Need of the hour Bilateral disarmament
Undeniably, disarmament is a fundamental step towards ending the protracted violence besieging the state of Manipur. Disarmament alone may not be able to resolve the crisis but it can definitely open a way forward. Disarmament must have been the first priority of the State (New Delhi and Imphal) for containment of the protracted violence but the State has so far done very little in this direction except for the calls/appeals to surrender weapons looted from the State armouries. From the State’s perspective as well as from the sociological point of view, looting weapons from the State armouries is a grave crime. Armed civilians, whether organised or unorganised, can be a serious challenge to maintenance of law and order. In any normal situation and when the State is fully functional, there is little or no necessity for the citizens to arm themselves. But the situation in Manipur today is far from normal and the State’s effectiveness in handling the situation has already come under strong and persistent criticisms from different quarters. No doubt, all the weapons looted from the State armouries must be recovered but recovering the looted weapons must go simultaneously or side by side with a process of disarmament. All disarmament processes must be multilateral or at least bilateral. It can never be unilateral. The State’s urgency to recover the looted weapons is understandable. At the same time, the State needs to acknowledge the circumstances under which citizens looted weapons from the State armouries. Tens of thousands of people were driven out from Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Moreh and the unarmed citizens were totally helpless against the heavily armed aggressors. Hundreds of houses built with decades of sweat and toil were burnt down in minutes. The unarmed citizens could only watch the mayhem from afar with tears rolling down their cheeks. Neither the State nor its armed forces came to their aid. The State failed the helpless, unarmed citizens miserably.
It was this extraordinary war-like situation and the State’s abject failure to protect citizens which led to looting of weapons from State armouries. Having said this, we are in no way in favour of citizens arming themselves. The violence must be brought to an end as soon as possible, and as we said in the opening sentence, disarmament is a fundamental step towards stopping the violence. The State has a detailed account of the number and types of weapons looted from its armouries. In another word, the State knows exactly the number of weapons which are in the hands of citizens. Can the State claim of any such knowledge about the arsenal of the other camp? Yes, there are reports of the State regularly inspecting the camps of militant groups under Suspension of Operation (SoO), and the weapons were found intact. At the same time, the aggression at Meitei villages was going on unabated. It only implies that the Kuki militant groups have alternative huge arsenals of arms and ammunition, outside the supervision of the State. Any process of disarmament must start with identification of the source of this seemingly endless supply of sophisticated arms and ammunition. The next step should be cutting off this supply line. When one group is armed to the teeth, it is only natural for the other to explore all possible means of arming themselves. The instinct to survive even under the most adverse conditions is universal and it applies to the citizens of Manipur too. Here it must be acknowledged that the unprovoked widespread aggression and the State’s abject failure to protect its unarmed citizens compelled some groups of people to arm themselves. Had the State and its armed forces defended the unarmed citizens, no one would have thought of looting weapons. Citizens arming themselves is in fact a failure of the State. The State failed its citizens not once, not twice but multiple times. The viral video/pictures of a young boy and a girl murdered in the most ruthless manner which emerged recently is another testimony to this State failure. Citizens must be disarmed and the State must step in to fulfill its responsibility of protecting the citizens. There should be complete disarmament on both the sides. But mind you, unilateral disarmament is no disarmament.