Watching India's border with Myanmar

India’s northeastern border is once again becoming a livewire of insurgent activity, a growing trend that has set alarm bells ringing in New Delhi. Extremists are sneaking in through the unfenced 1,643-km border with Myanmar and launching bold attacks in Aruchal Pradesh, galand and Manipur. There were no casualties in last Sunday’s attack by suspected NSCN-K ultras at the Assam Rifles camp at Lazu in Tirap district. But three days earlier, the army suffered its worst reverse in three decades when 18 soldiers lost their lives in Manipur’s Chandel district. That ambush was led by the NSCN-K along with Manipuri outfits KYKL and KCP. Both these encounters took place close to the Myanmar border.  Last month, eight troopers were killed in galand’s Mon district when a joint NSCN-K, ULFA(I), NDFB-S and KLO group targeted the Assam Rifles. Earlier in April, an NSCN-K attack in Aruchal’s Tirap district took down three soldiers. The formation of a new umbrella group of rebel outfits ‘United Liberation Front of the Western South East Asia (UNLFW)’, desperate to prove its strength, may have larger implications for security in the Northeast. As for Assam, the ease with which UNLFW operatives can sneak into Dhemaji, Lakhimpur and Tinsukia districts from Tirap and Changlang after crossing the Myanmar border, is posing a huge challenge for security forces. The increasing frequency and daring of rebel attacks as well as the sophisticated ture of weapons used are leading to suspicions of intertiol terror organisations backing NE rebel groups. There are also media reports of insurgent leaders travelling frequently to Chi in recent months, which points to rising exterl interference in the region.

After settling the boundary with Bangladesh, it is imperative for New Delhi to take up effective border magement with the Myanmar government. The groundwork has been laid by a series of diplomatic initiatives, particularly in the last 2-3 years. In fact, connecting to Myanmar was the central theme of Prime Minister rendra Modi’s talks with President Thein Sein on the margins of the East Asia Summit in y Pyi Taw last November. But there is a vast gulf between the potential and reality of Indo-Myanmar partnership. At the intertiol boundary, the two neighbours need to conduct joint army operations on their sides of the border and bust militant camps in Myanmar’s jungles. India and Myanmar did in fact conduct such coordited action in 1995 through Operation Golden Bird, flushing out NSCN, ULFA and Manipuri rebels and elimiting several top leaders. But suddenly and inexplicably, the operation was called off. With NSCN-K, ULFA(I), NDFB(S) and other insurgent groups reportedly shifting their main bases to the Taga area along the Myanmar-Chi border to keep themselves away from possible trans-border operations by the Indian army, defence experts maintain that insurgents cannot be stopped unless there are combing operations on both sides of the border by the respective armies. If the Myanmar army is not capable or willing enough to keep control on its side, how New Delhi frames its military policy at this border will assume great significance in the coming days.

There are now fears that the uneasy truce in the region between the Centre and several insurgent outfits  is beginning to unravel. The Centre and the NSCN-K have already repudiated the ceasefire agreement drawn up between them in 2001. Reportedly NSCN-K supremo SS Khaplang has taken a hardline after New Delhi signed a separate truce with a faction that split from his outfit, mely the NSCN (Reformation), as well as extended the ceasefire agreement with NSCN (Khole-Kitovi). However, it is the NSCN-K which is the nodal insurgent outfit at present, with Khaplang known to keep close ties with the Myanmar army. Other insurgent outfits are using the NSCN-K network and logistics support of Khaplang’s outfit to carry out mayhem in the Northeast.  Reportedly several Meitei insurgent groups from Manipur have also tied up with NSCN-K, while at least six major outfits have been consistently opposed to peace talks. New Delhi now has its task cut out to bring such outfits to the negotiating table while taking strong and pro-active steps to use the army in sealing the border. However, the anti-insurgency operations in the bordering NE states need to be led by effective state police forces, judiciously supported by Central police organisations. With Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) imposed in vast areas of the Northeast, the Centre has to keep an eye on possible peace dividends while watching the border with Myanmar.

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