Churachandpur, a district in Manipur, became a central topic of discussion overnight on the 13th November, 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, including an Assam Rifles Commanding Officer (CO), along with his wife and son, and four jawans.

The attack, which valley-based proscribed outfits 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.

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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 group, hitherto camped in Myanmar, 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, for which each militant group would want to list their terms. Many reports have also suspected China’s involvement in the attack. It is no secret that China has close ties with a few militant groups of the Northeast and has orchestrated various plans to unleash security instability in the Northeastern region in the past.

Earlier, Indian intelligence had revealed how an unholy nexus exists between some militants from Manipur and the Tatmadaw, wherein the militants aided the Burmese military in controlling Burmese civilians desirous of leaving the trouble-torn country. 

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The militants are, in turn, 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 – exists – could be obliging parties that have sheltered them.

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 announced Suspension of Operations (SoO) with the Indian government.

Claiming the attack on an Assam Rifles convoy, a statement issued by the People’s Liberation Army stated that they were not aware of the presence of the CO’s family- a women and a minor.

While the attackers – both non-SoO – infiltrated from across the border, executed their plan and fled far and wide, the local tribal civilians are left with an execrable prospect of bearing 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.

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Militants being killed by security forces or security forces being killed by militants in Manipur do not come as an absolute surprise to many in recent times, 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 punishment for 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 terrorising innocent civilians for years. For the first time militants belonging to Northeast were referred to as ‘terrorists’ by the intellectuals, media, and the government. Only the militants are to be blamed for this new development. The statement issued 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. Statements such 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’ the 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 can cast Manipur back to its darker days of militancy woes, reminiscent of the 1990s and early 2000s.

The attack on Assam Rifles convoy cannot be a conclusion for the assumption of total security failure in Manipur, considering the recent attacks were carried out by those based in Myanmar, with the possible support of neighbouring countries, and the fact that a majority of the militant organisations in the state are engaged in talks with the Government.

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 look beyond Churachandpur or for that matter, India. The recent attack on Assam Rifles is sure to be a game-changer in terms of security engagements in the Northeastern region. Apart from shouldering the need to award befitting response upon those in favour of violence over talks, the government can, for the larger good, use this moment to onboard militant organisations to the talks table.

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