Manipur Cauldron Effective Unified Command and a strong Political Will are the only means towards Conflict Resolution

Laiphrakpam Ibotombi Singh
While examining the role of security forces under the Unified Command and the Political Will towards conflict resolution of the ongoing conflict, both have failed to bring conflict resolution in the State. The onus of failure in bringing peace in Manipur is slightly titled towards the Security Forces, considering the mammoth size of additional forces pressed home in the State during last one year. The present Unified Command has not given any tangible results for facilitating dialogues between the two warring communities. Is it the right time to restructure and change the approach towards the Unified Command ? One of the suggested changes is that the Unified Command should be headed by the General Officer Commanding 3 Corps.
Manipur has been witnessing unprecedent violence since May 3rd , 2023 resulting in large fatal and non-fatal casualties besides thousands have been rendered homeless as their houses and livelihoods have been burnt and have become refugees in their own Land. So far, over 227 persons have been killed, 71,000 displaced, thousands injured, scores missing, 3,814 houses burnt and 391 religious structures vandalized in Manipur. After more than one year and 63 days, peace appears to be a distant dream amongst the people of Manipur. It is seen that both the Security Apparatus and the Political Will are lacking in will to control the conflict and in bringing an amicable resolution.
While examining the role of security forces under the Unified Command and the Political Will towards conflict resolution of the ongoing conflict, both have failed to bring conflict resolution in the State. The failure is slightly seen more towards the Security Forces, considering the mammoth size of additional forces pressed home in the State during the last one year. The primary role of the security forces is to keep the environment free from violence to facilitate political dialogue between the two warring communities ie. Meiteis and Zo-Kukis. Efficacy of the present Unified Command is under clouds considering the knee jerk reactive responses towards violent conflicts, recent example being spread of the ethnic violence to Jiribam District, westernmost district of Manipur neighbouring Assam, despite clear warning given to the Unified Command in January 2024.
Unfortunately, security personnel at the helm are applying readymade templates of fighting against the Naxalites, they cannot even differentiate between terrorists, militants, insurgents, militias, village volunteers and are resorting to knee jerk actions, more of reactive scenarios than pro-active actions to control the situations, besides there is no synergy in application of forces.
Equally is lack of political will towards resolution of conflict in Manipur by the Double Engine Government. It is unfortunate that there has been not a single word from the PMO despite Manipur burning for more than a year. In the recent address by the President, during the opening session of Parliament, there was complete silence on Manipur, as if Manipur State does not exist. Had Manipur got equal weightage in the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) or permanent house of Parliament, like what US Senate has, having equal seats for all the 50 States, then the matter would have been different.
The public of Manipur are confused whether Article 355 or 356 has been invoked in Manipur, for all decisions on internal security matters are initiated by the Ministry of Home, under the directions of Union Home Minister. The recent example being exclusion of Chief Minister of Manipur, while reviewing security situation chaired by the Union Home Minister. Article 355, part of emergency provisions, under Part XVIII of the Indian Constitution says “It shall be the duty of the Union to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the Government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.” Likewise under Art 356 of the Constitution of India, again part of emergency provisions, says “If the President, on receipt of report from the Governor of the State or otherwise, is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the Government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution, the President may by Proclamation assume to himself all or any of the functions of the Government of the State by the Governor….” the Union Govt can take direct control of the State machinery including powers of the Legislature of the State. On analysis of the context of these provisions, the present situation in Manipur is more tilted towards Article 356 as governance by the State Government is not functioning according to the provisions of the Constitution as life and property cannot be protected by the State machinery, there is widespread illegal tax collection and the public in the valley are confined in the areas of 40 by 30 Km, by virtue of creation of restricted zones around the valley. Thus, from the way the governance is remotely controlled from the Centre, it is a HYBRID Article 356 in Manipur, by ensuring governance of Bhartiya Janata Party in the State at the same time all important decisions in running the State by the Central Government, thereby proving to be “saanp bhi mare aur lathi bhi na toote or lin su siba chaise su tektaba in Manipuri” One of the glaring examples is overnight change in decision (cancellation) of visit of the Manipur Chief Minister to Jiribam, post violence in the district.
