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Challenges confronting armed forces deployed to contain Manipur violence

Even though Manipur is showing signs of a return to normalcy with the level of violence coming down, the restive state continues to be volatile, with both the warring communities reportedly acquiring sophisticated weaponries

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Imphal: Even though Manipur is showing signs of a return to normalcy with the level of violence coming down, the restive state continues to be volatile, with both the warring communities reportedly acquiring sophisticated weaponries, particularly long-range rifles fitted with binoculars and even rocket propelled explosives.

This is hardly surprising as most fatalities of the violence are by sniper rifles on both sides. Another pertinent question being repeatedly asked is why have the Central security forces deployed in the state not been successful in containing the sporadic gun battles occurring in the foothills where hills (where the Chin-Kuki predominates) meet the valley (the homes of the Meiteis)? 

According to retired Lt. Gen LN Singh the violence in Manipur, in its initial phase, was community-based mob violence. The General, who once headed the Indian Army’s Intelligence Corps, revealed that the quality of violence has degenerated as terrorists have taken over as the guns are targeting unarmed civilians which is unacceptable. 

“There is a distinction between terrorist, insurgent and militant. Why are the people, those in Jammu & Kashmir or Al Qaeda called terrorists, whereas people fighting in the northeast called insurgents? The reason being – in insurgency there is a respect for human lives. Normally, one does not kill for the heck of killing. There is respect for the right to live. Meaning there are some rules applied. But what is happening here is that initially it started off as mob violence. Now, I feel that the terrorists have taken over with no regard for human lives.” said Singh. 

Even after four months the violence continued and most victims were unarmed civilians even with such a massive deployment of central forces on the ground, numbering almost 60,000 personnel. On the question of the poor performance of the Central force in containing the violence so far, the third Lt. Gen of the Indian Army from northeast India, said that the Central forces must reassess and rethink their strategy as the perpetrators of the violence have changed and so their strategy needs to also. 

“The major challenge for the security forces is – because they believe that these are community-based mobs who aren’t demanding sovereignty, they were probably more lenient as they thought they could negotiate and reason with them. However, the perpetrators of the violence have changed. Hence the security agencies need to rethink on how to deal with the perpetrators,” opined the retired General. 

LN Singh further said proper accommodation and other logistics for the Central forces deployed in the state are other challenges faced by them. For the last four months they are being accommodated in temporary accommodations, away from their families on short notice, bringing only their personal weapons, some unit equipment and their personal clothing and others. He asserted that when a unit is required to stay for such a long time in an environment like Manipur, they would require certain logistics like permanent accommodation and other basic amenities required for such a long deployment. 

“This infrastructural requirement has two aspects. One is the budget as money has to be spent. Second is the time part of it. It cannot be raised overnight. These personnel have mostly moved in on a notice of 4-5 hours only which would mean they would not have had ample time to pack. They would require more logistics than what they could bring by air. So, they are currently facing a lot of difficulties and difficulties lead to frustration and desperate actions,” the General said. 

Taking into account the woes of the security forces, the Union home affairs ministry has assured the required budget needed for construction of temporary camps for the forces, a top official in the state government told The Waari Singbul. 

On the other hand, the state government has also decided to make available pre fab camps, to be made and secured in consultation with the security forces. State is also providing unoccupied government buildings for this purpose, he said, adding that the SPs have been assigned this task, and DCs are pitching in wherever required. In some new places, the SPs have already accommodated the forces.

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