Monday, November 29, 2021

Militancy woes resurface


The Statesman

Churachandpur, a district in Manipur became central topic of discussion overnight on the 13thNovember, so much so it was trending on Twitter. The new-found fame however was not something the local people could rejoice for; the trend, unfortunately, relates to the highly condemnable killing of Seven People- an Assam Rifle Commanding Officer (CO) along with his wife and son, in addition to 4 jawans. The attack which a valley-based proscribed outfit, the  Revolutionary People’s Front/People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Manipur Naga People’s Front (MNPF) have jointly claimed responsibility for, has drawn flak from all quarters. Taking to Twitter, the Prime Minister has in no uncertain terms expressed his condemnation of the incident and the Home Minister assured that the perpetrators will be brought to justice soon.



Many observed that the attack was meant to attract the attention of the Central Government; to proclaim, “we exist”. The attack appears to be carefully planned to make major headlines. Some may ask,  ‘why would a Manipur-based militant hitherto camped in Myanmar would feel the need to announce their presence in India now?’  One among the many reasons could be to send a message before the upcoming Manipur state Assembly election in 2022, where each militant group would want to give diktat on their terms. Reports are doing the round suspecting China’s involvement in the attack. It is no secret that China has close ties with a few militant groups of the North East and had in the past orchestrated various plans to unleash security instability in the North Eastern Region. Earlier,  Indian Intelligence had revealed how there exist an unholy nexus between some Militants from Manipur and the Tatmadaw, wherein the militants aided the Burmese military in controlling Burmese civiliansdesirous of leaving the trouble-torn country.  The militants in return are believed to be accorded a base by the Military Junta in Myanmar. The recent attack on Assam Rifles appeared to be carried out by the very militants sheltered by the Tatmadaw. In carrying out a carefully planned attack, one of the worst against security forces in Manipur in recent times, PLA and its cohorts MNPL could be obliging partiesthat have sheltered themtragically groups who find pleasure in India’s loss.


The selection of the site of the attack is another interesting fact that may escape the eyes of the masses and even seasoned observers. Manipur may be a small state situated in the nook corner of the country, but it has diverse cultures and ethnic composition.  Churachandpur district is predominantly inhabited by the Chin-Kuki-Mizo tribes and the area has designated camps of Kuki-Zomi Militants who have Suspension of Operations (SoO)with the Government. The attackers, both non-SoO, infiltrating from across the border, after executing their plan could flee far and wide but the local tribal civilians are left with an execrable prospect of bearing the brunt of the repercussions. Fingers will also be pointed at the militants under SoO with the Government and it is here that the wisdom of the Government is required to understand that there are forces that want to disturb its initiatives of the peace process in the region. 



Militants being killed by security forces or Security forces being killed by Militants in Manipur, albeit rare in recent times do not come as an absolute surprise to many, considering the engagement of security forces to curb militancy issues in the region for decades now. The recent attack on Assam Rifles by the Militants in Manipur however sent shockwaves across the country; social media went wild, demanding the punishment of those involved in the attack. The uproar is understandable since it involved the death of a woman and child, which makes the militants no better if not worse than ‘the forces’ they have been accusing of years of terrorising innocent civilians. For the first time, militants belonging to North East has been referred to by the intellectuals, Media personnel, and the Government as terrorist; only the militants are to be blamed for this new development. The press release by the People’s Liberation Army,  stating that they were not aware of the presence of the CO’s family- a women and a minor, finds few takers. Statementssuch as, ‘the Assam Rifle CO has violated protocols by taking his family along in a military operation,’ no matter how true it sounds cannot be a justification for the killing of innocent people.


The security forces will undoubtedly leave no stone unturned to award a befitting reply to the attackers. Here, it is important for the security forces to delicately handle the issue by having the ground knowledge of which group is for and against talks and peace processes initiated by the Government. Militancy issue in the state, post the signing of SoO and ceasefires by the Government with a few militant groups has considerably improved over the years. Uncalculated moves now can cast back Manipur to its darker days of militancy woes, reminiscent of the 1990s and early 2000s.



The fact that the majority of the militant organisations in the state are engaged in talksinitiatives of the Government and considering thatthe recent attacks were carried out by those based in Myanmar, with the possible support of neighbouring countries,  the attack on Assam Rifles Convoy cannot be a conclusion for the assumption of total security failure in the state. A relook of the operational tactics and threat assessment, keeping in mind the neighbouring countries’ interests to destabilise India, will however have to be effected by the security establishment to ensure such incident is averted in future. As far as punishing the perpetrators is concerned, it is no secret as to where the security forces need to look; the challenge is that they will have to seek beyond Churachandpur or for that matter India. The recent attack on Assam Rifles is sure to be a game-changer in terms of security engagement in the North-Eastern region. Apart fromshouldering the need to award befitting response tothose in favour of violence over talksthe Government can, for the larger good, use this moment to onboard militant organisations to the talks table. 


