On November 30, 2011, a bomb explosion in Imphal East killed a rickshaw puller and injured four persons, just three days before a scheduled visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the Manipur capital.
Earlier, on November 17, two persons were injured in a blast in front of a scrap shop in Imphal West District. On the same day, unidentified militants lobbed a hand grenade in Dewland Market in Ukhrul District, injuring two ‘non-locals’. On November 6, four labourers were injured when unidentified militants lobbed a hand grenade at their makeshift tent along the Dingku Road opposite the under-construction Inter State Bus Terminus at Khuman Lampak in Imphal East District.
Despite a dramatic decline in fatalities in the State, it is evident that the militants continue to possess the wherewithal to execute attacks at will. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, a total of 33 explosions took place in 2011, killing seven persons and injuring 49, in comparison to 47 explosions in 2010, killing four and injuring 19. Clearly, the intensity of these attacks has increased, though their frequency has diminished.
Crucially, despite a steep decline in the number of overall fatalities from 138 in 2010 to 59 in 2011 (all data till December 4), what is noticeable is that the number of civilians and Security Force (SF) personnel killed has remained more or less the same. The numbers suggest that the militants continue to operate freely, and that the SFs may well have wound down pressure against the rebels. Militant fatalities have registered a steep decline, and, while 47 encounters between SFs and militants were recorded by the SATP database in 2010, just nine were noticed in 2011.
At least 134 incidents of extremist violence were reported in Manipur through 2011, as compared to 177 in 2010. Extortion remains a major point of concern in the State, with SATP recording 40 extortion related incidents during the year, as against 33 in 2010 (these numbers would reflect no more than a small fraction of extortion-related activities in the State, most of which go unreported, with a high degree of compliance by targeted individuals and organisations). On May 2, 2011, the screening of films in cinema halls in Imphal was suspended following threats and extortion demands by militants. Employees of cinema halls protested against threats by the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), who demanded INR 1 million from each of the cinema halls in the Imphal area.
Despite the slowdown in counter-insurgency operations, the SFs have managed to eliminate some top militant leaders. In a significant success, the ‘commander-in-chief’ of the ‘Military Task Force’ faction of the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP-MTF), Chirom Tiken Meitei alias Sunil Meitei, who had escaped from the lockup of Porompat Police Station on October 3, 2011, was killed by Imphal West Police commandos on October 11, 2011, during an operation conducted at Yumnam Huidrom Awang Leikai in Imphal West District, where he was taking shelter in an underground hideout inside the house of one Longjam Shyam. Sunil Meitei was arrested by the SFs from Ejipura in Bangalore (Karnataka) on June 29, 2011, and was brought to Imphal on July 21, 2011. The 'commander-in-chief' of the ‘Military Council’ faction of KCP (KCP-MC), identified as Nongthombam Anand alias Malemnganba, was also arrested by the Delhi Police from Bangalore on May 5, 2011, following investigations into the April 1, 2011, seizure of 200 kilograms of ephedrine worth INR 20 million from an alleged KCP-MC militant, identified as Napoleon.
Further, the State recorded as many as 526 arrests in 2011, as compared to 990 in 2010. The arrested militants prominently belonged to different factions of KCP (202); People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK, 84); Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL, 56); People’s Liberation Army (PLA, 50); United National Liberation Front (UNLF, 40); National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM, 17); United Tribal Liberation Army (UTLA, 15); People’s United Liberation Front (PULF, 14); and United People’s Party of Kangleipak (UPPK, 8).
A total of at least 210 militants also surrendered in 2011 (till December 4), as compared to 221 in 2010. In the most significant surrender of the year, 40 militants of the Umar Farooque faction of the PULF, including its leader Umar Farooque alias Muhammad Mujib-ur-Rehman alias Ningthem, and its top leadership, surrendered before the Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh at Mantripukhri in Imphal West District, on June 14, 2011. Other PULF leaders who surrendered included 'vice-chairman' Muhammad Kalimudin; 'general secretary' Muhammad Abdul Zamber alias Belan Khan; ‘army commander-in-chief' Muhammad Jurzaman alias Danny; 'chief project officer' Y. Nabachandra alias Shamu; 'finance secretary' Muhammad Abdul Kadir alias Ipa alias Nizam; 'publicity secretary' Muhammad Syed Rehman alias Muhammad Rohit alias Sahid Mustaq; and 'organisation secretary' Muhammad Muzafar Ali alias Amou alias Dawat. Further, on June 27, 2011, 33 cadres belonging to four different militant outfits laid down arms at a surrender ceremony held at Leimakhong Garrison in the Sadar Hills of Senapati District. The surrendered cadres included Pakan Revolutionary Army (PRA) 'commander-in-chief' ‘Brigadier’ Molum Anal alias Jetky and 21 cadres of the outfit.
