The Ma­nipur Am­bush – and Be­yond

In­volve­ment of China and Pak­istan in in­sur­gen­cies and ter­ror­ism pan-In­dia is not new. It has been en­hanced and has be­come more proac­tive with strate­gic aim to desta­bilise In­dia.

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Lt Gen­eral P.C. Ka­toch (Retd)

WHEN FOUR VE­HI­CLES OF an army con­voy were am­bushed at 0830 hours on June 4 in Chandel dis­trict of Ma­nipur, it was the worst ter­ror­ist am­bush suf­fered by the army in past 33 years. 18 per­son­nel of 6 Dogra were mar­tyred when the for­ward two ve­hi­cles were blasted by IEDs and fired upon by RPG rock­ets and au­to­matic fire. That the rad­i­cal dy­nam­ics of the North East have un­der­gone rapid change in re­cent years is es­tab­lished but the am­bush cer­tainly came as a sur­prise. The gov­ern­ment asked the army to adopt proac­tive mea­sures as there was volley of com­ments as to what had gone wrong and what cor­rec­tive ac­tions were needed to be adopted. While the NSCN (K) and KYKL owned re­spon­si­bil­ity, there was much more in the back­drop, to in­clude the China-Pak­istan nexus in fan­ning the North East in­sur­gency and ISI spon­sored ji­hadi out­fits.

China-Pak­istan Nexus

In­volve­ment of China and Pak­istan in in­sur­gen­cies and ter­ror­ism pan-In­dia is not new. It has been en­hanced and has be­come more proac­tive with strate­gic aim to desta­bilise In­dia and in the case of China some­how get to the In­dian Ocean through the land route via In­dia and Myan­mar to es­tab­lish a sec­ond oceanic front. Hence, Chi­nese illegal claims to Arunachal Pradesh as late as year 2005. China was arm­ing, fi­nanc­ing and train­ing Naga rebels as early as 1960s al­beit her fo­cus on the North East in­creased with the pro­gres­sion of years. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, Pak­istan’s ISI con­tin­ued to re­cruit illegal Bangladeshi Mus­lims in the North East, even as the ISI’s In­dia nexus en­acted the in­fa­mous Illegal Mi­grants (De­ter­mi­na­tion of Tri­bunal) Act 1983 in As­sam, mak­ing that state Mus­lim pre­dom­i­nant. When the ULFA camps were routed from Bhutan, China gave ULFA shel­ter on Chi­nese soil. Some three years back four Chi­nese na­tion­als were ap­pre­hended with fake In­dian doc­u­ments, on mis­sion to reach the NSCN. There is ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve that ab­ro­ga­tion of the 14-year-old ceasefire by the NSCN (K) this year was on be­hest of China.

Ac­cord­ing to re­cent media re­ports quot­ing in­tel­li­gence sources, nine mil­i­tant groups in­clud­ing the NSCN (K) and the ULFA fac­tion led by Paresh Baruah, came to­gether to form the United Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front of WSEA (West South East Asia) in a meet­ing held at Taga in Sa­gaing (Myan­mar) in April 2015 un­der ac­tive tute­lage of Chi­nese in­tel­li­gence. Chi­nese in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives are ac­tive in the Sa­gaing re­gion and weapons are of­ten shipped to the North-eastern groups through the China-Myan­mar bor­der. Kha­p­lang, Chair­man NSCN is to head the new group­ing with ULFA’s Paresh Baruah play­ing a ma­jor role as well. Other groups that par­tic­i­pated in the meet­ing were the Kan­gleipak Com­mu­nist Party, Kan­glei Ya­wol Kunna Lup, Peo­ple’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Party of Kan­gleipak, Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army, United Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front and Na­tional Demo­cratic Front of Bodoland (Song­bi­jit fac­tion). China has been sup­ply­ing arms to PLA of Ma­nipur and In­dian Maoists, as also co­or­di­nat­ing their joint train­ing. Sig­nif­i­cantly, China has cre­ated her dead­li­est proxy in the United Wa State Army (UWSA), more lethal than the LTTE, head­quar­tered in Shan State of Myan­mar even arm­ing them with mis­sile fit­ted he­li­copters, in ad­di­tion to as­sault ri­fles, ma­chine guns, shoul­der-fired air de­fence mis­siles and armoured ve­hi­cles.

