Sunday, May 30, 2010

Highway Blockade : Politico-Military Offensive Strategy

Now another history is being scripted. After the infamous 52 days’ continuous economic blockade of 2005, an indefinite blockade is going on on both Imphal-Dimapur-Guwahati and Imphal-Jiribam-Silchar highways. The ongoing total blockade which started as economic blockade is on the threshold of surpassing the previous one. Already, the present blockade has outdone its predecessor of 2005 in terms of inflicting misery and hardships to the common people. Endurance and patience of the Manipuri people are being put under the toughest test. In spite of the fact that the entire population have been pushed to the limits, and that they are going through the hardest times in the contemporary history of Manipur, the spirit of the Manipur people has not been dented even a little bit and we are ever confident as before of overcoming such offensive and challenges. Resilient as we have been since ages, the Manipuri people are still confident that they can withstand all these trials and tribulations. 
A comparative study of the blockade of 2005 and the ongoing one revealed many similarities. The blockade of 2005 was against declaration of June 18 as State holiday. This had political implications quite obvious in the backdrop of the NSCN (IM)’s persistent search for Naga lebensraum. Well, the blockaders achieved their immediate goal and June 18 was de-listed from State holidays. The peculiarity of the stand off was that both sides––the blockaders and the people of Manipur, emerged victorious, even though the then State Government, perhaps, licked its hand in defeat. Whereas the blockaders achieved their immediate goal of removing June 18 from the State holiday list, the people of Manipur defeated the core agenda of the blockaders by disallowing growth of any barricades between the people to people relationship among different communities of Manipur because of the prolonged highway blockade.
This time, the indefinite economic blockade (now total blockade) was launched against holding elections to the Autonomous District Councils without amending the Autonomous District Council (Third Amendment) Act 2008. But the same blockade has taken different character and form. The central issue of the blockade is no longer the ADC Act. It has been replaced, as pre-meditated, by the agenda of Thuingaleng Muivah’s visit to Manipur. We fear the blockade would not be lifted even if the ADC election was put on hold and the ADC Act amended today.
Even though the prolonged blockades of 2005 and 2010 have similar political implications and socio-political ramifications, there are certain differences in their representations which cannot be overlooked. The former was imposed by the United Naga Council (UNC), the All Naga Students’ Association Manipur (ANSAM) and their supporters. This time, the Naga Students’ Federation (NSF), the Naga Hoho and even the Nagaland Government, all based in Nagaland have either joined hands in enforcing the blockade or are supporting the blockade from outside the territory of Manipur. Unlike the blockade of 2005, the ongoing blockade is not confined to only Manipur sections of national highways. The entire section of Nagaland has also been blockaded. In short, the blockade is being enforced more effectively from outside the territory of Manipur. In another word, Nagaland based frontal organisations backed by NSCN (IM) and Nagaland Government have been cunningly attempting to interfere in the internal affairs of Manipur.
Analysing the deep-rooted political agenda associated with and manifested by these prolonged blockades, every body will understand that these are nothing but an offensive politico-military strategy aimed at strangulating an entire population, and ultimately forcing the target population to submit to their unholy political agenda. It is generally accepted that blockade is an attritional strategy using armed forces or unarmed agents, which happen to be frontal organisations in the garb of student bodies and civil society organisations in the case of Manipur, to prevent movement of supplies into the blockaded space, be it an outpost, or a continent or a country or a state. This is one aspect of siege warfare which the advocates of Naga lebensraum and their unwitting supporters have learnt quite early but imperfectly and inefficaciously. The purpose of blockade is to secure capitulation from the lack of means to continue resistance, historically used by besieging forces that lack either the weapons to bombard or the man power to invade. While the classic definition relates to fortified cities or ports, the concept has a much wider application. The oft-repeated blockades resorted to by advocates of Naga lebensraum is quite comprehensible within the modern concept of blockade.
Since the dawn of military history, blockade has been a popular politico-military strategy employed by adversaries against each other or unilaterally. As removed from direct invasion, blockade is a steady but effective means of bringing the enemies to submission, provided objective conditions are favourable. While saving the colossal cost of waging an open war, chances of casualty or death on the part of blockaders is negligibly low as compared to direct invasion or confrontation. Andrew D Lombard and Hugh Bicheno said: “Although hugely popular with those who profess to abjure violence, properly conducted blockades are a harsh means of applying lethal force against a whole population. They do, however, keep down the body count among the blockaders.”
More often than not, blockades were responded by counter blockades. To cite a couple of example; during World War I, the British denied Germany food and raw materials coming from the rest of the world. This blockade made a significant contribution to the eventual Allied victory, and the hunger it caused weakened the resistance of the Central Powers’ population leading to the holocaust of influenza. The Germans responded with a new counter blockade, unrestricted submarine warfare leading to the belated introduction of convoys. War time British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote that counter blockade campaign launched by Germany with the much dreaded U-Boats was the only threat that seriously disturbed him. On the Pacific front, US submarines sank the whole Japanese merchant fleet and more warships than their air force and surface navy combined.
Carrying on the legacy of blockade, Israel and Egypt have blockaded Gaza Strip since June 2007. The blockade consists of the closure of Gaza’s land borders with Israel and Egypt as well as sea blockade enforced by the Israeli navy from three nautical miles offshore. Blockades, their target being entire population of a country or a state including children, women and disabled, are far more worse and inhuman than direct military confrontations or open wars which focused more on annihilation of the enemy’s military capacity instead of the larger population.
The blockade of Gaza has been criticised by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and scores of sovereign nations including the United States. A 2009 report on the Gaza War by the United Nations Human Rights Council maintained that the blockade of Gaza “amounted to collective punishment”, was likely a war crime and possibly a crime against humanity and recommended that the matter be referred to the International Criminal Court. Again a UN Fact Finding Mission led by South African Judge Richard Goldstone suggested that the blockade was a war crime and possibly a crime against humanity. The Goldstone report also recommended that the matter be referred to the International Criminal Court if the situation has not improved in six months.
Viewed from this perspective, the ongoing blockade fits exactly into a case of crime against humanity. How could one justify keeping an entire population under siege for months? As testified by historical evidences, blockades are often responded by counter blockades. But in the context of Manipur, counter blockade was self-defeating in itself, should the cordiality among different communities be upheld and territorial integrity of this ancient kingdom protected under any circumstances, at all cost. Thanks to Minister Yumkham Erabot, the counter blockade has been lifted.
The irony of the offensive strategy being witnessed in the borders of Manipur and beyond is that the blockaders have no empathy for the people for whom they claimed to be fighting for. It is a tragedy that the blockaders are not favoured by objective conditions. With the blockade stretching on and on without any sign of achieving its purpose, it is steadily attracting international censure and criticism, even as New Delhi remains a mute spectator. The blockaders failed miserably in doing their home-work before launching the inhuman blockade. Perhaps, they overestimated the vitality of Dimapur-Imphal road vis-a-vis survival of Manipuri people. Or perhaps, they underestimated reliability of other roads connecting Manipur to the outside world. Now the hard truth is before all of us.
Looking from another angle as claimed by the blockaders, the ongoing record-breaking blockade, if it is purely against the ADC election, the NSF based in Nagaland has no right nor any legitimacy to join the blockade. ANSAM and NSF are self-contradictory as far as their justifications for the blockade is concerned.
Either way, blockades imposed for such a long period putting an entire population under siege without any remorse cannot be termed otherwise than a politico-military offensive. In case, the blockaders are fighting against the Government of Manipur, we would like to point out that the blockade is victimising wrong targets and that their strategy is misfiring.

This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, May 30, 2010

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