Unravelling The Shillong Discord



News headlines such as ‘One Militant killed in an encounter or ‘Militant shot dead’ are not uncommon in the North-Eastern states. But the news that carried the death of a surrendered rebel leader, Mr. Cherishterfield Thangkhiew, who was killed in an alleged encounter with Meghalaya Police at his Mawlai residence on ‘Friday the 13th’ of August caused unrest in the otherwise peaceful city of Shillong.


A day after India celebrated its 75th year of Independence, the people of Meghalaya witnessed something extraordinary- hundreds of people from Mawlai Shillong, shouted ‘ long live HNLC’ as the mortal remain of Mr. Cherishterfield Thangkhiew, the former General Secretary of Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council, was taken to be laid to rest. Reportedly the slain ex- militant occasionally served as a mediator between the Government and HNLC, a banned militant outfit that claims to represent the cause of Khasi-Jaintia people and aims to free Meghalaya from the clutch of ‘outsiders.’ This incident of people openly supporting the militants and chanting pro-militant slogans at Mawlai, Shillong must be a first not just in the state of Meghalaya but the entire North East, in recent times.


“Every time my friends from mainland India asked me a place to visit in North East India, ‘Shillong’ would usually be my answer without even a second of pause. ‘Meghalaya is not only beautiful but one of the most peaceful states in North East India,’ I’d on the whole opined,” tweeted a user in Twitter. Most people have the same idea about Shillong- different from other NE states like Nagaland and Manipur, which still are categorised as disturbed areas and have long-pending militancy issues to deal with albeit in a much-improved environment. They must be wondering now, ‘What has happened to Shillong?’


The Meghalaya Government is initiating a judicial inquiry into the incident to probe whether the former rebel leader was killed in a fake encounter as alleged by the deceased’s family or in self-defence according to the police’s version. It matters little as to whose version is true. What matters is the death of a person in the hands of people, who are supposed to protect people. Since the matter is now sub-judicial, it will be in the best interest to let the concerned people do their task. However, going even by their version that the person killed had a knife with him, the Meghalaya police will have to come up with an extraordinary explanation as to why ‘killing’ was considered the only option available for self defence. 


What is worrying in Mr. Cherishterfield’s case is the manifestation of how the public has so little faith in the Government and the rebirth of public sympathy for militants. That an incident of bomb blast a few days earlier had many people fuming and even cursing the development- of the emergence of militancy issue in the state again after decades of peaceful atmosphere. A few people however dismissed the incident as being a desperate attempt by some organisation to proclaim their existence and that nothing serious should be attached to the incident. All in all, the public was unsympathetic, if not wary of militants in Shillong and Meghalaya. And all that changed overnight with the death of Mr. Thangkhiew. 


While there are understandable concerns of civilians being subjected to up-teem hardships due to restrictions on account of the pandemic and the curfew and internet shutdown imposed upon them, the move to prevent public unrest does temporarily provide some respite. The Meghalaya government appears to have done its best to manage the mess it found itself. The urgent formation of a committee comprising CSOs, student leaders, headmen, and various stakeholders is a commendable step; there were sufficient pieces of evidence that indicate that the much volatile situation could develop into serious law and order issue. 


 That Mawlai Headmen refused to participate in the peace committee until the police personnel involved in the killing of the ex-rebel leader and their resolve to govern on their own is worrisome. Unfortunate more than the decision to excommunicate the Government itself is the prevalence of such an environment which warranted such development. As opined by many people, the best thing would have been for the Meghalaya Police to not kill Cherishterfield but since that is now not possible, the Government should avoid covering it up with another mistake- denying the family and people of Meghalaya the whole truth that happened. 


The Meghalaya Government could salvage some faith by sincerely co-operating the judicial inquiry, revamping its policies on policing and involving CSOs to find an amicable solution. Another area the Government should have a relook is the chain of command in the home ministry, where the concerned minister itself is allegedly not taken into confidence for the operation on that fateful night. And ifreports of the HNLC withdrawing from peace talks post the killing of Cherishterfield are true, it will take a sincere commitment on the part of the Government to find ways to regain its lost image as being a trustworthy authorityIn the effort to re-establish Shillong to its original name and fame asbeing an educational and tourist hotspot that routinely attracts thousands of people from far and wide, the most important step would be to ensure that peace and tranquility bloom once again in the Scotland of the East. 

Militancy woes resurface

  The Statesman Churachandpur, a district in   Manipur became  a  central  topic  of  discussion  overnight  on  the  1 3th November, so muc...

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