In a massive setback to peace and stability in the North-Eastern state of Manipur, 20 Indian Army personnel from the 6 Dogra regiment were brutally killed in an ambush on Thursday morning. Reports suggest that the army convoy was headed towards the state capital of Imphal, when the incident occurred. Official sources in the Government of India have said that this is the worst ever attack on the Indian Army since the Kargil conflict with Pakistan in 1999. Three rebels groups active in the area, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) or NSCN (K), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), claimed responsibility for the attack. Civilian and military authorities, at the State and Centre, have, however, neither confirmed nor dismissed these claims.
The attack, sources in the intelligence fraternity suspect, was in response to the death of a local activist, who was allegedly killed by an officer of the Assam Rifles regiment. As the army launched massive combing operations, questions are being asked why no road opening party was sent out prior to the convoy moving. Reports have gone on to suggest that a grievous failure in local intelligence allowed the militants to ambush the Indian Army personnel. Meanwhile, India’s premier National Investigation Agency will probe the deadly militant ambush.
The attack is a major setback for states in the North East that had begun to withdraw the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, after a few years of “peace” in the region. It was only last week that the Tripura government lifted the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, following which various rights bodies in Manipur too renewed their demand for its withdrawal. As stated in a previous editorial, the Act comes into play if the local administration (State government) is unable to deal with the prevailing law order situation in what authorities at the Centre or the State call a ‘Disturbed Area’. In the event the State machinery is unable to maintain law and order, the Army is brought in to protect the area’s territorial integrity. The Army, therefore, requires legislation that is essential to ensure efficient utilisation of combat capability. Local human rights activists have, however, argued that the Act contains provisions that grossly violate constitutionally conferred fundamental rights. Despite being granted sweeping powers under provisions of AFSPA, security forces have struggled to contain the unrest in the State.
The problem, however, is a lot more fundamental. Experts on the ground have observed that the police administration in Manipur is virtually non-existent. With over 7000 vacancies, the state police force is massively undermanned. In addition, the process of postings and recruitment has always been under the scanner, with corruption rampant in the State police force. Without a functional state police, it is the army that has to take stock of the law and order situation. However, the excessive involvement of the Army is not good for internal security since its personnel are not trained to handle matters regarding law and order. Another problem is that the Centre has not formulated a coherent national counter-insurgency policy that does not go beyond merely controlling the violence with more force. Many central governments have come and gone, but Manipur continues to suffer from inadequate avenues for trade and productive economic activity. The Indian State must shoulder the blame of not opening up the state and the larger North-Eastern region to mainland India and its neighbouring nations for greater trade intensification. Without an adequate police administration and a productive economy, Manipur will continue witness unhindered violence.