Friday, Aug 19, 2022

The Web Of Terror

The attack on the Chief Minister's life underline that the PLA and its affiliate groups - with camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar and close contacts with Pakistan's ISI - are not inclined to join any peace process.

The unsuccessful attack on the life of the Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh of the northeast state of Manipur on July 27, 2003, has only underlined the widespread threat that insurgencies constitute to the lives of the people, including important political leaders and security force personnel. 

The Chief Minister's convoy was ambushed by the cadres of the suspected People's Liberation Army (PLA) at the Wangjing market area. Ibobi Singh, a leader of the Indian National Congress who leads a four-party coalition under the banner of the Secular Progressive Front, after inspecting the construction of a dam in his constituency, Thoubal, on the journey back to Imphal, the state capital, escaped unhurt, though two security force (SF) personnel who were part of the convoy and travelling in a separate vehicle, were killed and five other persons were injured in the incident. 

The state's Irrigation Minister W. Brajabidhu Singh, was also accompanying him when the incident occurred. Sources from Manipur indicate that initially the terrorists attacked the district police chief of Thoubal, Clay Khongsai's vehicle in the Chief Minister's escort, and then fled towards Selungpham, where an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was triggered off, targeting SF personnel chasing the insurgents. This incident brought the total of persons killed in insurgent violence in 2003 (till July 27 - see side story.) in the state up to 84, including six civilians, 17 SF personnel and 61 cadres of various insurgent groups.

Commenting on the incident, Brigadier E.J. Kochekan, the Commander of the Nine Sector Assam Rifles at Thoubal, said that PLA 'Lieutenant' Gojen Singh was leading the group that attacked the Chief Minster's convoy. The PLA is one of the 39 rag-tag terrorist groups whose presence has been noted in Manipur. The group was established under the leadership of N. Bisheswar Singh on September 25, 1978, with a purported objective of 'organising a revolutionary front' in the entire Northeast, among others. In 1989, the PLA also created a 'political body' called the Revolutionary People's Front (RPF). 

The PLA is alleged to have five camps in the Sylhet district of neighbouring Bangladesh and two camps in Myanmar with a combined strength of approximately 1,000 cadres undergoing training in disruptive activities in these camps. The organization is reported to have close contacts with Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), besides linkages with other insurgent groups active in the Northeast.

The immediate objectives of the attack on the Chief Minister are still unclear. However, Chief Minster Ibobi Singh noted, ''It could be one of the many attempts by the militant group to prove its existence in the face of increased pressure by the security forces.'' The Chief Minister also reiterated, "Guns cannot bring solutions. We have been offering talks to all underground groups in Manipur. We are still for talks. If they don't come forward for talks, then the government should also look for another alternative."

This was the first attempt by any insurgent group in the Northeast on the life of a Chief Minister in the year 2003, though there have been several such attacks in the past. The Assam-based United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) had carried out an abortive bid on the life of then Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta in Guwahati in October 1997. Then Nagaland Chief Minister S.C. Jamir had escaped at least three attempts on his life by suspected cadres of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) during his 10-year tenure as Chief Minister prior to February 2003, the most recent of these on November 29, 1999, at Piphema in the Kohima district.

The attack on Ibobi Singh appears to be part of the strategy devised by three terrorist groups in the Northeast to carry out strikes under a "Coordinated Regional Military Offensive for liberation of the Region from Indian colonial occupation", code-named Operation Freedom. The Manipur People's Liberation Front (MPLF), of which the PLA is a constituent [other constituents of the group are the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and the People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK)] is one of these groups. The MPLF along with ULFA and the Tripura People's Democratic Front (TPDF), a front outfit of the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), operating in Tripura had jointly signed a statement to carry out attacks under Operation Freedom. According to reports, ULFA had initiated the strikes under this Operation on June 17 in Assam's Darrang District, with an attack on an Army patrol in which an Army Major was killed. Three hardcore ULFA terrorists were also killed in this clash.

These attacks indicate that the PLA and its affiliate groups are not inclined to join any peace process that the government is currently offering. On its part, however, the government has kept the door open for talks, despite the attempt on the Chief Minister's life. It is evident, however, that the multiple insurgencies in the region cannot be tackled individually, and within individual states, since many of the groups are linked across the region and appear to operate under a common strategy. Most of them, moreover, have established safe havens across international borders, and are in many cases supported by the covert intelligence establishment of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Clearly, a wider strategy, comprehending these various factors, under the aegis of the union government, and involving the various state governments of the region, is needed if the relentless and purposeless violence is to be brought to an end.

Praveen Kumar is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.