EDITORIAL: CI Ops- More Than Military Might

The very nature of the conflict demands that counter-insurgency operations are not only about sheer military might and it requires much more than the use of latest weapons and hi-tech gadgets such as unmanned drones, but requires a completely different approach and understanding. In the first place, it should be noted that being engaged in CI Ops is a different ball game from conventional war with an adversary. The enemy is easily visible in a conventional war such as the Kargil War but this is not the same in the case of CI Ops. While guns can boom freely and without much concern of what is usually understood as collateral damages during a conventional war between two rival forces, the same yard stick cannot be applied in the case of CI Ops.

Perhaps no one knows this better than the soldiers and officers who have been posted and are currently posted in insurgency wracked States like Manipur. Down the years, the very nature of CI Ops has evolved with the changing times coupled with the growing realization that winning the trust and confidence of the people is one of the best and most practical approaches to erode the base strength of the rebel groups, and tighten the grip on the source of sustenance which keeps these rebel outfits going.  This is where propaganda becomes a necessary tool for both sides, the Government forces as well as the rebel outfits.

It is not for nothing that the Union Defense Ministry has deemed it necessary to open an office of a Public Relations Officer in States like Manipur. The Assam Rifles, which officially does not have a sanctioned PRO post, has also opened a PRO unit at M Sector and the gradual change in the accessibility of the top brass of the military establishment is prominently visible. In many ways 2004 and the Manorama episode had a telling impact on the image building exercise of the military set up here, especially the Assam Rifles. Earlier, the Assam Rifles were divided into different brigades consisting of some battalions and the COs of all these battalions were answerable to the Brigadier in charge or the Commandant as he is known in military vocabulary. There was no separate PRO unit  of the Assam Rifles then and press releases were issued at the Western Gate of Kangla, where the Assam Rifles was stationed and it was just signed Spokesman, with no designation or contact number of the so called Spokesman.

The Sangai Express was the first to question the identity, the designation and the contact number of the Assam Rifles Spokesman, for if there is a Spokesman or a PRO unit formally set up, then the man responsible for manning the post, should be accessible to the media. Not unexpectedly the poser raised by us was swept under the carpet and the Assam Rifles continued to issue statements in the name of its Spokesman, though we on our part had gradually stopped giving any importance to such statements as it had no official sanction. However things changed, and perceptibly so after 2004. Sensing the need to reach out to the people and earn their trust and confidence after the historical nude protest as well as the months long demand to repeal AFSPA, the Union Home Ministry came up with the bright idea of opening the office of the IG of Assam Rifles (S) in Manipur, with an officer not below the rank of a Major General heading it.

We will not say that everything is smooth now and it has become a case of Press-AR Bhai, Bhai, but yes there has been a positive change since the IG’s office was opened at Mantripukhri and an office of a PRO of the Assam Rifles was opened at M Sector. This means easy accessibility and confirmation of news and reports from the side of the Assam Rifles, which would otherwise have given room for misunderstanding. The rebel outfits too have realized the important role that the media can play in portraying their activities as well as in highlighting their agenda. Gone are the days when rebel outfits would just pick up the phone and read out a message and the press is expected to carry it the next day, never mind the authenticity of the report or the identity of the caller.

Now with the Imphal based media, working under a code of conduct, no longer entertaining anything that is dubious in nature and which breaches protocol there have been numerous cases of stand offs between the media under the All Manipur Working Journalists’  Union and some of the rebel groups, and there are a dime a dozen of them. Much like the security forces, the rebel outfits too have realized the importance of the media and what we see today is a war of propaganda from either side being waged on the pages of the newspapers.

Whether this is a healthy trend or not is something which the people can only decide. The crux of this write up lies in recognizing the fact that CI Ops entails something much more than engaging the rebels to an encounter. Rather it means, winning the trust and confidence of the people, being able to take the right decision at the right time in split seconds, the ability to differentiate the rebels from the civilian population and taking utmost care to ensure that the common folks are not put to unnecessary inconveniences. This is what the book demands, but what is actually practiced at the ground level may be a different thing altogether. Reaching out to the people through the mass media is fine and acceptable, but lest both sides forget, polite languages used while addressing the media and barking non-sensical orders on the common citizens are poles apart and do not jell at all.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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