The visible slowdown in the SFs offensive against the militants is largely attributed to state’s approach to militancy, with priority being given to furthering the talks process and encouraging more and more militants to surrender or enter into negotiations with the Government.
In a major development, on October 27, 2011 Chief Minister Ibobi Singh welcomed 43 members of the United Tribal Liberation Army (UTLA), including its president Seipu alias Isheal, who had shown eagerness to ink a Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement. The outfit, which operates from the Vangai Range and Nungba sub division in Tamenglong District, and Jiribam in Imphal East District, had earlier approached the Army’s 57 Mountain Division, based at Leimakhong in the Sadar Hills of Senapati District for an SoO agreement. Though both the State Government and the Army accepted the request, the group is yet to sign the deal. Such an agreement would bring the largest number of constituents of a single underground organization into the national mainstream in recent times. If UTLA signs the pact, the number of groups to come under peace agreements in Manipur would go up to 20. Thus far, 19 groups under two umbrella organisations – the Kuki National Organisation and the United Peoples Front – have been living in designated camps since 2005. Earlier, on August 16, leaders of Kuki groups which are signatories to SoO agreements, held talks with officials of the Centre and State Governments at New Delhi, and agreed to a further extension of the agreements for another year, with effect from August 21.
Some recent developments, however, suggest that rivalry among militant groupings may undermine the peace efforts. Significantly, a new Manipur-based Naga outfit, the Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF) with an armed wing, the Zeliangrong Tiger Force (ZTF), was created on February 25, 2011. Clashes between the outfit, a breakaway group formed by deserters from NSCN-IM, National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) and Naga National Council (NNC), have, so far, resulted in seven deaths (six NSCN-IM and one ZUF militant), as well as six persons injured, besides other incidents of violence.
Meanwhile, ethnic rivalries again came to the forefront with the revival of the Sadar Hills District demand by the Sadar Hills District Development Committee (SHDDC), and subsequent protests by the Nagas. The SHDDC imposed an economic blockade on the two National Highways (NH) – NH-39 (renamed NH 2, Imphal-Dimapur) and NH-53 (renamed NH 37, Imphal-Jiribam) – of Manipur on August 1, 2011, and lifted this crippling shut in only after 92 days, at midnight on October 31, after the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the State Government. The United Naga Council (UNC) imposed a counter economic blockade along the NH 39 and 53 as well as NH 150, which links Manipur with Kohima in Nagaland and Aizawl in Mizoram, from August 21, demanding the non-inclusion of ‘Naga lands’ in the proposed Sadar Hills District. The UNC lifted its blockade after 100 days, in the morning of November 29, following an assurance from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs that a separate Sadar Hills District would not be granted without the consent of the Nagas.
Adding to the problem, the demand for an ‘Alternative Arrangement’ for the Nagas living in Manipur persisted, with no resolution. Violence came to the forefront with the NSCN-IM targeting Nagas who participated in the Autonomous District Council (ADC) elections held on May 26 and June 2, 2010. On August 1, 2011, five persons were killed and eight were injured, when militants triggered a powerful Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion near a barber’s shop at Sanghakpam Bazaar in Imphal East District. The explosive, planted on a two-wheeler, killed two Manipuri girls and two persons from Bihar – the barber and his son. On August 2, 2011, Chief Minister Ibobi Singh announced that the NSCN-IM was behind the blast, and revealed the identity of the fifth person killed in the incident as an active cadre of the NSCN-IM, Anthony. The Chief Minister noted, further, that the NSCN-IM cadre, who rode the scooter with the explosives, may have had a specific target, but the device possibly exploded prematurely. The Chief Minister claimed that the blast was aimed at the members of the ADC at a nearby District Councils Guest House complex. The explosion reportedly occurred just after the vehicles of ADC members had passed the spot. Earlier, on July 23, 2011, suspected NSCN-IM militants exploded a bomb at the ADC office in Ukhrul District, bordering Myanmar. On May 28, 2011, three persons were injured when a powerful bomb exploded at a Sports Stadium (Khuman Lampak) Complex in Imphal West District. The blast was apparently intended to target members and officials of the ADC, who were functioning from this location due to NSCN-IM threats.
