Updated: December 6, 2021 9:47:46 am
More than a dozen people, including a jawan, all innocent, were killed in Mon district in Nagaland Saturday in what security forces say was a botched-up counter insurgency operation. The Assam Rifles, which undertook the operation, has officially expressed regret and has ordered an inquiry. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has announced that a special investigation team will probe. A free and fair investigation should be held to get to the bottom of the matter and identify where and how the operation went wrong. Understandably, there is sadness and anger across Nagaland — and elsewhere in the country — at this wanton act of killing. Reports of violence as a response are disturbing and all groups, political parties and community leaders, and the security forces, too, must get together to calm tempers. The government’s immediate task is to reach out to the families of the bereaved and act fast to address the breach of trust between the local population and state agencies.
The Mon incident comes close on the heels of the killing of a commanding officer of Assam Rifles, along with six others, in Manipur last month. The tenuous peace in the region, where multiple insurgent groups have been operating for years, can snap at any time if the political leadership, security forces and the civil society cease to be vigilant. The 1997 ceasefire agreement between the NSCN-IM and security forces has held up despite ups and downs only because all actors have invested in peace. Talks with the NSCN-IM for a settlement to end the seven-decade-old Naga insurgency is at an advanced stage — a framework agreement was signed in 2015; this incident could derail the process. The unrest in neighbouring Myanmar has reportedly influenced the priorities of Naga and Manipur insurgent groups that have a base in that country. It may spill over to border districts of Nagaland and Manipur. All these demand extreme vigil and caution from security forces — the Assam Rifles has stated that Saturday’s action was “based on credible intelligence of likely movement of insurgents” — which are entrusted with the task of defeating insurgency. They need to be extra cautious and sensitive to local communities while doing their job under extreme pressure.
The Northeast, with its patchwork of identities and a complex history of nation-building, has always been fraught, its geography, history and political economy conducive for insurgent groups to operate. State-building here has to be an extremely cautious exercise and negotiated with multiple stakeholders, who often privilege linguistic, regional, ethnic and clan identity. Over-securitisation of the political discourse or mixing up religion with nationalism can have dire consequences in the region where multiple fault lines have endured for decades. The immediate task is to quell the violence, hold to account those responsible for this tragedy — avoid any move to brush it away as a mere blunder — and keep the peace.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 6, 2021 under the title ‘Tragedy and trust’
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