Fighting the External Enemies in Manipur

- Reflections on Civil–Military Relations -

Sanatomba Kangujam
March 24
The Sangai Express

“Armed Forces are designed and structured to fight external enemies”. This was found written on the Invitation Card of the seminar which was jointly organised by the Red Shield Division and Manipur University at Centenary Hall, MU on January 7, 2011. Generally, external enemies refer to alien powers or international ‘terrorist’ organisations engaged in hostile activities against the State. As a matter of fact, Indian Army has been operating in Manipur to fight external enemies in the garb of protecting law and order. In this regard, it is highly imperative to understand the implications of the term ‘external enemy’ in order to decipher the political logic behind the deployment of a large number of Army troops with its legal armoury called Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958.

The Government of India (GoI) has so far stationed eight battalions of Army under the 57 Mountain Divisions in Manipur. Now, the question is, who are the external enemies that the Indian Army has been fighting in Manipur for the last many decades? We may also ask whether or not the insurgent groups of Manipur like the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and the Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) are the external enemies of India?

One is not certain about the official position taken by the Government of India on this question. Nevertheless, it may be pointed out that the insurgent organisations of Manipur have been treated as external enemies by the GoI as demonstrated by its sinister policy of using the Army in counter insurgency operations. Logically, it would imply that Manipur is not a part of India and thereby vindicating the claims of the insurgent groups.

The external character of the India’s relation to Manipur is very much part of the political landscaping of Manipur and its neighbouring six States as the North East Region. The mainland India and the North East Region constitute two distinct geo-political entities. The term region is never used to identify any other parts of India except in the case of the North East. In International Relations, the term ‘region’ is used to denote a specific geo-political formation such as the Asia-Pacific region, the Mediterranean region, Northern Saharan region etc.

Besides, the expression “North East” or “North East India” as a directional category like the Far East or the Middle East reflects an external and not a local point of view. The geo-political expression “North East” underscores the continuation of the colonial legacy of conceptualising the region as a frontier. A frontier is a spatial concept denoting a territory that remains to be integrated into the body-politics of a country by transforming it into a political border. In other words, a frontier is a geographical area which is used as a buffer zone or as a military defence shield against foreign invasion.

The Indian State has so far failed to transform the North East Frontier into a definite border. Arunachal Pradesh was earlier known as the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and was placed under the Ministry of External Affairs. Similarly, Nagaland was transferred from the Ministry of External Affairs to the Ministry of Home Affairs only in 1972 following the adoption of the North Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act, 1971.

The lingering Chinese claim over certain portions of the North East further substantiates the externality of the region. This understanding indicates that the North East is located somewhere at the margin of the Indian State and the North East, or for that matter, Manipur is something which is alien to India. It is because of this understanding that special legislation has been enacted for the region, thus creating a ‘State of Exception’ in the region. This is closely similar to what Hitler did during his anti-Semitic campaign.

In September 1935, Hitler enacted the Nuremberg Laws, which isolated the Jews and deprived them of their citizenship and other fundamental civil rights. They were not considered as German citizens; so they ought to be treated exceptionally, it claimed. In the same fashion, the people of the North East are not Indian citizens, so they should be placed in a State of Emergency. With this logic, AFSPA was enacted as a replication of Nuremberg Laws and the Army has been called in to enforce the same.

Continuous imposition of Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958 commonly better known as AFSPA, clearly implies the external character of the conflict in Manipur. The AFSPA, 1958 is an extra-constitutional Act that is meant to apply in an occupied territory. That was primarily the reason why AFSPA has never been applied in the Naxal strongholds in central and southern sides of mainland India.

Surprisingly, following strong resistance from democratic right groups, Home Minister, P. Chidambaram retracted from his earlier decision to deploy Air Force in the Naxal areas. And of course, the Army had not been called in to fight the Naxalites who are much stronger than any insurgent group operating in Manipur. Even now, the Government of India is reluctant to use Army against the Maoists.

The logic behind non-imposition of AFSPA and non-deployment of Army in the Maoist areas bears testimony to the fact that the Maoist problem is an ‘internal’ problem of India. The people living in Maoist-dominated areas being Indian citizens, the Army cannot be sent in to fight India’s own people. Similarly, no extra-constitutional legislation is required to tackle India’s own internal problem.

