Eradicating Kuki Militancy In Manipur Must Now Be A Priority For The Modi Government

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jan 03, 2024, 02:13 PM | Updated 02:13 PM IST

Kuki militants in Manipur.
Kuki militants in Manipur.

Manipur is on the boil once again with combative Kuki militants launching multiple attacks over the last four days on security forces at the strategically-located Moreh along the India-Myanmar border.

Kuki militants, suspected to be from Myanmar, attacked Manipur Police commandos on Saturday (30 December) afternoon and again on the intervening night between Saturday and Sunday.

This was followed by several attacks on security forces — Manipur Police, Assam Rifles and BSF — on Monday and Tuesday.  

The fact that the Kuki militants launched such daring attacks on not only Manipur Police commandos, but also Assam Rifles and BSF soldiers, shows that they are getting bolder. 

Moreh has, ever since the ethnic clashes engulfed the state in early May last year, been a hotbed of Kuki militants. 

The militants, many of them members of the Kuki National Army (KNA) that operates on both sides of the international border, have forced a drastic demographic change in Moreh by driving away Meiteis, Tamils, Nagas and other inhabitants of the town. 

The town and many villages around it have witnessed largescale and unchecked influx of people of Kuki-Chin-Zo ethnicity from Myanmar.

The militants’ objective is to establish complete domination over Moreh to control the lucrative border trade and ensure free passage of arms, narcotics, militants and refugees (belonging to the Kuki-Chin ethnic groups) from Myanmar to Manipur. 

That is why Kukis have been opposing the presence of Manipur Police commandos in Moreh. Kuki militants have carried out attacks on Manipur Police convoys coming to Moreh from Imphal. 

But the latest attacks on even the Assam Rifles and BSF troops marks a significant escalation in belligerence of Kuki militants.

“This may signal their (Kuki militants’) intent to take on the Assam Rifles, BSF and even the Army if the latter stand in their way. The Kuki militants are signalling that they are no longer afraid of engaging in hostilities with Indian security forces,” said a senior Manipur Police officer. 

This is why the Union government should stop mollycoddling Kuki groups and order security forces to launch all-out offensives against Kuki militants. 

Not doing so now will eventually create a new headache for New Delhi in a sensitive region (the North East) that has been wracked often enough by militancy which had been allowed to grow instead of being nipped in the bud. 

Though there is now some talk of the entire 1,643 kilometre India-Myanmar border being fenced and ending the ‘free movement regime’ (FMR) that allows people residing on a 16-kilometre belt on either side of the international border free cross-border movement, more needs to be done to end the growing and grave threat posed by Kuki militants. 

The militants have been taking advantage of the FMR that allows citizens of either country unfettered movement across the border and also stay in the other country for up to two weeks at a time.  

The Union government has been toying with the idea of ending the FMR for the past six years. It is time for New Delhi to get serious and end this arrangement right away.

While the FMR can be ended with just an administrative fiat, fencing the border will take a long time given the terrain and thick forest cover along the border. 

It is thus imperative to step up vigil along the border. But the Assam Rifles, which is currently guarding this border, has clearly not been up to the task. That’s primarily because the Assam Rifles does not maintain a presence along the ‘zero line’ of the border. 

There is an urgent need to replace the Assam Rifles with the BSF which has done a much better job of guarding the borders with Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The Union government must initiate a comprehensive exercise to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Manipur and Mizoram where tens of thousands, if not lakhs, of people belonging to the Kuki-Chin-Zo ethnic group have settled down illegally over the past few decades. 

Identifying these illegal settlers and deporting them is important to ensure the security of the region. 

But most importantly, Kuki militants need to be neutralised. Not doing so immediately will endanger security in the region. 

Also read: 

Ground Report From Moreh: How Manipur’s Multicultural Frontier Town Became A Homogenised Centre Of The Kukis

Why The Indo-Myanmar Border Town Of Moreh Has Re-Emerged As Manipur’s Ethnic Flashpoint

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