National security has multifarious dimensions. In the contemporary world, national security is viewed beyond military security. There are various aspects of security like political security which signifies protecting the sovereignty of the Government and the political system. It also refers to securing society from unlawful internal threats and various kinds of external pressures.
Economic security entails the ability to protect a nation’s wealth and economic freedom from outside threats and coercion. Energy and natural resources security refer to uninterrupted flow of energy. Homeland security broadly includes border security and immigration enforcement. Cyber security entails protection of the Government and people’s data processing infrastructure and operating system. Human security precisely refers to people’s safety from hunger, disease, and repression. Environmental security, though it is transnational in character, can cause conflict between nations.
Beyond Ethnic Clashes
This security framework analysis of Manipur violence would trigger some pertinent questions which are beyond the localised nature of the conflict or rather merely viewing the conflict from the perspective of ethnic clashes between Meitei and Kuki community.
Manipur was the focus of attention by the media on the unfortunate day of May 3, 2023, when intense violence, arson and mayhem affected various districts like Churachandpur, Imphal East, Imphal West, Bishnupur, Tengnoupal and Kangpokpi. Although violent activities had begun before (with burning of an open gym which was to be inaugurated by the Chief Minister), the much talked about Manipur High Court’s directive for the State Government to respond to the Union Government on the status of the inclusion of Meitei community into the category of Scheduled Tribe within a stipulated time period of four weeks. However, the chronological study of the incidents in Manipur leads us towards the security framework. It may appear that Manipur violence is the outcome of ethnic conflict between Meitei and Kuki communities but analysing the security framework leads to the fact that it is much beyond the ethnic clash. Rather it is a manifestation of the threat posed to national security.
The security threat in Manipur can be deciphered from four levels.
First, Illegal Migration in Manipur from Myanmar
Claims and counterclaims on land, revenue and economic opportunities have been the catalytic factor in igniting clashes between various communities in Manipur. This claim and counterclaim on land, revenue and economic opportunities have become a bone of contention because of the increasing influx of migrants from the porous Manipur-Myanmar border, especially from the Chin state of Myanmar. Alarming migration of Chin communities from Myanmar has led to several changes in the demographic composition of the region, which has surfaced as one of the major reasons for the on-going conflict in Manipur.
Hurdles in Deportation
As per various media reports, thousands of Kukis from Myanmar have migrated to India through the porous border of Manipur. There are ethnic similarities between Chins, Kukis and Mizos. On both sides, they have assimilated with the original inhabitants of the region and thereafter received all kinds of support from the Indian Kuki community living in Manipur. This huge influx of migrants remained unreported in the media also for a considerable time period. Here it is pertinent to mention that identifying and deporting illegal Chin migrants by the State Government is difficult as they live amongst the legal Kuki community of the State. They are settled in the hill areas like Churachandpur, Bishnupur and other hilly areas like Tengnoupal and Senapati. The Suspension of Operation (SoO) between the Government and the prevalent Kuki insurgent outfits also has encouraged the influx of migrants from Chin state of Myanmar.
As per various reports available, it is evident that intruders have links with insurgent groups in Myanmar and are involved in poppy cultivation inside the Indian territory. There was intense resistance by the inhabitants of the above- mentioned region against the State Government’s endeavour of “war against drugs’ and deforestation. They vehemently opposed the Government’s effort to identify illegal migrants.
Second, Illegal Drug Trafficking
The present crisis in Manipur is also the manifestation of illegal narcotic trade. There are various consequences of trafficking in narcotics like it is a major source to raise funds for the insurgent groups. The linkages between arms, drugs and insurgency depend upon various interrelated factors. Though the production of narcotics in the North East was very little before Independence, it was only for local consumption. The intensification of narcotics production is a post-Independence phenomenon. Insurgency in Manipur is not a recent origin, it exists since 1960s onwards when the then insurgents would raise funds through other means like collecting taxes from each household, Government contractors, transport businessmen and even Government officials.
Scrutinising China’s Role
Now, the insurgent groups have begun to trade in illicit narcotics to raise funds in order to continue insurgent activities. In this regard, China’s role should also be taken into account. Since China has been aggressively engaged in Golden Triangle poppy trafficking that occurs in Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. There have been active engagements of Chinese descent in drug manufacturing and distributing activities in Southeast Asia. China has attempted to retake the control it previously had along India’s North Eastern border. Through various studies it has been established that Chinese criminal entrepreneurs have been instrumental in developing opportunities and establishing a business partnership with people of different ethnic backgrounds. It is a matter of grave security concern that activities of the Golden Triangle have shifted to North East India, particularly Manipur. The current drug economy in Manipur is directly or indirectly controlled by people with China connections with the help of illegal migrants.
The data showcasing the scale of poppy cultivation in Manipur is alarming. As per data from the State’s special anti-drugs unit Narcotics and Affairs of Border (NAB), the Kuki-Chin community recorded significant areas of poppy cultivation, with a total of 13,121.8 acres during the period of 2017-2023. The Naga community reported 2340 acres of poppy cultivation, while other communities accounted for 35 acres. In total as of now, the State reported 15,496 acres of poppy cultivation. In sum, Manipur has spread across 15,400 acres of land in the hills between 2017 and 2023, for poppy cultivation. This ferocious intensification of narcotics production and subsequently illicit trafficking in narcotics is often linked to arms smuggling, insurgency, and organised crime. It is relevant to mention here that illegal Narco trade is a source of generating billions of dollars. So, combating against insurgency requires fighting the menace of drug trafficking.
Third, Smuggling of Sophisticated Weapons
As reported by various media platforms, the significant consignment of weapons, which were used to spread violence in Manipur even on the day of so-called peace rally, were smuggled via Myanmar. In addition to this, it has also been reported that active insurgent groups have procured a large cache of weapons in Manipur in three vehicles. It was reported that these weapons were kept on the Myanmar-China border, before being transported to Manipur.
It can be deciphered that presently Manipur has been inflicted with combined forces of threats as drug money, arms and terror (in the form of narco terrorism). It is unfortunate to mention here that the above mention of security threats in Manipur is not of recent origin but unfortunately unaddressed one. Increasing poppy cultivation has led to huge earning of money which subsequently has been used to procure arms which further causes fear and attempt to disintegrate Manipur. Recently on June 27,2023, a Muslim arms smuggler’s racket was identified and imploded by security forces in trouble-torn Manipur. Four members involved in the racket were arrested.
Fourth, Chinese Conspiracy
India and Myanmar share a border of almost 1700 km and a significant part goes to Manipur. Insurgency problem in Manipur has not erupted now. It has existedsince the 1960s. The border side of Myanmar is the destination for the militants form Manipur to hide. So is the case for militants from Myanmar as they also come to rescue themselves on the Indian side of the border. North-East insurgents receive manifold support from the implacable and bitter northern neighbour, China. It has been evident by various reports that insurgent outfits in the North East, including Manipur, have links with armed groups such as Arakan National Army and United Wa State Army in Myanmar. Through theseoutfits, China is able to find a route for their weapons in Manipur. It is observed that the present conflict in Manipur needs to be looked at from a national security perspective rather than merely adopting myopic approach.