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Urgent Need for Intervention by Indian Central Armed forces in Manipur’s Drugs-Related Ethnic Crisis


If the Indian Army undertakes the task of eliminating the illegal poppy and cannabis plantations, it is crucial that this intervention is thorough and comprehensive. Breaking the backbone of ongoing violence requires the complete removal of every trace of these illegal poppy plantations. To ensure transparency and accountability, impartial third-party observers should be appointed to oversee the operation.

By Dr Marc Nongmaithem

The state of Manipur finds itself ensnared in a multifaceted crisis involving illicit drug cultivation, trafficking, ethnic violence, and state incapacity. Despite the well-intentioned “War on Drugs” initiative launched by the state government in 2022, the thriving trade of poppy and cannabis cultivation continues to plague Manipur. Furthermore, the recent escalation of ethnic violence intricately linked to the drug trade has created a dire situation that calls for swift and decisive action.

To address the pressing issues of the current crisis, the need of the hour is a strategic intervention by the Indian Army. This intervention has become indispensable to eradicate the illegal poppy and cannabis cultivation that has become the root cause of much of the present turmoil.

Manipur’s ongoing ethnic tensions have severely impeded the efforts of the state police in combating the illicit drug trade and executing the “War on Drugs.” Apparently, with an aim to restore peace, an Indian Army-administered buffer zone has been established to control the violence between the two warring factions in Manipur, but its placement has unintentionally facilitated an uninterrupted proliferation of poppy and cannabis cultivation in the hills. This inadvertent consequence has complicated the state’s fight against narcotics. The buffer zone’s strategic location has hindered the state forces’ access to the hill regions, allowing poppy and cannabis cultivation to flourish unchecked.

With the approaching poppy harvest season in the winter, from December to February, the situation is poised to worsen. The entire mechanism for these illicit activities is presently cranked up and poised for this upcoming harvest. If the harvest is successful, then all the illicit activities associated with the drug industry will escalate without restraint. The buffer zone’s unanticipated repercussions have emboldened cultivators and traffickers to operate with impunity. This undermines the
state’s anti-narcotics efforts and necessitates immediate action to prevent an even more significant crisis from unfolding.
Given the intricate complexities of the drug trade and the operational expertise of the Indian Army, its intervention has become a paramount necessity.

The army’s resources and logistical capabilities are uniquely suitable to dismantle the drug cartel infrastructure supporting this illegal trade. The urgent need for elimination of illegal poppy and cannabis cultivation aligns with the state government’s commitment to combating drug-related problems and also sends a resolute strong message to traffickers. First, it would send a clear message to the drug traffickers that their activities will not be tolerated.

Second, it would weaken the nexus between drug trafficking and militant activities. Third, it would improve the security and stability in the State of Manipur. Close cooperation between the state and central governments is crucial for the army’s effective intervention. Timely and accurate intelligence sharing is pivotal to identify high-priority areas for dismantling illegal plantations.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in India grants significant authority to the Army when operating in designated “disturbed areas.” However, it’s ironic that these powers, instead of being unrestricted, seem to be subject to directives from the central government. A striking example is the current situation in the hills of Manipur, where illegal poppy plantations are thriving, seemingly with the knowledge of the nearby Army deployments.

Surprisingly, the Army is choosing to look the other way, citing the need for specific orders from higher authorities before taking action, despite the rampant illicit drug activities in the state. Unfortunately, this seems to be the implicit stance of the currently deployed Army in the said buffer zone in Manipur.

This raises a fundamental question:

Shouldn’t the Army have the autonomy to independently respond to unlawful activities in AFSPA-governed regions? On the other hand, the Assam Rifles, a paramilitary force operating under the Ministry of Home Affairs, has a significant history of providing assistance in the Northeastern region of India. This force has played a crucial role in both natural disaster relief efforts and combating the drug trade in the area.

In 2005, they conducted a massive rescue operation in the wake of a devastating earthquake in Sikkim, saving thousands of stranded individuals. In 2016, during severe floods in Assam and Meghalaya, they provided essential relief and assistance to affected victims. Similarly, in 2017, they rescued hundreds of people trapped in the aftermath of landslides in Manipur, showcasing their commitment to aiding civilians in times of crisis.

In addition to their disaster relief initiatives, the Assam Rifles has actively engaged in combating drug trafficking in the Northeastern region. Notable recent instances include a joint operation with the Manipur Police in December 2022, resulting in the seizure of a significant quantity of drugs valued at Rs 500 crore in the international market in Moreh town, Manipur. In January 2023, they successfully intercepted a consignment of heroin worth Rs 200 crore in Mizoram, followed by the apprehension of a drug smuggler in Nagaland in February 2023, along with a substantial consignment of heroin valued at Rs 100 crore.

Unfortunately, it’s worth noting that, at present, there appear to be no such ongoing activities for the destruction of poppy and cannabis plantations in the hills of Manipur where AFSPA is implemented. Since the outbreak of violence on March 3rd, the state government’s “War on Drugs” initiative has come to a halt, and the involvement of the army in this regard is yet to be seen.

When confronted with such unlawful activities within AFSPA-designated regions, the appropriate protocol is clear: the Army must expediently inform the central government and await specific directives. The central government, in turn, shoulders the responsibility of responding impartially and void of political motives. In navigating the intricate landscape of illicit activities like poppy and cannabis plantations within AFSPA-designated areas of Manipur, the central government’s actions must be guided by principles of fairness and neutrality.

Ensuring that decisions align with the best interests of the populace rather than catering to political agendas is crucial. The central government must exercise restraint and avoid exploiting the AFSPA’s authority for ulterior motives. Failure by the Central Government and the Ministry of Home Affairs to issue explicit and timely orders for army intervention raises a troubling possibility of government involvement in perpetuating the drug trade and ethnic violence. The silence or inaction of these governmental bodies could be interpreted as an implicit endorsement of the ongoing illegal activities that pose a threat to Manipur’s security and harmony.

In the event that the Indian Army hesitates to carry out orders from the Ministry of Home Affairs, it may lead the public to question the army’s involvement or complicity in the drug trade. Given the Indian Army’s esteemed reputation for integrity, it is imperative that they demonstrate an unwavering commitment to upholding the rule of law and national security by adhering to legal directives aimed at eradicating illegal activities.

If the Indian Army undertakes the task of eliminating the illegal poppy and cannabis plantations, it is crucial that this intervention is thorough and comprehensive. Breaking the backbone of ongoing violence requires the complete removal of every trace of these illegal plantations. To ensure transparency and accountability, impartial third-party observers should be appointed to oversee the operation. This measure will bolster public trust and safeguard the operation’s legality and ethical integrity. By eradicating illegal poppy and cannabis cultivation comprehensively and effectively, the Indian Army can not only dispel suspicions but also contribute significantly to the peace, security, and well-being of Manipur.

(Dr Marc Nongmaithem is an informed/concerned citizen who loves to write on issues of public importance. The opinion expressed here are the writer’s own and does not represent the views of TFM )

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