Ongoing crisis in Manipur : Recipe for a full fledged civil war

Laiphrakpam Ibotombi Singh *

 Map of Manipur

The situation in Manipur is that the warring people have free access to the latest modern weapons and military equipment but has primitive mindset, which is the right recipe for a civil war. In 1993 while I was part of United Nations Peace Keeping Operations in Somalia, my late father asked me as what was my role and duties in Mogadishu. I told him that there was a civil war going on in Somalia and I as part of the mission were to carry out peace enforcement so as to ensure normalcy returns in the beleaguered country.

On being questioned the reasons for the civil war, I informed that there was no law of the land, the Government was defunct or remotely controlled, all arms and ammunition of police and armed forces were snatched by the various war lords, unopposed flow of weapons from outside and free gun culture and looting by the public and fighting amongst various clans led by warlords for supremacy. Overall, the Somalis had modern sophisticated weapons but the people had primitive mindset. Therefore, the UN Forces under Chapter VII were deployed so as to maintain and restore peace and security.

To the above narration, my father remarked the situation in Manipur is no different and may see a civil war like situation because of simmering animosity amongst various clans, as Manipur then was witnessing Naga-Kuki clash at its peak, agenda being expansion, control, dominance and supremacy over scarce geographical land.

A deep wedge was created by the Government by enacting a law for protection of minor communities by giving Scheduled Tribe status and further enactment of the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reform Act 1960 whereby the Meitei and Pangal communities, though minor communities, were not permitted to settle in Hill areas of Manipur, thereby made to confine in the Imphal Valley comprising just 09 percent of Manipur’s total land areas of 22,327 square kilometre.

Manipur has been witnessing unprecedent violence since May 3rd, 2023 resulting in large fatal and non-fatal casualties besides thousands have been rendered homeless as their houses and livelihoods have been burnt. The level of violence has been compounded by involvement of Kuki militant groups under Suspension of Operations (SoO) and Myanmar origin terrorists operating as mercenaries in creating mayhem against innocent Meitei villagers staying on the outskirts of Imphal valley neighbouring Chin-Kuki dominated areas.

The level of violence has not subsided, instead is flaring up in Kuki dominated areas, resulting in more than 200 deaths, many injured and thousands of families rendered homeless seeking shelter in relief centres, with the ruling Govt headed by Mr Narendra Modi remaining a mute spectator. The unfortunate violence has made the natives as refugees in their home land.

What my late father had predicted has become a reality as Manipur is just a step away from a full fledged civil war as the prevalent situation is almost same as there is no law and order in many areas of Manipur in particular areas dominated by Kuki-Zo tribes.

The indifferent attitude by the Chin Kuki tribes is established by the fact that they have violated even the order of highest Judicial Institution of the country ie Hon’ble Supreme Court, by erecting a cross atop Thangjing Hill on February 03rd, 2024, a 2000 years old home of the Meitei deity Ibudhou Thangjing.

The people of Manipur have been impatiently waiting for the Centre’s intervention but has become a blind eye. It appears the double engine Govt has vowed “will not intervene and not let others also intervene”.

Now, the situation in Manipur is ripe for a full blown civil war because
a) there is no law of the land in Kuki-Zo dominated areas,
b) the authorities of ruling State Govt is confined to Imphal valley stretching Sekmai in the North and Moirang in the South barely 27 km crow flies distance, likewise barely 23 Km from West to East as the crow flies,
c) governance, primarily use of security forces, is remotely controlled by Shri Amit Shah, the Union Home Minister
d) no effective venturing by Govt machinery and Security Forces in Churachandpur, Chandel, Kangpokpi and foothills joining Kanpokpi-Churchandpur-Chandel (Moreh) districts which is under complete control of the Zo-Kuki terrorists,
e) rampant cross border movements of terrorists from Myanmar,
f) free flow of arms, ammunition and other warlike stores into Manipur,
g) rampant extortions and illegal tax collections under the garb of donations and other means,
h) skewed growth in strength of terrorists, militants and insurgent organisations, there are approximately 5000-6000 Zo-Kuki ex-servicemen from combat arms mainly infantry (fully trained for close combat) by virtue of Scheduled Tribe quotas in Assam Regiment and other mix Regiments who may take up arms and join the conflict against the Meitei community, thus the Govt machinery must take a serious note of likely repercussion
i) unfortunately security personnel at the helm do not know what they are supposed to do, they cannot even differentiate between terrorists, militants and insurgents and are resorting to knee jerk actions, more of reactive scenarios than pro-active actions to control the situation, besides there is no synergy in application of security forces,
j) daily violations of CFGR by Kuki militants under SoO,
k) the economy of the State is in shambles, Govt employees are not paid for last nine months.

Overall, the situation in Manipur is that the warring people have access to the latest modern weapons and military equipment but with primitive mindset, which is a right recipe for a civil war.

