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FLASH ALERT: GROWING THREAT TO MANIPUR OFFICIALS AS TENSIONS RISE IN ONGOING ETHNIC VIOLENCE CRISIS

Hae Lim Park, Victoria Valová, Magdalena Breyer, Tejas Vaidya, Extremism

Elena Alice Rossetti, Mia Sadler, Christina Valdez, Editor; Evan Beachler, Senior Editor

September 29, 2023


Map of Manipur's Capital Imphal, India[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT to Indian government officials after recent developments in the ongoing ethnic violence in India’s Manipur state between the predominantly Christian Kuki minority and predominantly Hindu Meitei majority. Protestors attempted to storm the home of the Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh before Indian security officials used tear gas and batons to disperse protestors, injuring at least 10.[2] Ethnic violence has been increasing in the northeastern state in what CTG analysts describe as a domestic conflict over unequal distribution of wealth, quality of life, political autonomy, and representation between its two prominent ethnic groups.[3] Prior clashes resulted in dozens injured, internet services shut down, and an indefinite curfew in some areas of Manipur. Ethnic violence will likely increase tensions between the groups, leading to additional conflict between ethnic groups and security officials. Transnational and domestic terror outfits will likely maintain regional instability by adapting to security countermeasures.[4]


CTG is on HIGH alert for the safety of Indian government officials as the population’s discontent with the government is increasing, ALMOST CERTAINLY leading to more protests and violent clashes. Meitei and Kuki protestors are VERY LIKELY to continue targeting government buildings and elected officials’ private properties. State officials will VERY LIKELY be the protesters' main targets as their attempts to end the violence have been unsuccessful, LIKELY leading to more deaths of both ethnic groups.


On September 28, Indian security officials used tear gas and batons against protestors attempting to storm Singh’s home, injuring at least 10 people. Neither Singh nor his family members were at home when the mob stormed his home. According to one officer, security forces are encouraged to use force to stop curfew violations.[5] Authorities declared an indefinite curfew in Imphal and other areas in Manipur after clashes between protestors and officers injured dozens of students.[6] The protests were triggered by circulating social media videos showing the bodies of two Meitei students who went missing in July, suspected to have been abducted, and confirmed murdered by the Manipur government.[7] For the past five days, authorities have cut off mobile internet services.


This attack is the most recent escalation of ethnic tensions in Manipur since violence erupted on May 3, 2023, after the Meitei community requested Schedule Tribe status, and footage went viral on social media of a group of Meitei men parading two naked Kuki-Zomi women. The mob allegedly gang-raped one of the women and beat her father and brother to death. Since May 3, the escalation has resulted in more than 50,000 individuals fleeing their homes and over 200 deaths; approximately two-thirds of which have been those of Kukis.[8] The ethnic tensions between the Kuki and Meitei communities span back to the British colonial period and Manipur’s 1949 merger with India, which created the separatists and resistance movements still at the core of the ongoing dispute. In addition to concerns surrounding the unequal distribution of wealth, quality of life, political autonomy, and representation, the communities have conflicting claims to communal and ethnic homelands.[9]


The state’s response to the new wave of violence has primarily consisted of strategies similar to those employed in Jammu and Kashmir, including deploying over 17,000 armed and paramilitary forces, implementing military curfews, and suspending the state’s internet services.[10] As tensions between the Kuki and Meitei reach a tipping point, anti-government sentiments are simultaneously increasing amongst both groups who question the loyalties of authorities. The Kuki have expressed their distrust of Singh and the Manipur police, believing they are loyal to the Meitei. The Meitei believe that the counter-insurgency force reporting to the federal government, the Assam Rifles, supports the Kuki.[11]


A recent investigation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) revealed that militant groups in Bangladesh and Myanmar allegedly conspire with militant leaders in India to fuel the ongoing ethnic conflict in Manipur.[12] These foreign and domestic actors are very likely to adapt their tactics to strategically utilize the momentum of the escalating crisis and growing anti-government sentiments, both at the state and national levels. These actors will likely use identity deception tactics to pretend to be members of the Kuki or Meitei ethnic groups and wrongfully implicate actual members in violence, further deepening divisions and animosity between the two groups. They are likely to infiltrate protest movements, posing as civilian protestors while covertly acting as agitators. This tactic will likely increase violent confrontations between protestors and security forces, almost certainly resulting in further public antagonization towards authorities and security forces. After such incidents, they will likely use social media campaigns to spread disinformation to motivate Kuki and Meitei communities to mobilize against one another and Manipur authorities.


Indian security forces have reported that domestic terror outfits, including the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), People's Liberation Army (PLA), Kanglei Yawol Kanba Lup (KYKL), and People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) are resuming operations in Manipur.[13] Domestic militia backed by transnational terror outfits will very likely exploit existing ethnic fault lines and the grievances of marginalized communities to fuel violence. Strategic and financial support from foreign terrorist organizations will very likely allow the domestic militia to adapt to counterterrorism measures and enable access to arms, ammunition, explosives, and other required tactical equipment. Domestic terror outfits will very likely seek alliances and support armed ethnic factions. They will provide armed ethnic groups with tactical and strategic support to increase operational efficiency, Tvery likely resulting in an increase in the recruitment of local individuals into domestic terror groups.


