Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s high-level Task Force on the North-East wants the army to be pulled out of counter-insurgency duties in Manipur and Nagaland, and re-deployed east to guard the porous border with Myanmar, government sources said.
The task force will recommend that police in the troubled states be given the lead role in counter-insurgency operations, sources told The Indian Express.
Led by RN Ravi, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and the PM’s envoy for peace talks with Nagaland insurgents, the task force’s recommendations were finalised last month, and are due to be formally presented to Modi this month.
The task force’s radical recommendations are significant in the context of Thursday’s ambush in Manipur, which claimed the lives of 18 soldiers. The ambush is thought to have been carried out by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland’s SS Khaplang-led faction (NSCN-K), operating from bases across the border in Myanmar’s Trang area.
“For years now, the Khaplang group has been raising funds by providing training and logistics to insurgent groups like Paresh Barua’s United Liberation Front of Assam, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak and the Kangleipak Communist Party,” an official involved in preparing the report said.
“It is imperative that what is now a completely un-policed border be sealed if the insurgencies in Nagaland and Manipur are to be contained,” he said.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Ravi declined to comment on the contents on the report.
New Delhi hopes the plan, by addressing local resentment against alleged human rights violations by the army, will give momentum to Modi’s November 2014 promise to settle the crisis in Nagaland inside 18 months.
Key to the plan is reaching a deal that would give Naga tribes living inside Manipur special rights, without changing existing state boundaries.
Though the plan has the backing of the NSCN’s Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah-led mainstream group, which already runs a proto-state in large swathes of Nagaland, it raised the prospect of marginalisation for Khaplang.
Khaplang, a Myanmar citizen who reached a peace deal with that country’s military in 2012 and then withdrew from a ceasefire with India, now mainly operates from across the border.
“He has realised there’s nothing much for him if a peace deal works out and thinks that by playing spoiler, he can enhance earnings as a provider of services to other North-East insurgents, as well as from extortion,” said an Indian intelligence official.
Pressure on Khaplang to break the ceasefire mounted after Nagaland civil society began mobilising against extortion, leading units to split from his leadership in 2011 – notably a faction led by Khole Konyak and Kitovi Zhimoni in 2011.
According to government officials, the success of the new task force plan will depend New Delhi’s ability to breathe life into the state police force.
In 1997, when the NSCN Isak-Muviah entered into a ceasefire government of India, the task of maintaining peace was given to the Assam Rifles – India’s oldest paramilitary force, officered by the army. The arrangement continued on from 2000, when the NSCN Khaplang faction also joined in the ceasefire.
The Nagaland Police, which had until then played a key role in counter-insurgency operations, receded into a background role. Thousands of its personnel were moved out of the state, providing back-up to police forces in cities like New Delhi, and even joining in counter-Maoist operations.
But in the years since, the 10,135-strong Nagaland Police – at 446 for every 100,000 residents, India’s largest in population-adjusted terms – has faced serious allegations of corruption.
In 2012, for example, an internal investigation found police personnel had sold off almost 100 rifles and carbines, along with over 100,000 rounds of ammunition, on the local black market.
In addition, the force is beset by shortages of top police leadership – a consequence of large numbers of young IPS officers leaving the state on central deputation, citing tough living conditions.
L L Doungel, the Director-General of Police, is a 1987 batch West Bengal cadre officer, serving on deputation to his home state. His deputy, Additional Director-General of Police Rupin Sharma, is a Madhya Pradesh cadre officer.
“The senior-most IPS cadre officer from outside the state is from the 1998 batch. New Delhi is going to have to find a way of making the cadre functional again if this plan is going to work,” said a senior state police officer.
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