emergence of a new security doctrine known as “the Doval Doctrine” which connotes undertaking pre-emptive military operations within the territories of neighbouring countries in defiance of sovereignty to neutralize elements which are hostile to India. The Doval doctrine represents a radical shift in India’s security and strategic thinking which can be understood as a replication of the US military practice.

Seriously upset by the ambush, the Indian political leaders and security officials had maintained that the insurgent groups might have executed the offensive under the instigation of China and Pakistan. China swiftly dismissed as completely groundless the allegation made by Indian security officials that the Chinese army had links with the armed groups involved in the June 04 ambush. Earlier, Chinese think tank official said that any connection between China and Indian rebels is impossible especially after the two countries resumed diplomatic relationship in 1988. Pakistan even warned India that it would not tolerate the repetition of such military action in the western front.

Even within India, many prominent political leaders criticized the jingoistic postures adopted by the government in the wake of the successful operation that was carried out by the Indian army against the insurgents in Myanmar. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said that the military operation was a self-goal stating that the denial by Myanmar government that the operation took place on its soil was counter-productive for India. The Congress party also slammed the Union Ministers for coming out with irresponsible statements on the army operation in Myanmar while observing that sobriety and maturity in the statements by Union Ministers were necessary on delicate matters concerning the neighbours.

Many eminent intellectual of India too expressed deep concern over the thoughtless articulation of jingoistic sentiment by high level representatives of the government in the wake of Myanmar operation. They warned that such jingoism would not augur well for peace and security in the region. In fact, the Paraolon episode had produced an electrifying effect both within and outside India. No ambush in Manipur had ever stirred the conscience of entire India as the ambush of Paraolon.

The Paraolon ambush is significant for a number of reasons as briefly elaborated in the following paras.

First, it awakens the entire nation to the reality that there is indeed an armed conflict in Manipur in particular and the Northeast in general. There is a debate regarding whether or not an armed conflict exist in Manipur. Such a concern gains currency mainly on account of the reduction in the cases of armed confrontation between the Indian Security Forces and the armed insurgent groups.

Following the Ceasefire Agreement and Suspension of Operation between the Indian Government and the Naga insurgent outfits and the Kuki militant groups respectively, the incidents of armed confrontation dramatically reduced. The operational areas of the valley-based armed groups was shrunken which had significantly reduced their capacity to strike at the Indian security forces. It was believed for a while that the valley based armed groups had been effectively contained by the Indian government through ceasefire and SoO with the Naga and the Kuki groups. However, such an assumption remains falsified by the armed hostilities that broke out at Paraolon.

The military confrontation at Paraolon has re-established the existence of armed conflict in Manipur. The armed hostilities involved a regiment of the regular Indian army (which is a pillar of the Indian armed forces) and a combined forces of three organized armed groups. As mentioned earlier, there were fatal casualties on both sides. This particular event cannot be simply termed as a case of a few rag tag armed desperados engaging in looting or extortion.

The groups involved in the ambush are well organized armed groups with proper chain of command and clear ideologies. The ability to carry out a collective offensive against a regular army indicates the organizational capacities of the armed groups to forge a unified struggle. The deployment of army on the ground vindicates this truth.The situation has attained such a threshold that warrants the intervention by army as mere police actions are practically rendered ineffective to control it.

Chief of Army Staff, General Dalbir Singh Suhag paid a visit to Manipur to take stock of the situation on the ground. This was perhaps the first time that the Indian Army Chief was compelled to visit Manipur to personally inspect the site of the ambush. The visit assumed significance as the Indian government had all along termed the insurgency movement in the state as a case of law and order problem in which the army generally, as a rule, has no role to play. Interestingly, the honourable Chief Minister of the state was not informed of the arrival of the Army Chief. In this regard, one is tempted to ask whether the conflict in Manipur can be resolved without the involvement of the state government.

Second, the ambush indicates that non-initiation of a political dialogue with the armed group or groups for an indefinite period after signing the ceasefire pact is equally counter-productive for the GoI as well as for the armed groups. The Paraolon Ambush can be understood as a direct consequence of the unilateral abrogation of ceasefire by NSCN-K.

The NSCN-K felt being sidelined in the Naga peace process as a result of the Central Government’s policy of engaging with the NSCN-IM as the sole group representing the mandate of the Naga people. Despite years of ceasefire, no political dialogue was initiated with the NSCN-K. Instead, the GoI went on negotiating the terms of agreement with the NSCN-IM in total disregard for other stakeholders.

The logic behind giving undue weightage to the NSCN-IM is that insurgency problem in the North East will be solved once NSCN-IM is neutralized since it is considered to be the mother of all insurgencies in the region. India has to solve the insurgency problem in order to smoothly implement its Look East Policy (now Act East Policy). However, the changing dynamics of conflict in the region point to the fact that NSCN-K has rather emerged as the Guardian of all the major insurgent groups in the North East. NSCN-K, ULFA-I, NDFB-S, KLO, etc. have all come under a single roof called UNLFW (United National Liberation Front of WESEA – Western Southeast Asia).

Though the KYKL and the KCP have not formally joined the united front, they seem to have arrived at a strategic understanding with the new front as demonstrated by their association with the NSCN-K. Therefore, there is no significant improvement in the overall security scenario of the Northeast even if the NSCN-IM is believed to have been contained. The NSCN-K has now substituted the role earlier donned by NSCN-IM in terms of providing sanctuary and other logistic supports to the insurgent groups operating in the Northeast.

Third, the armed confrontation demonstrates that seeking a military solution to a problem which is strictly political in nature will only result in an unending cycle of violence. Heavy deployment of the military and continued enforcement of AFSPA have not been able to quell the insurgency in the state for the last four decades. Far from neutralizing the insurgents, the state has witnessed proliferation of armed groups on a wide scale.

Under the circumstances, the Indian military is not in a position to suppress the armed groups within a conceivable timeframe. It is not because the armed groups are militarily invincible but because the armed groups enjoy the support of the people with whom they are freely mingled which rendered the security forces difficult to single them out.

When we talk about insurgency, we refer not only to the armed cadres and their leadership but also to the unarmed members who are not formally enlisted in the armed organization but remain outside of the organization. So, insurgency may rather be understood as a collectivity that involves a network of relationship. This collectivity represents an idea and a sentiment that Manipur was an independent state before its integration into the Indian Union and that Manipur deserves more than what is presently entitled to her. The Government needs to engage with this idea and sentiment rather than seeking a military solution to insurgency.

To be continued..

* Kangujam Sanatomba wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Research Associate at the Centre for South East Asian Studies, Manipur University and can be reached at sanatombak2(aT)gmail(doT)com
This article was posted on November 06, 2015.

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