The ambush on an Assam Rifles convoy by Manipur insurgents in Churachandpur district killing five soldiers including a commanding officer, his wife, and their 6-year-old son breaches the fragile calm prevailing in the border state. The attack recalls the 2015 ambush on the Dogra Regiment in neighbouring Chandel district in which 18 army personnel were killed. Though the Manipur insurgency has lost much steam from a decade or so ago, the state remains troubled by insurgent groups operating from Myanmar’s Chin state and staying out of peace talks while propping up a parallel economy run through extortion and narcotics.

By most accounts, the AR CO Col Viplav Tripathi was effectively curbing the narcotics trade, which possibly prompted the hit. The changed political situation in Myanmar where the military junta, which counts China as its main sponsor while not averse to cutting deals with India, is fighting neighbouring Chin state rebels, could be forcing Manipur insurgents to camp closer to border areas. In this scenario, more firefights could be in the offing. The Chinese link is particularly troubling. Illegal Chinese weapons are reportedly flowing to insurgent groups. The recent recalibration of two army divisions away from counterinsurgency towards operational roles in border areas with China and Myanmar could also be stoking attempts to re-energise the flagging Northeast insurgencies.

An overstretched Indian army bogged down in battling insurgencies benefits its rivals. Manipur’s diverse ethnic mix comprising social groups like Meitei, Naga and Kuki-Zo with separate and overlapping geographical areas of influence alongside many insurgent groups vying in their name for armed superiority have complicated peace efforts. The twin challenges of talking peace while showing no quarter for illegal activities keep testing the security establishment to the hilt. But a breakthrough here will help India better focus its resources on the LAC fight.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.


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