Whenever the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) addresses the media on Manipur imbroglio he only talks about the 4,000 guns lying around in the state, but conveniently forgets to mention the vast quantity of sophisticated guns in the hands of insurgents and militants including mercenaries from across the eastern border. As we understand, by the number 4,000 he is referring to the arms looted from the police armouries which is yet to be recovered. And also, he means to say that peace would remain elusive as long as these weapons are lying around.
Every peace-loving citizen in the state wants the ‘looted’ arms back in their rightful places. But, let us try unwinding the events to the beginning of the violence. Traditionally, it was only a few among the valley population who had licensed weapons whereas in the hills almost every family owns a gun for purposes of ‘hunting’ or protection. So when mobs in Churachandpur and Moreh started razing the Meitei houses and armed Kuki militants begun attacking Meitei villages in the fringe areas with nobody to protect them, it was but natural for the Meiteis to look for any available source of weapons to arm themselves and protect their villages.
On the other hand, the presence of valley-based insurgent groups was minimal while in the hills armed Kuki militants under SoO were freely roaming around with arms and nobody minding whether they were present in the designated camps or not. Consider the difference in the number of arms and ammunition between the two communities not to talk of the lack of proactive measures and inaction on the part of the central forces.
It was only after repeated complaints and public outbursts that the state forces began checking the camps with support from security forces which had previously asserted that it was the responsibility of the state home department according to the ground rules. Earlier, it was only the Meira Paibis and CSOs talking about the partisan attitude of the central forces. But now, it is official. Driven into a corner by public angst, the chief minister has expressed his distaste with the role of central forces in the ongoing conflict.
Coming back to the issue of ‘looted’ arms, we do understand the ramifications of arms lying around. We had earlier warned about the rise of gun-culture in the state. New challenges have emerged which warrants a change in mindset for evolving a dynamic strategy as regards security management.
The old strategies and tactical responses would become obsolete in the new security environment. While there is a need to establish the rule of law in volatile areas like Churachandpur and Moreh, recovery of arms looted, including from police armouries and country-made weapons at large, needs to be taken up in a wider scale with security forces acting as a neutral referee.
The prevailing lack of trust for the security forces among the general populace in the valley needs to be reversed through trust campaigns. Presently, widespread combing operations are going on in both the hills and the valley under the direction of the security advisor. But, the recovery of looted arms is still limited while unaccounted country-made guns seized are plenty. There is also the other issue of unaccounted guns lying around plenty in the hands of young and untrained.
Whenever the violence is reduced, the guns seem to be crying for use. As we said before, the story behind the recent incidents of armed robbery, personal vendetta, and shooting incidents needs to be analysed in totality. Sometime back, gunmen fired at an unsuspecting crowd injuring five innocents. Of course, the persons involved including a former functionary of the ruling party were arrested.
There are other incidents of looting by armed persons and firing during drunken stupors between partying friends, hurling bombs or placing bombs at the gates of private residences, armed miscreants loitering around and individuals having political patronage displaying arms and shooting around in resolving disputes or whatever. Is this what we had feared? There might have been numerous unreported incidents involving unaccounted guns also in recent times.