Saturday morning’s ambush that took the lives of seven, including a Colonel and his wife and eight-year-old son in Manipur’s Churachandpur district bordering Myanmar may have been carried out at China’s behest.
The terror outfit that is suspected to have staged the ambush — Manipur’s People's Liberation Army (PLA) — has close ties to China and has received aid and encouragement from Beijing in the past.
Two entire divisions of the Indian army and a few additional battalions had been withdrawn from counter-insurgency (CI) and internal security duties in the Northeast and inducted along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.
Beijing would want its proxies to carry out strikes in places like Manipur that would necessitate stepping up of CI operations in the northeastern state. In which case, additional troops would have to be diverted from the LAC to Manipur once again, thus weakening India’s strength along the LAC.
That would also divert the Indian Army headquarters’ attention from dealing with the Chinese buildup along the LAC.
Top army officers also pointed out to Swarajya that China has been propping up ethnic insurgencies in the Shan, Rakhine and Kachin provinces of Myanmar and supplying the rebel groups there with AK-series rifles, grenades and other munitions manufactured in ordnance factories in China.
Some of these arms, and explosives as well, are finding their way to the hands of the militants of Northeast India, especially the Manipur-based groups like the PLA, People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP).
All these insurgent outfits are leftist in ideology and seek the establishment of a sovereign communist country of Manipur. China has been aiding all these groups, as well as other insurgent groups of the Northeast, for many decades now.
“China has provided ideological training and training in arms, guerilla tactics and safe havens to insurgent groups of the Northeast for a long time. Many of the leaders of these outfits have travelled to China and have interacted closely with China’s military and political leadership,” said former Director-General of Assam Rifles, Lt. Gen. (retired) Shokin Chauhan.
Lt Gen (retired) Konsam Himalay Singh, the first three-star general in the Indian army from Manipur, said that Saturday’s ambush was an attempt by the insurgents in Manipur to establish their relevance at a time when insurgency had been largely contained.
“This reeks of China’s hand in stoking the dying embers of insurgency in Manipur. Manipur is the only state in the region (northeast) where insurgency is alive but has been contained to a great extent. Ambushes and high-profile strikes like this fetch them attention and publicity, and that’s their much-needed oxygen,” said the former general who has received many gallantry awards.
A Brigadier attached to the Army’s 3 Corps Headquarters at Rangapahar near Dimapur in Nagaland told Swarajya that the PLA and other Valley-based insurgency groups of Manipur maintain close links with China and leaders of these outfits are in regular communication with China’s military.
“Apart from our strong suspicion about China’s hand behind this ambush, what has also emerged is that the operations carried out by the 46 Assam Rifles battalion (which the slain Colonel Viplav Tripathi commanded) had caused a lot of trouble to the Manipuri insurgent groups. The 46 Assam Rifles had cracked down hard on drug smuggling through the porous Indo-Myanmar border and had busted several drug trafficking rings. These rings are operated by the insurgents and drugs are their major source of earnings. Col Tripathi had blocked this source of revenue and the insurgent outfits were bleeding. That is also why they probably targeted him,” said the Brigadier.
Manipur has a 398-kilometre-long unfenced and porous border with Myanmar. The single lane road from the Assam Rifles outpost at Behiang (along the border) to the battalion headquarters at Khuga on which the ambush was staged is also a route used by drug traffickers.
This road leads to the state capital Imphal.
Saturday’s ambush took place near Sekhen village under Singngat sub-division of Manipur’s Churachandpur district. Top Assam Rifles officers who visited the site of the ambush said the militants must have kept a close watch on Col Tripathi’s movements.
The slain Colonel had visited a border village where the Behiang post is located to oversee some civil works programme that his battalion had undertaken.
“The militants couldn’t have been unaware that the Commanding Officer was travelling with his wife and son,” said a Deputy Inspector-General (Brigadier) of the Assam Rifles.
He asserted that by targeting the family of a soldier, the militants had crossed a red line. “They will have to pay a very heavy price for this. We are conducting operations and are zeroing in on the insurgents. Retribution will be swift,” the Assam Rifles officer added.
The last time the Manipuri insurgents had carried out a major attack was on June 4, 2015, when they ambushed a convoy of soldiers of the 6, Dogra Regiment in Chandel district of the state. Eighteen soldiers were killed and many more critically injured.
Five days after that, Special Forces of the Indian Army crossed into Maynmar and destroyed two major bases of the insurgents, killing many of them. It is learnt that the insurgents who carried out Saturday’s attack on the four-vehicle convoy have sneaked back to their bases in Myanmar.
Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.
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