Continution of the present non-interventionist attitude by the Central Govt, remaining a mute spectator, may deteriorate the fragile situation and soon lead to a full fledged civil war in Manipur. Should this unfortunate incident take place, it will be the darkest blot in the history of India.

It is better late than never to synergise the efforts of the Centre and the State Govt so as to bring normalcy and gain the confidence of the people. Some of the focus areas and recommended actions are as under: -

(a) Disarmament, disarmament, disarmament. The foremost important tasks which require synergized efforts from all Govt machinery including the SF is disarmament without which no dialogue can take place. Without disarmament normalcy will not return, instead the situation will worsen. Disarmament can be achieved by encouraging surrender or use of punitive force against all armed personnel, including Kuki-Zo militant groups under SoO who are terrorising innocent villagers on daily basis, in violations of CFGR. The mindset of the Centre, in particular Ministry of Home, advised by the NSA and the interlocutor, not to abrogate SoO with Kuki-Zo militant groups in Manipur until ongoing peace dialogue with the NSCN (IM) is fructified, may soon lead to catastrophe in the beleaguered Manipur State.

(b) Unified Command. Ensure coordinated management of various security forces deployed in Manipur and State Govt machinery so as to synergize their efforts in conflict resolution for which necessity of having unified command at Strategic as well as Operational level. The former can be headed by the Chief Minister/Governor of the State and the later by a military personnel who has experience in conflict resolutions. Focus areas directives may be issued initially once a month and can be relaxed based on progress and achievements.

(c) Abrogation of SoO. Abrogate SoO with Kuki-Zo militants at the earliest for violating CFGR. Deployment of security forces must be based on detailed analysis of threat and flash points for violence and not reactive knee jerk actions as prevalent now. The SFs must pursue precision hard intelligence based surgical strikes towards violators of CFGR by militant groups under SoO and village volunteers and ex-servicemen who have taken up arms. Simultaneously, encourage surrender of arms by giving lucrative incentives, for which the Centre must chip in financially.

(d) Accountability of SFs. Besides fencing, to be completed on a war footing, the Indo-Myanmar border must be sealed by physical presence of troops. The 15 Battalions of Assam Rifles who were raised for guarding of Indo-Myanmar border in 2001-2002 by the MHA must be utilised effectively, instead of frittering away these precious resources in the form of counter insurgency grid. Make them accountable as recommended in K Subrahmanyam committee report post Kargil War 1999.

(e) Dynamic Deployment. Ensure dynamic and grid deployment of the security forces and ensure accountability. Instil confidence, indulge in psychological operations for winning Hearts and Minds of the public. Stop spreading rumours and false propaganda, invoke relevant Acts and initiate suitable legal actions as per the law against violators.

(f) Intense Operations. The security forces must create conducive atmosphere for initiating dialogues through political means. Proactive intense and tangible operations in likely flash points and vulnerable areas, both in the hills as well as in the valley, is key to conflict resolution. The acts of the SFs should not only be transparent by means of daily press brief and but also made aware amongst the public.

(g) Dialogue. Combined with intense operations by the SFs, side by side dialogues without pre-conditions must be initiated by the executives. Remember conflict resolution requires political dialogue from warring factions, the agenda should be without disintegrating unity of Manipur.

(h) Punitive Actions. Investigate who are the parties involved in tacitly supporting and inciting violence, and initiate stringent legal actions against them.

i) NRC. Ensure early implementation of NRC based on 1951 census in Manipur.

j) Secured and Reliable Line of Communication. Establish a safe, secured, reliable and all-weather lines of communication to Imphal, the State capital. National Highway 37 is a better choice as the alignment runs entirely through Manipur. Create a sizeable and strong National Highway Protection Force on similar line to Railway Protection Force. Stringent punitive actions must be taken against personnel who indulges in blockade of National Highways. Enact law as non-bailable for such offences.

k) Include Meitei community as ST. Continue with proper examination of Meitei community for Scheduled Tribe status as per law and facts as per history.

l) Revocation of MLRLR Act. Revoke Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act 1960 and permit all tribes and communities of Manipur to settle in all areas within Manipur on the same line as is being practiced in Himachal Pradesh.

(The last two actions can be easily carried out by Shri Amit Shah, the Hon’ble Union Home Minister, who on 5th August 2019 with the blessings of Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi carried out a Precision Strike in the parliament where the Govt of India revoked the special status or autonomy, granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir.)

An alumnus of Sanik School Imphal, Brigadier Laiphrakpam Ibotombi Singh, Yudh Seva Medal is a retired Army Officer having served the Indian Army for about 36 years. He has vast exposure and knowledge of conflict resolution while serving as Chief Operational Officer in Somalia and later as a Colonel of a Mountain Division in charge of operations responsible for counter insurgency in Lower Assam.

* Laiphrakpam Ibotombi Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 22 February 2024 .

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