The tim­ing of the dec­la­ra­tion of the United Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front of WSEA post the March 2015 ab­ro­ga­tion of the 14-year-old ceasefire by NSCN (K) pre­ced­ing Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s visit to China in May was per­haps a sig­nal of un­con­ven­tional bel­ligerency. The Chi­nese have re­port­edly promised to pro­vide weapons and lo­gis­tics to the new group­ing as they want to keep things boiling in the North East in view of their claim on the state of Arunachal Pradesh. If the NSCN (K) and KYKL (read Chi­nese spon­sored United Lib­er­a­tion Front of WSEA) were be­hind the Ma­nipur am­bush against the army con­voy, in­volve­ment of the ISI-LeT spon­sored Is­lamic groups par­tic­u­larly the PULF (Peo­ples United Lib­er­a­tion Front) is also ob­vi­ous since the am­bush was planned tim­ing it with Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s visit to Bangladesh. In ad­di­tion to the PULF, other Is­lamic rad­i­cal groups ac­tive in Ma­nipur are the Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Front (IRF), Is­lamic Na­tional Front (INF), United Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Army (UIRA) and United Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Army (UILA). At the same time, in­volve­ment of the western arms mafia too can hardly be ruled out tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the Pu­ru­lia arms drop.

What Went Wrong

The eas­i­est part is to put all blame on the unit that got hit. How­ever a deeper anal­y­sis is re­quired and must have al­ready been done thread­bare by the Army. As per media re­ports, the unit had com­pleted its twoyear ten­ure and while the Sec­ond-in-Com­mand had pro­ceeded to the new lo­ca­tion with the ad­vance party, the CO too was on leave. Both CO and Sec­ond-in-Com­mand be­ing away to­gether in counter-in­sur­gency area is un­usual but since the CO’s leave is sanc­tioned by the Brigade Com­man­der, there must have been valid rea­sons. The am­bushed ve­hi­cles, as per media, were sup­pos­edly car­ry­ing per­son­nel pro­ceed­ing on leave. Yes, the ROP should have been ef­fec­tive but the oper­a­tions in these ar­eas as com­pared to in J&K need to be viewed in the fol­low­ing con­text: quan­tum of troops avail­able for ROP in or­der to sani­tise ar­eas both sides of the road, who was re­spon­si­ble for the ROP; what time did the ROP come into place con­sid­er­ing the am­bush was sprung at 0830 hours; are mine pro­tected ve­hi­cles (MPVs) mov­ing with the ROP and con­voys – ap­pears not; are hand-held me­tal de­tec­tors and IED de­tec­tion equip­ment avail­able to road open­ing par­ties; what is the sur­veil­lance and com­mu­ni­ca­tion in­ter­cep­tion ca­pa­bil­ity avail­able to the units de­ployed in the North East, and the like. The weapons used by the ter­ror­ists, ac­cord­ing to some re­ports, had US mark­ings. So in all prob­a­bil­ity these were supplied by the China-Pak­istan con­duit. It is to the credit of the am­bushed party that de­spite the fe­roc­ity of fire from mul­ti­ple di­rec­tions, they ter­ror­ists left at least one dead body be­hind al­beit the in­jured man­aged to es­cape.

The most sig­nif­i­cant fail­ure was that of in­tel­li­gence, which al­ways hap­pens in such in­stances. De­spite clear in­di­ca­tion of in­creas­ingly ac­tive in­volve­ment of Chi­nese in­tel­li­gence and Pak­istan’s ISI in the North East, were we ad­e­quately pre­pared and troops fore­warned be­yond rou­tine RAW and IB warn­ings? Sim­i­lar was the case in the Kargil in­tru­sions too. At the higher level, lack of tech­ni­cal cross bor­der in­tel­li­gence was also de­lib­er­ately stymied by the pre­vi­ous Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment, os­ten­si­bly un­der pres­sure from the arms and nar­cotics mafia, and even per­haps un­der pres­sure from the ISI through black­mail to some po­lit­i­cal big­gies hav­ing used hawala to siphon out money, as in­di­cated by some vet­eran RAW of­fi­cials. It is for this rea­son that the Tech­ni­cal Sup­port Di­vi­sion (TSD) of the Army which was giv­ing ex­cel­lent cross bor­der in­tel­li­gence was dis­banded when the Man­mo­han Singh Gov­ern­ment pre­ma­turely re­tired Army Chief Gen­eral V.K. Singh un­der a mis­chie­vously con­trived date of birth con­tro­versy, even as the Supreme Court judge­ment only left the de­ci­sion to the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia (GoI) and never blamed the Gen­eral to be in the wrong. In the af­ter­math of 26/11 Mum­bai terror at­tacks, another TSD was to be raised with covert ca­pa­bil­i­ties for coun­ter­strike and ef­fec­tive deter­rence, the first TSD hav­ing been highly suc­cess­ful; terror at­tacks, ri­ot­ing in the Kash­mir val­ley, am­bushes in north­east, arms and nar­cotics through Myan­mar were se­verely cur­tailed. TSD sud­denly be­came a pain for ISI and western arms deal­ers. There­fore the en­emy within (poiltico-bu­reau­cratic mafia) swung into ac­tion sup­ported by the media pressti­tutes. The TSD was shut down and plans for rais­ing the sec­ond TSD scrapped; ac­tions that ac­tu­ally amount to trea­son against the coun­try. Iron­i­cally, the witch-hunt against the TSD of­fi­cers is still on. Many ar­ti­cles have emerged ask­ing for re-rais­ing of the TSD but the gov­ern­ment is yet to act. There is also spec­u­la­tion that it was the fear of loss of busi­ness of the nar­cotics and arms mafia that Gen­eral V.K. Singh was made to han­dover the in­de­pen­dent charge of North East on some other pre­text that may have been con­veyed to an un­sus­pect­ing Prime Min­is­ter.