The NSCN-IM has, in fact, increased its role in the Manipur insurgency with 16 of 59 killings in 2011 associated with the group. In 2010, out of a total of 138 fatalities, the NSCN-IM was involved in only one incident. Reports now indicate that major Meitei insurgent outfits – ethnic rivals of the Naga groups – in the State are making serious efforts to form a “united front” in pursuit of their own ethnically polarized goals.
In another significant development, on September 24, 2011, the UNC elected Lohrii Adani as its new ‘president’, along with five ‘council members’, and reaffirmed its commitment to pursue the demand for an ‘Alternative Arrangement’. The UNC also directed all the members of the ADC to vacate their positions in order to strengthen their movement. On June 30, 2011, the UNC demand for an ‘alternative arrangement’ for the Nagas living in Manipur received a severe blow, with both the State and Central Governments categorically setting aside this option during tripartite talks held in Senapati District. The outcome of these talks was in line with Chief Minister Ibobi Singh’s earlier declaration that a separate administrative model for the Nagas of Manipur was out of question.
Another disturbing element was the evolving linkages between the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) and some Manipuri militant groups. A November 25, 2011, news report stated that the most peaceful State in the Northeast, Mizoram, had allegedly been used as a meeting point by Maoists and leaders of the PLA. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which was probing the PLA’s activities since September 23, 2011, discovered that a meeting had been held between the outfit’s and Maoist leaders at Champhai in Mizoram on July 15, 2010. The NIA disclosed that a group of PLA leaders had also imparted arms training to Maoists in the Saranda Forest in Jharkhand, from September 11 to November 20, 2010. The PLA had allegedly trained Maoists in basic military tactics, guerrilla warfare, ambush and wireless communication skills, and that more such training sessions were scheduled for 2012. The NIA was entrusted by the Centre to investigate the larger conspiracy behind PLA’s alleged plans to ‘destabilise India’ with the help of Maoists and other like-minded militant groups of the Northeast, and also to conduct a probe into PLA’s nexus with China.
An official source cited in earlier media reports, stated further, "ISI [Inter Services Intelligence] and PLA are in touch and supplying Maoists with arms. They are supposedly using China as the alternative route." These revelations were made by two top PLA leaders, who were arrested in New Delhi on October 1, 2011. Reports indicate that the PLA was trying to forge a ‘Strong United Front’ (SUF) along with the CPI-Maoist and Kashmiri militants, backed by ISI and China.
Meanwhile, ethnic extremist groupings continue to seek to expel ‘outsiders’ from the State. The ‘military affairs secretary’ of the Lanheiba faction of KCP-MC, on March 3, 2011, urged all ‘non-locals’ to leave the State. The release further declared that the decision was a part of the group’s Operation Clear Cut which imposed several strictures, including ban on sale of land and property to outsiders, on the employment of ‘non-locals’, on the renting out of living quarters and transportation of non-locals within and outside the State, and a demand for all ‘non-locals’ to close shop. Significantly, three people were killed and nine injured in five incidents of violence against outsiders in 2011, as compared to nine killed and four injured in 12 such incidents in 2010. In one such incident, KCP-MC exploded a bomb at the Ananda Singh Academy near Raj Bhavan in Imphal East District on March 10, 2011, where President Pratibha Patil stayed during her two day visit to Manipur. However, no casualty was reported in the blast. KCP-MC later asserted that, while the blast was carried out to protest visit of President, it was also a part of the outfit’s campaign to expose the Central Government’s alleged ‘covert agenda’ of pushing ‘non-locals’ into Manipur.
Despite a significant deceleration in violence, the chaotic scenario of Manipur’s multiple insurgencies and the ethnic polarization in the State continues to hold out grave threats to peace in the State, even as each effort of accommodation attracts a backlash from rival ethnic extremist formations, constructing a perverse process of forward and regressive movements that appear to cancel each other out over time. The relief afforded by declining violence in Manipur continues to be tainted by the unresolved ethnic tensions in the State, and the Government’s inability to effectively neutralize the polarized and violent militant formations claiming to ‘represent’ divergent ethnic interests.
(The writer Veronica Khangchian is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)