Another loosely used terminology in present impasse in Manipur is “Buffer Zone”, which otherwise is used during armed conflict between two great powers. The word “Buffer Zone” is a mutually agreed upon area lying between two greater powers, which is demilitarised in the sense of not hosting the armed forces of either power. Thus, there can be no buffer zone per se in Manipur as no two-armed forces of separate Nations are at war. It is an ethnic conflict between two warring communities assisted by Zo-Kuki militant groups under Suspension of Operations (SOO) and Myanmar origin terrorists operating as mercenaries in creating mayhem against innocent Meitei villagers staying on the outskirts of Imphal valley neighbouring Chin-Kuki dominated areas. Therefore, there is a need to avoid this terminology, instead “check point barriers”, “security check posts” may be used.
In 2008 there was a communal conflict between the Bodos and the Assamese Muslims in Udalguri and Darang Districs in Assam, which left more than 100 people dead and about 1.5 lakh people of various communities refugees in relief camps at Darang, Udalguri, Kharupetia and other places. However, the violence was doused within a month due to immediate intervention by security forces and timely ground visit of the then Prime Minister Shri Manmohan Singh, hordes of his Ministers of UPA-2 regime and other political parties, besides other personalities of India. The violent situation was stabilised by the security forces enabling political cum social dialogue at the political level which resolved the conflict between the two communities.
Conflict resolution is an art, which requires a strong political will, combined with shaping a conducive environment by the security forces. In the case of Manipur as the present Unified Command has not given any tangible results for facilitating dialogues between the two warring communities, is it the right time to restructure and change the approach towards the Unified Command ? One of the suggested changes is that the Unified Command should be headed by the General Officer Commanding 3 Corps like similar arrangement made in Assam. For this, tactical Headquarters of 3 Corps can be shifted to Imphal, for better command and control. The two divisional Headquarters viz. Headquarters 57 Mountain Division and Inspectorate General Assam Rifles, South can be given separate areas of responsibilities, if required even Inspectorate General Assam Rifles, East can be shifted temporarily to South Manipur. The primary mandate of key result areas of the Unified Command will be disarmament, stringent enforcement of cease fire ground rules, preventing flow of weapons and warlike stores from Myanmar into Manipur, thereby bring the level of violence down, conducive for initiation of political dialogues. The primary role of the Unified Command will be to facilitate conflict resolution and NOT repeat NOT counter insurgency. This arrangement can be made for six months and reviewed accordingly. Side by side there is a need to have a Strategic Command headed by the Chief Minister, if the Centre’s stand about “Manipur is not under Article 355 or 356 is true”, or it should be headed by the Governor if Article 355 is invoked, thereby facilitate application of synergised security forces. The commander Unified Command de facto will be Security Advisor to the Chairperson Strategic Command. Some of the recommended key focused areas for the Unified are:-
(a) Disarmament : The foremost important tasks which require synergized efforts from all govt machinery including the SF is disarmament without which no dialogue can take place. Without disarmament normalcy will not return, instead the situation will worsen. Disarmament can be achieved by encouraging surrender or use of punitive force against all armed personnel, including Kuki-Zo militant groups under Suspension of Operations (SSO) who are terrorising innocent villagers on daily basis, in violations of cease fire ground rules (CFGR).
The perception of the Centre, in particular Ministry of Home, advised by the NSA and the Interlocutor, not to abrogate SOO with Kuki-Zo militant groups in Manipur until ongoing peace dialogue with the NSCN(IM) is fructified, may soon lead to catastrophe in the beleaguered Manipur State. Thus a holistic call needs to be taken.
(b) Strict Enforcement of CFGR : One of the most important tasks for the Unified Command is strict implementation of CFGR rules. Punitive actions including confiscation of weapons and munitions need to be taken when violated.
All the weapons, munitions and other warlike stores belonging to the various insurgent cum militant groups under SoO are recommended to be kept in separate armoury having triple locks, one key each with the SF, second with the Militant Groups and third with the Interlocutor to avoid misuse of these weapons while under SoO. Deployment of Security Forces must be based on detail analysis of threat and likely flash points for violence and not reactive knee jerk actions as is prevalent now. The SFs must pursue precision hard intelligence based surgical strikes towards violators of CFGR by Militant Groups under SoO and village volunteers and ex-servicemen who have taken up arms.
Simultaneously, encourage surrender of arms by giving lucrative incentives, for which the Centre must chip in the State financially.
