Manufacturing joint counter-insurgency operations

BY Nava Thakuria| IN Media Practice | 17/11/2004
Manufacturing joint counter-insurgency operations



On November 8, a PTI report from Imphal clarified that the Army had denied of any joint operation with Myanmar soldiers in Manipur.



Nava Thakuria


The Northeast is not the land of insurgents alone. This trouble-torn region of India has nurtured many journalists who benefit from making news out of insurgency- related activities. Taking advantage of the continued alienation of Northeast from  mainland India, these journalists often create news for their space in international media market. And to make the news fit for the "media bazaar", they do not hesitate to distort the facts. They prefer that the Northeast continue to burn, which enables them to craft news for sale, otherwise they would twist the documents to compose events as happening, which never happened in reality.


The Army operation against the Northeastern insurgents, which has been carried out for the last few decades hardly makes a headline, as it is a regular practice for the security personnel deployed in the region bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh (with Bhutan and Tibet). But it makes a sensational news, if the operation can be reported as being carried out jointly with the soldiers of these countries. In fact, the media is preoccupied with the "assured success" of Bhutan type operation against militants.


The readers of a section of dailies from Guwahati on November 6 were astonished to read a banner headline that the Indian Army had launched a massive crack down on militants in Manipur and that Myanmarese soldiers sealed their border to prevent the fleeing of militants. The news narrated immediate casualties of 13 insurgents in the offensive, whereas over 34 armed cadres were arrested. The origin of the news, reported by four international news agency in English narrates, "at least 13 rebels were killed and 34 captured by Indian soldiers" in Friday’s (November 5) military crackdown. Quoting an Indian Army spokesman (Major S.D. Goswami ) the reports revealed that around 6000 Army personnel had surrounded the bases of militants in Bishnpur and Churachandpur districts of Manipur. The news included a direct speech from Mr Goswami, "We have nabbed 34 militants and seized 20 sophisticated weapons so far during the operation." Another quote revealed that it was "an offensive entirely by the Indian army with Myanmarese soldiers simply guarding their own frontiers on the other side."


But surprisingly enough, the incident was not reported by the appointed and recognized correspondents of the dailies based in Imphal or Guwahati. It was filed exclusively by the BBC, Reuters, AFP and IANS with their correspondents in Guwahati and Kolkata. A  BBC News story from Calcutta by  Matthew Grant reported that the Indian troops were said to be moving in on rebel bases. "The Indian army says it is conducting a major operation against rebel bases in the north-east of the country. Burma has sealed its border to prevent militants crossing into its territory from the Indian state of Manipur, where the offensive is focused," Matthew Grant wrote. He went on reporting, "The army began its offensive last month, but waited until now to reveal what is going on in the remote state." The BBC reporter also added these lines, "A spokesman for the army said it had surrounded 1,500 fighters belonging to three different rebel groups. He said Burma had stationed troops along its side of the border to prevent the rebels from escaping. But the spokesman stressed the action was being taken by the Indian army on its own, with the Burmese simply guarding their frontier."


Similarly the Guwahati based IANS reporter filed the story like, "At least 13 rebels  were killed and 34 captured by Indian soldiers in a massive military crackdown on rebel bases in the troubled northeastern state of Manipur, officials Friday said." Then the report mentioned that the Army spokesman Mr Goswami  "told IANS by telephone from Manipur`s capital" that, "The militants are getting choked from all sides with our soldiers zeroing in on their bases in Manipur and across the border you have troops from Myanmar waiting to repulse any move by the rebels to sneak into their territory." The report also included a direct sentence with quote and unquote, but with nobody’s name as "This is an offensive entirely by the Indian army with Myanmarese soldiers simply guarding their own frontiers on the other side." One should guess that it was Mr Goswami’s version. The AFP and Reuters version of news echoed the same.


There were also few relevant information in all the reports regarding the back ground of the situation, as Manipur is the home of over 19 active militant groups, who are fighting for demands ranging from independence, to greater autonomy, to the right to self-determination and the operation was carried out primarily targeting the rebels of United National Liberation Front, People`s Liberation Army and Kuki Revolutionary Army. More over, in his recent visit, the Myanmar military junta leader General Than Shwe had assured the  Indian government that they would not to allow their soil to be used by anti-Indian insurgent groups. Indian intelligence reports confirm that over 30 insurgent groups of Northeast have bases inside Myanmar.


Till November 7, it was fine. The readers in Northeast believed that only a few newspapers had scored by carrying the exclusive news. Naturally they were waiting for the detailed follow up stories next day. But suddenly the army operation lost prominent space in the dailies of the region. Though the Guwahati based reporters of Reuters and IANS continued filing follow up stories regarding the thrilling operation, no dailies carried the news with inputs from their own correspondents.


The Manipur capital Imphal hosts a number of news correspondents representing various regional and national newspapers (and news agencies). But it was surprising, how the Imphal based reporters could afford to miss the important news. At the same time the Guwahati based Northeast correspondents of various national dailies too avoided the development relating to the Army operation.


On November 8, a PTI report from Imphal clarified that the Army had denied of any joint operation with Myanmar soldiers in Manipur. The same spokesman Mr S.D. Goswami was quoted as saying that the security forces had been carrying out counter-insurgency operation as a "normal duty". The report narrated as Mr Goswami saying, "Security forces had been carrying out counter-insurgency operation in several areas of Manipur as a normal duty and at least 13 militants had been killed, 34 ultras apprehended and 20 weapons recovered since September". He also added that Indian Army "was not aware whether Myanmar troops had been carrying out a similar operation on their side." The Army PRO had also reportedly denied that he had ever said "6000 troops had been deployed" in the interior region or 100 rebel camps had been attacked by the army since Monday (November 1) in Manipur.


Even speaking to the reporters in New Delhi on Tuesday (November 9), the Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee disclosed that India and Myanmar were still holding consultations on taking coordinated action against Northeastern militants along the 1,400 KM border in Eastern front. While praising the Royal Bhutan Government for their offensive against insurgents in last December, Mr Mukherjee was still expecting ``similar supportive cooperation from friendly countries to root out terrorism".


It is evident that Indian Army has carried out an important operation against insurgents in Manipur with the help of state police. The Director General of Manipur Police A.K. Parashar also acknowledged that a joint operation with Army personnel were being carried out, but he too denied involvement of Mymamarese soldiers in the crack down. "There is no report of any such joint operation so far on Manipur’s soil," he said.


It can be guessed, those agency reporters intentionally present the news of the "joint counter-insurgency operations" by the Army and state police as being carried out by the Indian Army with the help of Myanmarese soldiers to make it lucrative. Now the question arises, what was the use of making news with distorted facts? In fact who had created the distortion and for whose benefit ? Was it the Army source (Major S.D. Goswami), who misguided the agency reporters for his own game plan (if any) and later denied to save his skin; Or  was it the intention of those agency reporters, who went on misguiding the readers with the obligatory reports from Northeast, to file stories which suit the international media market for handsome personal benefit?

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