'Assam Rifles have prevented a large number of genocides and killings.'
On Thursday, November 16, 2023, PTI reported that militants in Manipur triggered a low-intensity IED (Improvised Explosive Device) blast under an Assam Rifles mine-protected vehicle in the state's Tengnoupal district.
Soon after triggering the IED, the gunmen fired indiscriminately at the Assam Rifles vehicle. None of the Assam Rifles soldiers were injured.
In the continuing intra-tribal conflict in Manipur, certain Meitei groups accused the Assam Rifles for siding with the Kukis. In an unprecedented move, the Manipur police filed an FIR against the Assam Rifles for obstructing their duties and accused them of allowing Kuki militants to flee.
The Assam Rifles, which functions under the Union home ministry, strongly condemned the fabricated allegation to malign its image.
"Assam Rifles carries out its duties with courage, impartiality and more importantly as an example to the rest of the country," says Lieutenant General Shokin Chauhan, former director general of the Assam Rifles, the largest paramilitary force in the country.
The Assam Rifles is responsible for counter insurgency, border security and maintaining law and order in the North East.
"It is disheartening for men who shed their blood serving in North East to have FIRs filed against them by the state police and to be asked for their identity cards by the Meira Paibis in Manipur," says the general.
"This is extremely dangerous for the uniformed forces," says the distinguished officer, a third generation military officer who served nearly 15 years in the North East.
General Chauhan was chairman of the Ceasefire Monitoring Group to ensure peace in the North East after retirement from the Indian Army in 2018.
He has vast experience in conducting counter terrorist operations both in Kashmir and the North East, and served as DG of the Assam Rifles for 16 months.
In the concluding part of his interview to Rediff.com's Archana Masih, General Chauhan says the Assam Rifles has the most difficult task amongst all Central Armed Police Forces and has discharged its duties exceptionally well.
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As a former director general of the Assam Rifles, what are your thoughts about the challenges faced by the force in the last six months?
Let me put it on record that the Assam Rifles is probably the best fighting force in the country today. It is a very experienced, capable organisation and equals any Indian army unit in its capability.
It has served extensively in Kashmir and also in Sri Lanka. They were very successful in dealing with the LTTE in their areas of operations.
The Manipur police filed a First Information Report against the Assam Rifles. Was this move by the Manipur police out of line?
In my opinion, the Manipur police was wrong in filing an FIR which was quashed subsequently. But the fact that the Meitei dominated Manipur police felt that they could do so indicates that they had the support of the state government.
The Assam Rifles took it up with the chief minister and the Union home minister and there is relative calm now.
I am sure the Assam Rifles has spoken to their counterparts so that this does not happen again.
But it was disheartening for the men who are facing the brunt to be questioned about their antecedents and asked for their identity cards by the Meira Paibi.
The Assam Rifles has never differentiated between tribes in the North East.
Any Assam Rifles operation could result in loss of life and sacrifice. Soldiers who shed their blood serving in such areas of conflict should not be asked for such identification.
This is extremely dangerous for the uniformed force.
The officers of the Assam Rifles are drawn from the Indian Army. They are not permanent cadre of the Assam Rifles. The commanding officers from the army volunteer for the Assam Rifles.
An army officer in an Assam Rifles unit is not partial to any community because we don't see ourselves as belonging to a community. We belong to the force.
We have spent a lifetime trying to make sure that the force carries its duties with courage, impartiality and more importantly as an example to the rest of the country.
In your opinion, how has the Assam Rifles discharged its duties and what sets it apart?
The army does not carry out counterinsurgency operations in Manipur or anywhere in the North East -- it is the Assam Rifles that is entrusted with that important task.
The Assam Rifles also guards the Indo-Myanmar border and carries out operations within the hinterland in Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur. It probably has the most difficult job amongst the Central Armed Police Forces in the country.
How can security forces respond to attacks on their camps and establishments? How can such attacks be stopped?
The local police stations in the North East are vulnerable to attacks by insurgent groups which have better weapons and many more men. Though the Indo-Myanmar border is a benign border and Myanmar is a friendly country, it is a 'live' border because of the insurgent groups operating in that area.
The insurgent groups have 55 to 60 camps in Myanmar. The Assam Rifles has the ability and survivability to operate in that hostile environment. The Manipur police depended on the shoulders of the Assam Rifles for its operations [against insurgents] till now. The Assam Rifles was the big brother. Now that they are left on their own, they find it difficult to withstand such attacks.
What would your advice to men in the Assam Rifles be?
They should keep doing their duties, stay motivated and keep themselves fully protected.
The Assam Rifles has saved thousands and thousands of people. They have prevented a large number of genocides and killings because of their presence.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com