The Ri­poste

In­dia’s ri­poste through swift sur­gi­cal strike at two camps in­side Myan­mar made in­ter­na­tional news. The raid was con­ducted by Spe­cial Forces sup­ported by the IAF pur­suant to cred­i­ble and spe­cific in­tel­li­gence about fur­ther at­tacks that were be­ing planned on In­dian soil by the same groups that had un­der­taken the am­bush in Ma­nipur on June 4. The army state­ment reads that sig­nif­i­cant ca­su­al­ties have been in­flicted on the ter­ror­ists. While no specifics were given in the army state­ment, media re­ports quot­ing of­fi­cial sources talked of ter­ror­ists killed num­ber­ing rang­ing from 20 to 50. The army also con­firmed they had been in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the Myan­mar author­i­ties in this re­gard, there is history of close co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two mil­i­taries, and In­dian Army looks for­ward to work­ing with Myan­mar Mil­i­tary for com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism.

The raid on the ter­ror­ist camps across the bor­der in­di­cates the Modi Gov­ern­ment’s re­solve to deal with cross bor­der ter­ror­ism ef­fec­tively. It is the first time GoI has shown will­ing­ness to con­duct pre-emp­tive strikes to cur­tail op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties of in­sur­gent groups. Some 1,000 of 1,500 NSCN (K) cadres are re­port­edly based in Myan­mar. The ex­ist­ing in­sur­gent camps in Myan­mar re­port­edly num­ber 61 as per latest TV news. The borders are also used for smug­gling of arms and con­tra­band by the mil­i­tants.

Re­quire­ment

Un­con­ven­tional war­fare and proxy wars hav­ing proved their strate­gic im­por­tance over other forms of con­flict past decade, we must recog­nise that China and Pak­istan have joined hands and re­solved to desta­bi­lize In­dia through ter­ror­ism and fan­ning in­sur­gen­cies as proac­tively as pos­si­ble. The China-ISI-Tal­iban-LeT nexus is tar­get­ing Afghanistan, Mal­dives, North In­dia and South In­dia, lat­ter sit­ting on a dor­mant tin­der box. North East In­dia is a strate­gic ob­jec­tive for China to an­nex Arunachal Pradesh and reach out to the In­dian Ocean, in con­junc­tion Myan­mar. Our Spe­cial Forces raids on ter­ror­ist camps in Myan­mar no doubt have sent out salu­tary mes­sage on all fronts. But then within Myan­mar there are 61 such camps and next time, the ter­ror­ists or­gan­i­sa­tions will be on bet­ter look­out. Chi­nese and Pak­istani in­tel­li­gence may even sup­ply these out­fits with shoul­der fired air de­fence mis­siles. To that ex­tent, our tac­tics for raid would have to be ad­justed.

While the sur­veil­lance, com­mu­ni­ca­tion in­ter­cep­tion and IED/mine de­tec­tion and coun­ter­mea­sure ca­pa­bil­i­ties of units in the area must be en­hanced, the gov­ern­ment would do well to im­me­di­ately raise min­i­mum two TSDs cov­er­ing our land borders. One has to ac­tu­ally walk along the In­dia-Myan­mar to re­alise how rugged, thickly forested and dif­fi­cult the ter­rain is, and more im­por­tantly the gaps be­tween the posts along the bor­der too have dense un­der­growth that fa­cil­i­tates easy in­fil­tra­tion and smug­gling es­pe­cially in hours of dark­ness and in­clement weather. The pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment was plan­ning to re­place the AR with BSF along the Indo-Myan­mar bor­der which mer­ci­fully the present NSA has ruled out. But what GoI should con­sider is to de­ploy BSF units to beef up the bor­der de­fence but they should be placed un­der com­mand the army like the AR, not re­peat­ing the mess cre­ated in Dep­sang and Chu­mar where the ITBP is not un­der com­mand the army.

It is vi­tal for the Modi Gov­ern­ment to un­der­stand that while the re­cent Spe­cial Forces raids con­ducted against the two ter­ror­ist camps in My­na­mar are a good be­gin­ning at the tac­ti­cal level, we have to go all out at the strate­gic level to es­tab­lish cred­i­ble deter­rence against un­con­ven­tional and proxy wars un­leashed by China and Pak­istan. Threat from across the Myan­mar bor­der is just one part of the di­a­bol­i­cal plan of our en­e­mies. The call of sub-con­ven­tional has al­ready been trum­peted by these coun­tries loud and clear. It will be a folly not to ig­nore the war drums.

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