On Thursday, in a clinically planned operation, militants in the northeast ambushed an army convoy carrying around 45 soldiers. At least 20 are reportedly killed, many others are wounded. This represents the sacrifice of yet more brave lives in pursuit of a futile strategy of combating militancy by resort to forceful subjugation. It is time to change tack. The attack took place in Chandel district of Manipur, a few metres away from its border with Myanmar. There’s an alphabet soup of insurgent groups in the region: UNLF, KCP, KYKL, NSCN(K) and so on. Security agencies can choose their culprits even farther afield: the home ministry’s official menu of insurgent groups in Manipur runs to over three dozen. Many are defunct, but the mandarins who operate out of airconditioned offices in New Delhi are clueless about anything on the ground in the northeast. That includes Ajit Doval, a former police officer, who is now India’s national security adviser.
As babus scratch their receding hairlines, the need is to break the eternal cycle of violence in northeast India. There can only be one solution, and military force has little role in it. For various reasons — tribalism, poverty, disaffection with mainstream India, geographical remoteness since Partition — the northeast has been alienated from India. The biggest reason for continued violence in the region is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Scrap it, after a conversation with Irom Sharmila, who has been fasting —and force-fed — in jail in Imphal for 15 years.
Two, recognise that young people need incomes and jobs. In their absence, there are other, lucrative, but risky, options open: smuggling drugs from Myanmar in return for guns, joining local extortion and other rackets armed with these guns, and so on. The way forward is through diplomacy and trade: if India, Bangladesh and Myanmar can hold hands and open trade and transit routes through to southeast Asia, there will be no youngsters carrying guns. They will have salaried jobs, report for work on time and get paid a regular salary. Without militants, there will be no militancy.