Adequate open source information is now available on the miscued ambush and subsequent vigilante reactions at two locations in Mon district in Nagaland on December 4 for serious introspection on a number of issues including speedy amelioration of the deep emotional impact on the people of the State which is fast spreading in the region as a whole.
Home Minister Mr Amit Shah has expressed regrets in the parliament in no uncertain terms which is welcome. Mr Shah has also announced an ex gratia of Rs 11 lakh and a government job for the family of each of the dead which should grant immediate relief.
Nagaland State government has announced an ex gratia of Rs 5 lakh for the family of each of those killed and Rs 1 lakh for each injured as per the Nagaland Post.
A statement from the Kohima-based Defence PRO, Lt Col Sumit Kumar Sharma has deeply regretted the loss of lives. Sharma said as per Nagaland Post: “The incident and its aftermath is deeply regretted. The cause of the unfortunate loss of lives is being investigated at the highest level and appropriate action will be taken as per the course of law."
These actions and words will have to be followed up with an outreach on the ground to assuage hurt sentiment at multiple levels – firstly Mon district which is a predominantly Konyak belt, the people of Nagaland, the North East and also to those across the country who have expressed anguish at the incident and feel there is a sense of discrimination.
This has to start simultaneously at multiple levels. Assam Rifles and the Army units which are deployed in Mon district which as per past knowledge falls within the jurisdiction of Inspector General Assam Rifles (IGAR) North based in Zakhama should lead the way as and when public anger sufficiently subsides in local areas.
The Assam Rifles has excellent rapport with the people on the ground and as the unit is not involved directly in the ambush there is enough scope to reach out to the people and provide a palliative to those who have been impacted including the family of the youth who have been killed due to mistaken identity.
Assistance of the district administration would be important as resentment in the public against the uniform is strong but has to be overcome through patience and perseverance.
There will be no doubt a dilemma how to handle those killed as a reaction of the army by the vigilantes who attacked the patrol in anger in the first place and the Mon Assam Rifles post in the other, while legal recourse is essential assisting the families of those killed also needs emphasis.
Such an outreach will have to be extended upwards at the State, Regional and National level. Civil society groups and Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) as well as Naga Students’ Federation (NSF), Naga Mother’s Association and so on have a significant influence in the area who have to be tapped.
At the state and national level there is a need to restrain narratives that are being spun out which can increase the sense of hurt.
Obviously curbs on the media cannot be imposed but official releases must be made from time to time to inform the people on follow up action being taken rather than allowing sundry fake news operators to take over.
Reports of, “credible intelligence of likely movement of insurgents...in the area of Tiru, Mon district, Nagaland”. inclusion of terrorists in the vigilantes, hand of China and Pakistani intelligence or reminders of the ambush that saw the death of Col Viplab Tripathi and his wife and son are unlikely to reduce the hurt in the public at large and only lead to more resentment against the centre and the state.
This can be avoided by putting out timely official releases on actions being taken post incident.
This is a gigantic task which will need creative minds to come up with narratives that do not further hurt the sentiments of the people at large.
Meeting Public Demands
Meeting public demands is an important step. As per a report in the Quint, the Konyak Union has made a number of demands such as setting up of an independent inquiry committee under a competent investigating agency, which should include two members from the Naga civil society, punishment of military personnel in civil courts, time bound action against the military personnel, withdrawal of Assam Rifles from the Mon district, repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) and so on
Those that are justified and humanitarian in nature should be taken up immediately while others can be jointly considered.
An enquiry has been ordered by the army which has to be conducted expeditiously and needs to be seen as free and fair. How this objective is achieved remains to be seen?
One of the key demands which has reverberated across the region is repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
There is a necessity for reviewing application of the AFSPA from the geographical perspective.
Does each district in Nagaland or Assam or Manipur require to be under AFSPA, a joint review by the Centre, State and security forces needs to be undertaken to review the provisions rather than a blanket notification?
Stringent norms for presence of a civilian police representatives with military detachments on patrols in civilian areas need to be enforced and actions by the security forces devoid the same need to be fully justified and can only be in response to a premeditated attack on security forces such as the convoy such as that on Col Viplab Tripathi.
Counter Militancy Operations
The Army and other security forces need to ask searching questions on the conduct of counter militancy operations as two instances in the North East in the past one month including the one in Mon have led to significant concerns.
Firstly the ambush of Col Biplav Tripathi’s convoy in which his wife and son were also traveling has to be investigated and lessons learnt applied to other movement in forward border posts on the Indo Myanmar border. Such moves have to be designated as operational and proscribed for families if not already done so.
Secondly operations of Special Forces (SF) have to be coordinated with local security if not police forces.
Roving ambushes of the nature that appears to be the case on December 04 can be undertaken only by those having detailed knowledge and familiarity with the terrain and the people and not by external detachments
Did 21 SF team which targeted the miners who were returning after a hard days work aware of the normal movement of locals in this area?
What was the credible information and what was the source? At what stage the information was vetted and what level the operation in Nagaland by a unit based in Assam was cleared needs consideration.
How was this integrated in the local terrain and people conditions on the ground needs to be outlined?
Intelligence across the North East has to be activated particularly at the local level.
Assam Rifles which operate in company operating posts have the requisite resources which have to be effectively utilised to generate combat intelligence including from areas which have been dormant for some time.
Back to Basics
On the whole going back to basics – that is hard core counter militancy operations including civic action without digressions of ceremonial and administrative nature remains the way ahead for the Indian Army to redeem from the recent setbacks in the North East.