(c) Last Bastion of Security Forces : The Indian Army is the last bastion of the Indian Security Forces, when called upon in aid of the civil authority, to restore normalcy during riots, public disorder, mob violence etc. It was shocking and pathetic to see a junior commissioned officer of Assam Rifles meekly pleading and requesting the fully armed group of Zo-Kuki militants, against basic norms taught in the military training institutes, to remove area weapons (106 mm recoilless gun) pointed against them and blocking the road, while moving in a Casspir mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle at Moreh on January 17th , 2024. It was the Zo-Kuki terrorists carrying out “show of force” against the SF, which is unprecedented in the annals of aid to civil authority history by the Indian Security Forces. It was a clear violations of CFGR by the Zo-Kuki Terrorists under SoO, which should have been acted upon.
(d) Accountability of SFs : Besides fencing, to be completed on a war footing, the Indo-Myanmar border must be sealed by physical presence of troops.
Avoid illegal weapons and warlike stores from Myanmar into India as most of the Indo-Myanmar border is now under control of various warring Myanmar’s ethnic groups. The 15 Battalions of Assam Rifles raised for guarding of Indo-Myanmar border in 2001-2002 by the MHA must be utilised effectively, instead of frittering away these precious resources in the form of counter insurgency grid. Make them accountable as recommended in K Subrahmanyam committee report post Kargil War 1999.
(e) Dynamic Deployment : There is a need to identify centre of gravity of the current problem and those responsible for creating mayhem in the State and carry out precision strikes accordingly. Ensure dynamic and grid deployment of the Security Forces and ensure accountability. Instil confidence, indulge in psychological operations for winning Hearts and Minds of the public. Initiate suitable measures to stop spreading of rumours and false propaganda, invoke relevant Acts and initiate suitable legal actions as per the law against violators.
Best way to counter rumour is to counter the false propaganda with factual details by fastest means for which a centralise team as “Counter False Propaganda Team” need to be created.
(f) Intense Operations : Security Force under unified command in Manipur is one of the means to lead to peaceful conflict resolution. This component needs to create conducive atmosphere for initiating dialogues through political means. Proactive intense and tangible operations in the centre of gravity, likely flash points and vulnerable areas, both in the Hills as well as in the valley, is key to brig down level of violence. The actions of the SFs should not only be transparent by means of daily press brief and but also made aware amongst the public.
(g) Punitive Actions : Investigate who are the parties involved in tacitly supporting and inciting violence, and initiate stringent legal actions against them.
Political Will. Strong political will both at the State level as well as at the Centre is need of the hour. Combined with intense disarmament operations by the SFs, side by side dialogues without pre-conditions must be initiated by the executives. Remember conflict resolution requires political dialogue from warring factions, the agenda should be without disintegrating unity of Manipur. The Centre must give all the support and initiate concrete steps, made aware to the public, so as to lead to conflict resolution.
Some recommended actions at the political level are as under :-
(a) Dialogue : In order to arrest the level of violence in the State and bring in some semblance of law and order, all the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Student Organisations and Other Key Organisations both in the valley and in the Hills need to be actively engaged. Thereafter, bring in a common agenda so as to resolve the conflict by peaceful dialogue. These arrangements must go on side-by-side with military means containment of violence under the Unified Command.
b) NRC : Ensure early implementation of NRC based on 1951 or 1961 census in Manipur.
c) Secured and Reliable Line of Communication : Establish a safe, secured, reliable and all-weather lines of communication to Imphal, the State Capital. National Highway 37 is a better choice as the alignment runs entirely through Manipur. Create a sizeable and strong National Highway Protection Force on similar line to Railway Protection Force. Stringent punitive actions must be taken against personnel who indulge in blockade of National Highways. Enact law as non-bailable for such offences.
d) Inclusion of Meitei Community as ST : Continue with proper examination of Meitei community for scheduled tribe status as per law and facts as per history.
e) Revocation of MLRLR Act : Revoke Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act 1960 and permit all tribes and communities of Manipur to settle in all areas within Manipur on the same line as is being practiced in Himachal Pradesh.
(The last recommendation can be easily carried out by Shri Amit Shah, the Hon’ble Union Home Minister, who on 5th August 2019 with the blessings of Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi carried out a Precision Strike in the Parliament where the Govt of India revoked the special status or autonomy, granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir.)

An alumnus of Sanik School Imphal, Laiphrakpam Ibotombi Singh served in the Indian Army for about 36 years. He has vast exposure and knowledge of conflict resolution while serving as Chief Operational Officer in Somalia and later as a Colonel of a Mountain Division in charge of operations responsible for counter insurgency in Lower Assam.