SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
‘State’ of Militancy
On December 31, 2005, Manipur Inspector General of Police (Intelligence), T. Thangthuam, was killed along with a constable in an ambush by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) militants in the Bishnupur District. In an attack that was an audacious display of power, heavily-armed militants in a truck overtook the police officer’s vehicle in the Oinam Bazaar area, 25 kilometres south of capital Imphal, and fired indiscriminately, killing the two on the spot. The officer was reportedly returning to Imphal from Churachandpur District along National Highway 153, when his convoy was attacked. The incident, occurring on the last day of the year, summed up the security situation in the State, where the lives of common citizens as well as of those responsible for protecting them, stand equally threatened.
With 331 insurgency related fatalities (138 civilians, 50 security force personnel and 143 militants) in 2005, Manipur ranked second among States worst affected by militancy in the country, behind Jammu & Kashmir, where 1,739 lives were lost. In the fragile northeastern region, over forty-six per cent of the total insurgency-related fatalities was reported from Manipur, which accounts for just 6.3 per cent of the population, and 8.52 per cent of the land mass of the northeastern region. Manipur’s share of civilian fatalities in the Northeast was 42 per cent, and 46 per cent of militant fatalities also came from this State. But fatalities among the security forces accounted for a staggering 72 per cent of all SF fatalities in the region, making it the most unsafe place for the troops. These lives were lost in sustained violence throughout the year, with an astonishingly uniform distribution through the year. Thus, the first, second and fourth quarters of the year recorded 83 deaths each, whereas the third quarter (July-September) recorded 82 deaths.
The geographical distribution of the violence was, however, substantially skewed. The four Valley Districts, Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal and Bishnupur, with just 11.14 per cent of Manipur’s total area, accounted for 55 per cent of the fatalities, while the five Hill Districts, Chandel, Churachandpur, Tamenglong, Senapati and Ukhrul witnessed 149 of the 331 deaths (45 per cent). However, while violence in the Valley Districts was evenly spread, the two Hill Districts of Churachandpur and Tamenglong, sharing their borders with Nagaland, Assam and Mizoram, were the worst affected, accounting for 99 of the 149 deaths. Churachandpur remained the most violent district of the State, with 69 deaths, followed by Imphal East, with 50 deaths. Senapati, inhabited by the Naga and Kuki tribes, was the least violent, accounting for 12 deaths in the year.
The situation has worsened considerably as compared to 2004, with civilian fatalities in 2005 a full 176 per cent higher than the 2004 figure, and total fatalities up by 52 per cent. Fatalities have risen steadily over the past five years, and year 2005 recorded the highest numbers since 1997. [Table]
Manipur: Militancy-related fatalities: 2001-2005
Source: Institute for Conflict Management database
Synchronized counter-insurgency operations have remained central to the area-domination exercises by the Army in the State, as it competes for tactical control against the militant groups over vast stretches of ‘liberated zones’. Several such operations were launched during the year, including Operation Stinger in October 2005, against militants holed up in the Karang island of Bishnupur District; and Operation Tornado in November to clear the Belcra bowl in the Jiribam area of Imphal East District. In October, Assam Rifles personnel also launched another operation in the Chassad area of Ukhrul District. In terms of individual losses suffered by the militant groupings, the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) suffered the maximum, losing 92 cadres (52 killed and 40 arrested); the PLA lost 80 (26 killed and 54 arrested); and the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) 68 (33 killed and 35 arrested) cadres. However, the total neutralization of 449 militants (143 killed and 306 arrested) in 2005 had little impact on the militancy, with 15 active outfits operating in the State with an estimated combined strength of 10,000 cadres. The scale, intensity and focus of the militancy was evident in the following major attacks through 2005.
