With the Myanmar Army chief’s ongoing India visit coming close after the first meeting of the India-Myanmar Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) earlier this month, the expectation in the Northeast states is that New Delhi’s efforts to soothe ruffled feathers in ypyidaw succeed, even as bilateral relations are ratcheted up to another level. The Indian army’s surgical strike on NSCN(K) camps inside Myanmar territory last month reportedly put the Thein Sein government on the backfoot, after sections of the Indian media latched onto indiscreet comments by some ministers and went overboard with jingoistic rhetoric. This was unfortute, for the two countries had been working behind the scenes to explore a joint stand against militant groups active along the porous 1,643 km-long border, with the latest flashpoint being the audacious NSCN(K) strike on the Dogra regiment in Manipur on June 4 which left 18 soldiers dead. The cross-border operation five days later and its high-decibel aftermath forced an embarrassed ypyidaw to deny altogether that the operation had taken place. tiol Security Advisor Ajit Doval went over to brief the Myanmarese leadership but got a frosty reception, his proposal for joint operations by the two armies at the border turned down. In fact, the subsequent deployment of an additiol brigade of the Myanmarese army at the border was apparently done to prevent any more cross-border raids by the Indian army. At the JCC meeting on July 16 co-chaired by the Exterl Affairs ministers of the two countries, Myanmar was believed to have conveyed its displeasure in no uncertain terms.
If Myanmar Army chief General Min Aung Hlaing’s discussions with the Indian political leadership and army top brass succeed in pouring oil over troubled waters, NE state governments will heave sighs of relief. Intelligence inputs have reported heightened ULFA(I) activity in the run-up to Independence Day, as well as long-term jockeying to extract a bloody price in the Assembly elections ten months away. Apart from ULFA(I) and NSCN(K) ultras getting down to an extortion drive in some upper Assam districts, recent activities of outfits like the NDFB(S), UNLF, KYKL, KCP and PLA in around sixty camps deep inside forested tracts of Myanmar is keeping the Indian army busy. While border coordition between the two sides has been going on for over a decade, lately the restrictions on movement of people and goods along the porous border by the two armies seems to be aimed at blocking rebel infiltration and supply routes. But the Indian leadership will surely seek ypyidaw’s continued if tacit support for cross-border operations in ‘hot pursuit’ of militants. The Myanmar government in turn will demand major concessions as well as assurance that its citizens will not be harmed in such operations. However, political observers maintain that it is high time that India upgrades its relationship with its eastern neighbour with a strong defence component. The Myanmar Army chief is expected to discuss his country’s defence related requirements this time, with the Indian establishment seemingly in a responsive mood. This was indicated in the joint statement after the JCC meet, where it was said that ‘India is committed to support the modernization of Myanmar armed forces’ as well as to help in creating a tiol army, cooperate in IT, foster military to military cooperation including training, and help build a professiol Myanmar vy to safeguard its maritime security.
Prime Minister rendra Modi has already constituted a Task Force to study the problems of securing the Indo-Myanmar border, which is a timely move. The Task Force has visited border areas, holding talks with stakeholders, including the armed forces and NE state governments. With general elections in Myanmar slated in November this year, the Modi government’s urgency to continue the high-level engagement is understandable. Myanmar’s next president is expected to be chosen by its parliament early next year. The country’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s recent maiden visit to Chi was closely followed in New Delhi, in the backdrop of Indian diplomatic efforts to maintain a fine balance between Suu Kyi and the Myanmar army-supported government. Taking advantage of a perceived chill in Chi-Myanmar ties over border conflicts in Kokang and Yunn, India may yet strengthen its security partnership with Myanmar. After all, Chi continues to be Myanmar’s largest investor, having invested for years in hydropower, gas, oil and other sectors. The NDA government’s Act East policy must extend to Myanmar if it is to benefit the Northeast in security and economic uplift.