In one of the worst attacks on the Indian Army in 20 years, militants firing rocket propelled gredes ambushed an army convoy in Manipur on Thursday, killing at least 18 soldiers (according to some reports, 20 soldiers were killed). The tiol Socialist Council of galand (Khaplang), the Kanglei Yawol Kan Lup (KYKL) and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) claimed responsibility for the attack that took place some 30 km from the Myanmar border in Chandel district. In addition to the 18 soldiers killed, 11 others were injured. A militant was also killed when soldiers of the 6 Dogra Regiment fired back. The joint statement that claimed responsibility, said, “a combined team of elite strike units of ga army, KYKL and KCP assaulted the five-vehicle convoy of 6th Dogra Regiment and killed 20 personnel, including one JCO (junior commissioned officer).” The statement added that the assault started around 6 a.m. and lasted till 9 to 10 a.m. The statement also added that the joint offensive “has been launched in sync with each corresponding assertion for self-determition and sovereignty.”
In Manipur, there are at least 40 active militant groups. About 30 of these groups are of the Kuki community. More than 25 Kuki groups are now in desigted camps after having signed agreements with the Centre and the State government to suspend operations since 2008. About 10 Meitei militant groups are also on ceasefire and are lodged in the desigted camps. However, what comes as a major source of confidence for these militant groups (especially the three groups that have taken responsibility for Thursday’s ambush) is the creation of an umbrella group of the United tiol Liberation Front of Western South East Asia that was formed in April. The largest constituent of this group is the NSCN (Khaplang) which abrogated a 14-year-old ceasefire with the government in April. What the Centre must be beginning to realize is that ethnic groups clamouring for autonomy or sovereignty need speedier solutions than the Centre is in a position to arrive at. These are not ethnic groups that can wait decades for solutions to problems, no matter how complicated the solutions might be. An amicable solution to the galand problem has been hanging fire for decades. It is in such situations that ethnic groups that have inhabitants on both sides of the intertiol border are inclined to accord greater importance to their ethnic identities than to tiol identities. It is in such situations that the Indian Army deems it necessary to retain outlandish protective measures for the armed forces like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that would be regarded as achronistic and undemocratic anywhere else in the world. Thursday’s massacre of our soldiers makes it mandatory for our armed forces to be far less tolerant of militant groups than it has hitherto been. The very fact that militant groups in Manipur, galand and Assam are able to extort regular ‘taxes’ from people under the very noses of the administration and the armed forces is something that needs to be viewed with both concern and shame. There is every good reason to bring militancy to an end in States like Manipur and Assam and to end a dispensation where militancy is beginning to be viewed as legitimate business.