Manipur, which judging by the disturbed conditions in the north-east, had been relatively quiet for a while, has been severely roiled by insurgency. Saturday’s victims include a Colonel, his wife and son besides four jawans.
Forty-eight hours after the massacre, there is little doubt that the renewed bout of insurgency was well-planned and executed with precision or was what they call a surgical strike. Pretty obvious too is that the insurgents were heavily armed. Not wholly unrelated is what they call the “increasing inflow” of made-in- China weaponry, notably AK-47 rifles, machine guns, anti-tank mines and grenades into Myanmar, and from there to be smuggled over a fairly porous border into Manipur.
It is palpable too that the insurgents have their hideouts alongside the border and are conscious of the topography. The worst has happened despite coordinated operations in the past by the Indian and Myanmarese armies to track down militants in the fringe areas alongisde the border. The targeting of a family has been a striking feature of the mayhem, personified by the death of Colonel Viplav Tripathi, his wife and son.
Senior officials of the administration say that the insurgents had infiltrated into India from Myanmar; this was not unexpected. The ambush will hopefully prompt a rethink regarding the strategy to deal with insurgent outfits in the north-east generally, not to forget the valley-based insurgent groups in Manipur such as the People’s Liberation Army and PREPAK (People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak).
Col Tripathi, his family and the “quick-reaction team” had gone in a convoy of four vehicles to the 46 Assam Rifles’ forward operating base in the vicinity of the India-Myanmar border.
The convoy was ambushed when it was returning to the battalion headquarters in Khuga. There was initially an IED blast followed by heavy gunfire from different directions at the convoy. With the situation now improving in the northeast, Manipur is said to be the “last bastion” of active insurgency. Additionally, it is the only state where dialogue with the rebels has yielded no improvement in the situation.
Last Saturday’s mayhem confirms that Manipur remains on a powder-keg. The latest tragedy recalls the militant assault on a convoy of the 6 Dogra Regiment in June 2015 in Chandel district. The ambush, which killed 18 soldiers, was incidentally the opening sequence of a recent film, though a parallel between insurgency and celluloid is farfetched and strained.
Manipur will remain troubled unless peace talks are initiated with every outfit, and if that is not possible, the insurgency is put down with force. As Brigadier (retd) Ranjit Borthakur, rated as an expert on China and the north-east has reminded the authorities ~ “Unlike the other states of the region, militant outfits have never talked peace. Successive state governments haven’t made any significant attempt to persuade them to join the peace process.”
Indeed, peace has been an anathema in Manipur, as it has been in swathes of the northeast. The role of forces in the neighbourhood that thrive on instability must also be considered.