Domestic militants will likely shift focus from guarded government facilities and political offices to “soft” targets that are more easily accessible, such as markets, leadership, regional representatives of ethnic groups, individuals, and properties of ethnic minorities to cause targeted casualties and widespread fear. Choosing soft targets will very likely pose increasing challenges for security forces, forcing them to implement rigid security measures. These restrictions will likely increase ethnic groups’ resentment towards law enforcement and the Indian government, likely surging protests against these authorities. Government buildings and properties of government officials will likely become targets of protests and mobs, likely protesting against government mistreatment of demonstrators. Security officials’ presence will likely increase by government buildings and government officials’ properties to better guard and protect them, likely increasing the possibility of clashes between security officials and protestors. During heightened violence, ethnic groups will likely seek protection from domestic terrorists. Allegiance with local ethnic groups will very likely allow domestic terrorists to pose as civilian protestors, likely avoiding direct confrontation with counterterrorism forces.


CTG recommends that Manipur security forces increase and intensify surveillance activities around critical locations. Security forces should prioritize securing government buildings, Bhartiya Janata Party offices, military armories, and potential flashpoints of violence. This heightened vigilance should include physically monitoring any unusual activities or individuals in their vicinity. They should enhance intelligence gathering and surveillance capabilities to monitor armed groups’ movements and identify armed militants. Manipur authorities should temporarily suspend Internet services to counter misinformation and hate speech. Security forces should monitor online social media activity and remove any material that can potentially incite violence.


CTG recommends that Manipur security forces exercise restraint when handling situations involving the dispersal of protestors or large groups of people. Excessive use of force carries a significant risk of exacerbating anti-government sentiments and unrest. They should receive additional training in de-escalation and crowd management techniques to handle tense situations effectively and peacefully. Security forces should establish diplomatic channels with Kuki and Meitei community leaders, representatives, and regional authorities to find political solutions addressing the root causes of ethnic violence. Indian army and local security forces should prioritize armed disarmament and demobilization of armed individuals.


CTG recommends that the Manipur and federal governments intensify relief efforts for those displaced or harmed by the ongoing conflict to hinder growing resentment because of the inaccessibility of basic necessities, including shelter, food, and medical care. CTG encourages the government to collaborate with international organizations and NGOs to address the growing humanitarian and human rights concerns to ensure that affected communities receive comprehensive assistance and support. Authorities should initiate robust and timely investigations into all reported acts of violence, including sexual violence and extrajudicial killings.


CTG assesses that the current threat climate is HIGH, given the increasing ethnic violence and growing anti-government sentiments in Manipur. Foreign and domestic militant actors and terrorist groups will very likely use the momentum to covertly undermine the authorities’ attempts to de-escalate ethnic tensions, aiming to further public distrust in state and national authorities. They will likely shift their focus to accessible “soft targets” and deception tactics to spread fear and cause targeted casualties, increasing discord between Kuki and Meitei communities and authorities. Citizens increasingly dissatisfied with the government will likely target government facilities and properties of government officials, attracting large crowds that militants and terrorists will likely exploit. These protests will likely escalate into violence as agitators utilize tensions to prompt security officials to clash violently with protestors.


Analysis indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that public dissatisfaction with Manipur and national authorities will continue to grow as ethnic violence increases, resulting in large-scale protests against government officials. The government will VERY LIKELY impose stricter regulations, including cutting off mobile internet services for an extended period of time. Law enforcement presence will ALMOST CERTAINLY increase in areas LIKELY to be targeted by protesters, such as government buildings and officials' properties. Government restrictions will LIKELY increase civilian dissatisfaction, LIKELY leading to more clashes between local ethnic groups as well as law enforcement and protesters. Foreign and domestic militant and terrorist groups are VERY LIKELY to use the momentum of the escalating crisis and growing anti-government sentiments at the state and national levels to destabilize the state further.

 

[1] Imphal by Google Maps

[2] Indian protesters try to storm home of Manipur chief minister, Reuters, September 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/india/india-imposes-curfew-strife-hit-areas-manipur-state-2023-09-28/

[3] THREAT ASSESSMENT: VIOLENCE IN MANIPUR LEADS TO GROWING REFUGEE CRISIS AND UNREST IN NORTHEAST INDIA, The Counterterrorism Group, June 2023, https://www.counterterrorismgroup.com/post/threat-assessment-violence-in-manipur-leads-to-growing-refugee-crisis-and-unrest-in-northeast-india

[4] NIA arrests suspect in transnational conspiracy in Manipur, Hindustan Times, September 2023, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/nia-arrests-suspect-in-transnational-conspiracy-in-manipur-101696083956724.html

[5] Indian protesters try to storm home of Manipur chief minister, Reuters, September 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/india/india-imposes-curfew-strife-hit-areas-manipur-state-2023-09-28/

[6] Ibid

[8] Torture, rape, killings in Manipur: An Indian state’s brutal conflict, BBC, September 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-66844028

[9] Understanding India’s Manipur Conflict and Its Geopolitical Implications, United States Insitute of Peace, June 2023, https://www.usip.org/publications/2023/06/understanding-indias-manipur-conflict-and-its-geopolitical-implications

[10] Ibid

[11] Torture, rape, killings in Manipur: An Indian state’s brutal conflict, BBC, September 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-66844028

[12] Man arrested in Manipur for conspiring to use ethnic unrest against India, India Today, September 2023, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/nia-arrests-key-suspect-in-transnational-conspiracy-case-in-manipur-2442797-2023-09-30

[13] Terror groups becoming active in Manipur, may stoke tension: Security officials, India Today, September 2023, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/terrorists-mingling-with-crowds-in-manipur-stoking-tension-officials-2434362-2023-09-11

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