24 June 2015

The ‘why’ factor

Jun 21, 2015

The crux of the NIA findings pointed to a central guiding hand behind the incident, towards elements of China’s People’s Liberation Army that provided training and back up support to the NSCN(K) 

“Through mud and blood to the green fields beyond”
— Motto of the Royal Tank Regiment, British Army

Kidhar India? (India —where are you?)” Are you still bogged down and struggling in the mud and blood? Or, are you slowly pulling yourself out of the quagmire and inching forward towards your destiny?

The single watershed event whose impact overshadowed almost every other issue in the country, including the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Bangladesh, was undoubtedly the ambush of a four-vehicle convoy of 6 Dogra Regiment, in the Chandel district of Manipur, in the close vicinity of the Indo-Myanmar border, which took a toll of 18 soldiers dead and 11 injured. The attack came “out of a clear blue sky” as it were, in an area which had not witnessed tension or conflict over a prolonged period. The resultant national shock and concern was understandable and a babbling cacophony of voices demanded answers — who? But perhaps the more important question would have been — why?

Why had the attack taken place?

And as more details regarding the circumstances and details of the incident gradually emerged, it sparked off shrill sparring on prime-time media, each political party trying to down-talk the other, strengthening the belief that the sacrifice of some of the nation’s best and bravest was of no real concern beyond short-term political gains.

The tone and tenor of their vicious squabbling only increased the widespread contempt with which the public holds their politicians.

Meanwhile, investigation of the Manipur ambush has been handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), and media reports have appeared regarding some of their preliminary findings. Their report seems to reinforce the conclusion that the ambush was carried out by a syndicate of Northeast militant groups under the banner of the “United Liberation Front of West South-East Asia,” a new front comprising the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) under the leadership of S.S. Khaplang, a Hemi Naga from Myanmar, in tandem with various other fractured factions and splinters of Meiti — Manipuri, Bodo, and Kamtapuri militant groups.

But the NIA’s probe has so far still been unable to provide a credible answer to the crucial “why” factor, — i.e., why on earth did the NSCN(K) group, under the leadership of Mr Khaplang, now a venerable patriarch, choose to carry out such an ambush at all?

In this context it has to be noted that the ceasefire in place between Government of India and the NSCN(K) had lapsed a little while earlier, and the latter had chosen not to renew it, for which many theories have been advanced, not excluding personal pique and exasperation on the part of Mr Khaplang at the indifference and bad faith displayed by the Government of India, which he saw as tilting in favour of his blood-enemies, the Tangkhul Naga predominant NSCN (Isaac-Muivah) faction.

However, what was different this time around was the Indian response. Within four days of the ambush, the Indian Army launched its riposte, a heliborne operation by its special forces, targeting the base camps of the Khaplang group in the Indo-Myanmar border region, hitherto strictly off-limits because of the peace agreement in place between the Government of India and both factions of the NSCN underground. It was a military action near a sensitive, ill-defined international border, one which could have been undertaken only on explicit instructions emanating from the Prime Minister’s Office. The NSCN(K) camps were reportedly taken completely by surprise, and suffered many casualties.

But the crux of the NIA findings pointed disquietingly to a central guiding hand behind the incident, towards elements of China’s People’s Liberation Army that provided training and back up support to the NSCN(K) in their camps in the Sagaing Division of Myanmar apparently with the knowledge of the Tatmadaw, the Burmese Army. Both China and Myanmar have issued strong and even threatening denials, which is expected.

However, whether intended or not, one major effect of the fallout from the trans-border raid was the widespread perception of a “new model” India, one that is quite prepared to hit back militarily, if circumstances so demand — a perception that has ruffled quite a few feathers in neighbouring Pakistan, after the Prime Minister of India referred directly to the troublemaking propensities of that country during his visit to another neighbouring country, Bangladesh.

Pakistan has warned India that it is quite capable of retaliating in strength to any provocations, and India should not make the mistake of equating Pakistan with Myanmar. India, of course, is quite aware of that aspect, as also that mischief by Pakistan’s surrogates will continue unabated in Jammu and Kashmir in the foreseeable future. The situation is smouldering.

The Government of India finds itself in somewhat of a quandary here. While at one level, India is seriously seeking to promote trade and economic relations with its neighbouring nations, especially China, at other levels there are strong adversarial perceptions between the two countries on various issues — the Sino-Indian land border, and the “string of pearls” in the Indian Ocean region, besides the strategic collusion between China and Pakistan.

So, perhaps, it is also time that the Government of India made it clear to its own Naga peoples in the Northeast, as well as in the rest of India, that the complicated and apparently irreconcilable tribal differences which seem to shape the sentiments and political stance of various segments amongst the Naga community are becoming increasingly irrelevant in an India focused on building a brighter economic future for all its citizens. If the Naga people wish to continue their inter-tribal conflicts, these will be regarded as a form of gang warfare or criminal enterprise, and handled accordingly by the local authorities as a law and order situation.

Meanwhile an “antim kriya” for the lost soldiers of 6 Dogra — the martyrs of an uncaring nation on a forgotten frontier — was carried out. But to what end or purpose? May you rest peacefully in the “green fields beyond”.

The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament

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