The imposition of AFSPA for an indefinite period and giving a free hand to the Army with complete immunity to intervene in Manipur is nothing but creating a state of exception. Even the right to life, the most basic criterion for leading a civilised existence is constantly denied to the people of Manipur. There is nothing more farcical than claiming to be the largest democracy in the world while refusing to grant even the most elementary form of civil liberty to the entire peoples of the North East. In the absence of basic civil liberty, the periodical holding of elections under the guise of parliamentary democracy is a sham: an attempt to hoodwink the international community.

If the Government of India is of the view that the conflict situation prevailing in Manipur is an internal problem or a law and order issue of India, there is no plausible reason for invoking the Army and the military Acts to normalise the situation. Police and the para-military forces are more than enough to contain any law and order situation.

There are also many legal instruments to aid and assist the police in the execution of their duties. However, continued imposition of AFSPA and extensive deployment of Army in Manipur indicates that the prevailing situation is not simply a law and order issue. A mere law and order problem would not have warranted the deployment of Army, an institution which is generally put into action only under specific condition marked by high occurrence of armed conflict with an international character.

The approach of the Government of India towards the prevailing issue in Manipur exhibits a behaviour that is pre-occupied with a deeply implanted character of a political conflict. If the Government of India is of the view that a situation which warrants the deployment of Army do really exist in Manipur, it is mandatory on the part of the Government to declare a State of Emergency as required under the Indian Constitution.

Deployment of Army in Manipur for such a long period without invoking the emergency provision of the Constitution is nothing short of waging a hidden war. The deployment of Army in Manipur to fight external enemies indicates the fact that the prevailing conflict situation in Manipur is an international armed conflict involving two political entities.

The GoI claims that the prevailing conflict is merely an internal problem of India. If so, why should not the GoI have the decency to immediately pull out the Army and revoke AFSPA from Manipur? The GoI still insists on the application of AFSPA and deployment of Army in Manipur. In that case, the GoI should have the audacity to admit that a political conflict exists between Manipur and India. If not, the Constitutional norms of Parliamentary democracy demands that the President of the Indian Republic should declare a National Emergency under Article 352 of the Indian Constitution to fight external enemies in Manipur. However, neither of the two is possible for the GoI to consider.

The Army has no role to play in a democracy except for ensuring the security of the country against foreign invasion. Likewise, draconian legislations such as AFSPA have no place in the civilised world except in the occupied and colonised territories. The Army has no business in Manipur and therefore, the question of forging a lasting and robust civil-military relation does not arise at all. But if the Army continues to stay in Manipur, the conflict in Manipur is no longer an internal matter of India.

It is a conflict between two nations. In that case, the Army should strictly abide by the relevant provisions of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols and other related norms of International Humanitarian Law. If the Indian Army is fighting external enemies in Manipur (considering Manipur as an occupied territory), there are certain internationally accepted codes of conduct which the Army have to follow during military operations such as :
  • Fight only combatants
  • Attack only military targets
  • Spare civilian persons and objects
  • Do not take hostages
  • Do not damage or steal their property
  • Treat those in your power humanely
  • Protect them against ill-treatment and vengeance
These are some of the most important codes of warfare which, if abide by the Army while fighting external enemies in a conflict situation (sic Manipur), will go a long way in building a good relation with the civilians. However, in the absence of a readiness on the part of the GoI to comply with the internationally recognised standard of military engagement in conflict situation, talking about civil-military relation makes no sense. When informed quarters are talking about finding a peaceful transformation to the seemingly intractable conflict, the Army top brass are pre-occupied with forging an alliance with a section of civil population to suppress the armed resistance in Manipur.

But a military solution to the ongoing political conflict is a misplaced notion. In spite of recognising this reality, the military establishment is bent on prolonging the conflict in Manipur by harping on seeking a military solution to the conflict which has not been possible for the last 30 years or so. Now-a-days, Counter Insurgency Operation (CIO) is a lucrative business and the Army is sitting on the goldmine of insurgency.

Huge amount of money has been allocated for carrying out Military Civic Action (MCA) programme as part of the psychological warfare to rope in the support of the civil population to quell the armed movement. Viewed from this perspective, the seminar recently held at Manipur University can be seen as a part of the military strategy to infiltrate the academic circle of the State in order to manufacture consent for their nefarious military misadventure.

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