SECURITY forces engaged in counter-insurgency operations in Manipur suffered a setback on September 19 when 11 soldiers were killed and three wounded in Bishnupur district in an ambush on a patrol by the underground outfit Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), which is fighting for Manipur's secession from India. About 20 heavily armed militants opened fire and hurled grenades at the patrol party.
Normally, after such an attack, the security forces would launch a manhunt in the area and ordinary civilians would bear the brunt of it.
Chief of the Army Staff General Joginder Jaswant Singh said, reacting to the attack, that there would not be any retaliatory hunts for the militants. The statement indicated a shift in strategy.
The Army appears to have adopted the strategy of winning the support of the civilians for the counter-insurgency operations by ensuring that innocent people are not put to any inconvenience and projecting itself as a force looking to aid the government in Manipur. It hopes to bring about a qualitative change in the overall insurgency situation in the State. Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee has revealed that the security forces have reached informal ceasefire agreements with several militant outfits.
Pranab Mukherjee, during his first visit to the northeastern States after taking over as Defence Minister, told mediapersons that the Army had entered into "some arrangements for the suspension of operations with about eight or nine groups". After addressing troops at the 57 Mountain Division headquarters at Leimakhong he said: "We are encouraging more such people to come forward for talks," in order to ensure peace, normalcy and development in the northeastern State.
However, the overall situation in Manipur still appears to be murky. It is not clear which underground outfits have agreed to a suspension of hostilities. It will take some time for a clear picture to emerge.