The reign of terror manifests in other forms as well, as the rule of militants combines with a complete retreat of civil governance. The militants continue to terrorise and extort with impunity, and people have little option but to abide by their diktats. Refusal to ‘cooperate’ is rare, and invites immediate and extreme penalties. On March 2, 2005, unidentified militants shot at and injured Th. Kulachandra, Principal of the Manipur Institute of Technology, Takyelpat, at Mongsangei in the Imphal West District for refusing to meet an extortion demand of INR 500,000. On August 25, the Taxation Wing of the State Government ceased functioning for a day following en masse leave taken by the employees following threats from several militant groups. On October 25 and again on November 26, 3000 employees of the Manipur Government posted in Thoubal District took out a silent rally at the District Headquarters to protest against extortion demands by militant outfits and the abduction of persons for non-payment of ‘dues’. In the months of June and July, the Kuki Movement for Human Rights (KMHR) petitioned the Prime Minister to take steps to stop the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) extortion from Kuki villagers in the Tamenglong District.
Militant power, evident in the numerous decrees passed during the previous years, was further consolidated through new demands and decrees in 2005:
Though there were some attempts by the marginalized civil society to raise murmurs of protest, the militants continue to hold sway and browbeat all opposition into submission. As a result, vast stretches of the State’s territory, including some areas in the immediate neighbourhood of the State capital, continue to remain out of the control of the state machinery and are traversable only under substantial armed escorts.
The situation has taken a particular turn for the worse, and the Army’s image has taken a severe beating, since the alleged rape and custodial killing of Manorama Devi, whom the Army described as a PLA militant, on July 11, 2004, in the Leipharok Maring village in Imphal East District. Since then, the demand for the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has been interspersed with demands for the complete withdrawal of the Army from the State. While the latter demand has been rejected as impossible to meet by the Union Government, its vacillation on the continuation of the AFSPA has attracted severe criticism in the State. The Jeevan Reddy Committee appointed to look into the working of the AFSPA submitted its report in June 2005 recommending its withdrawal. A good six months thereafter, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, on December 27, 2005, remarked ambivalently, “The recommendations of the high powered review committee have been discussed with the Home Minister and a decision would be taken by the Government soon.” Further, the Ministry of Home Affairs, in the first week of January 2006, stated that the Act was being “amended and relaxed”, in view of the Army’s opposition to its complete withdrawal. It is not clear whether the Army will be able to operate effectively under the diluted Act, particularly where the majority opinion within the State supports the demand that it be scrapped in its entirety.
Peace remains elusive in the State despite some political initiatives. On March 7, Chief Minister Ibobi Singh said that his Government has received proposals for peace talks from two militant groups in the State. Two weeks later, on March 21, the Chief Minister was talking of ‘sending feelers’ to the UNLF. On July 15, the State Legislative Assembly passed a resolution urging the Union Government to initiate peace talks with the militant outfits. Policy makers and potential ‘negotiators’, however, had little to offer, in the face of the total indifference demonstrated by militant groups. Even though the Union Government managed to effect cessation of hostility with eight minor Kuki militant groups in September 2005, the non-involvement of and subsequent opposition by the State Government created an avoidable and unwelcome schism between the security setup and the State Government. In any event, peace deals with the fragmented and marginalised Kuki groups had little operational value; in the year 2005 the eight outfits had been responsible for the death of just five civilians and one SF personnel. Major groups such as the UNLF, on the other hand, either rebuffed intermittent appeals for peace or prevaricated with fanciful demands, such as UN mediation.
Evidence of a nexus between the political classes and the insurgents continued to pile up. Revelations by a national daily in December, quoting the Army Chief J.J. Singh, claimed that Chief Minister Ibobi Singh has contributed INR 15 million to two insurgent groups operating in the State, revived the persistent question of political collusion and infirmity in the history of insurgency in the State. Earlier, on August 26, CRPF personnel seized a vehicle being used by the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), which belonged to the Chairman of the Manipur Assembly’s Hills Areas Committee. In both the cases, the accused denied charges.
The imposed isolation of Manipur from rest of the country through blockades, which intensified after the Manorama Devi episode in 2004, took a new turn when, reacting to the State Government’s decision to observe June 18 as ‘State Integrity Day’, the influential All Naga Students Association of Manipur (ANSAM) imposed a month and half-long economic blockade . The State Government was trapped in a vicious dilemma of either easing the economic hardships of the people by taking back its decision, or protecting the demands of ultra-regional civil society organisations, and the blockade on National Highway 39, apparently blessed by the NSCN-IM under its objective to create a greater ‘Nagalim’, dragged on till it was eventually lifted following appeals from different forums and a series of meetings between the State Government and ANSAM representatives. In fact, the unresolved Naga conflict continues to reverberate constantly in Manipur. The NSCN-IM enjoys a free run in the Naga dominated Hill Districts of Manipur, with the help of sympathetic Manipuri Naga organizations like the ANSAM and the Naga Students Federation, internally polarizing the State between the majority Meiteis, who live in the Valley, and the Nagas and Kukis, in the Hills.
Any prospects of peace dawning on Manipur in 2006 have rapidly receded, with 18 reported fatalities in the first week of the New Year. While other States in the region are showing sustained signs of improvement and some significant steps towards peace, Manipur appears to be spiraling into the abyss. Astonishingly, the Union Government continues to pay scant attention to the rising anarchy that is Manipur.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
January 2-8 2006
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
CPI-Maoist 'Polit Bureau' member Narayan Sanyal arrested in Andhra Pradesh: Senior Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) 'Polit Bureau' and 'central committee' member and chief of its 'central-eastern regional bureau' monitoring the political affairs in Orissa and Chhattisgarh, B. Narayan Sanyal alias Navin, was arrested at Bhadrachalam in the Khammam district on January 3, 2006. Police sources said that 68-year-old Sanyal was arrested while he was on his way to meet Maoist 'Dandakaranya Committee secretary' Ramakrishna. Khammam Superintendent of Police, R.K. Meena, said that a 9 mm pistol, Rupees 13,200 cash, a walkie-talkie and some literature was recovered from Sanyal. Sanyal, who is on the most-wanted lists of the Andhra Pradesh and Orissa Police, is a bomb expert and is accused in 21 cases, including the October 2003 Alipiri blast that targeted former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu. Deccan Chronicle, January 4, 2006.
Maoists withdraw four-month old unilateral cease-fire: On January 2, 2006, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) 'Chairman', Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, announced the end of the four-month old unilateral cease-fire. “The Royal Nepalese Army has compelled us to end the cease-fire. It was not only impossible, but also suicidal for us to extend it,” said Prachanda. Appealing to the United Nations and the European Union to respect the struggle for peace and democracy, his statement said the party would target those backing “farcical municipal polls.” Stating that all future actions would be targeted against the ‘dictatorial government,’ the statement added “We are compelled to go on the offensive not only for the sake of peace and democracy but for self-defence. While it was the Doramba incident that disrupted peace initiatives last time, it is the Rolpa operation that prompts us to break the ceasefire this time,” the statement read. Nepal News, January 3, 2006.
President Musharraf asks India to withdraw troops from Srinagar, Kupwara and Baramulla: President Pervez Musharraf has reportedly said that he was disappointed with a two-year peace process with India and accused New Delhi of not responding to his proposals to end the conflict. "There’s not much of a response from the Indian side. That is why the disappointment," Musharraf said in an interview aired on January 7, 2006, by Indian TV channel CNN-IBN. General Musharraf, however, admitted Pakistan would ensure there was no violence in Kashmir if India withdrew its troops from Srinagar, Kupwara and Baramulla in the Kashmir Valley. "Pakistan will be with the Indian Government, with the Kashmiris, to ensure that there is total peace and tranquility within these three cities," Musharraf claimed.
In response, India reminded Pakistan that its commitment to not let its territory be used for cross border terrorism against India was ‘‘unconditional’’ and could not be linked with any proposal for de-militarisation in parts of Jammu and Kashmir. ‘‘Any de-militarisation or redeployment of security forces within the territory of India is a sovereign decision... and cannot be dictated by a foreign government,’’ Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Navtej Sarna said in New Delhi.Jang; The Indian Express, January 8, 2006.
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