As many analysts have labeled India’s cozy relations with Myanmar’s junta regime as a strategic move to counter China in its neighbourhood, may not yield positive results if the latest developments in the Southeast Asian nation are anything to go by.
According to news reports, the Myanmar military or Tatmadaw has reached a ‘secret deal’ with Northeast India’s separatist rebel outfits operating from the country, a development which could be a serious setback for New Delhi’s efforts to strengthen defense and security cooperation with the current regime in Naypyidaw.
The development comes at a time when the Northeastern states are trying to hold peace talks with the military outfits. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma too, urged United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) Chief Paresh Baruah to come forward to the negotiating table for the dialogue process.
On the one hand, the government is urging the militant groups to come forward for the peace talks and on the other the incidents of mass killing in Nagaland, bomb blast incident at Manipur a day after PM Narendra Modi’s visit recently to the poll-bound state triggered tension.
It’s only last month that India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited the neighboring country and held wide-ranging discussions with military regime leader Min Aung Hlaing, members of the civil society and political parties, including the National League For Democracy (NLD).
“Both sides reiterated their commitment to ensure that their respective territories would not be allowed to be used for any activities inimical to the other,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs had said in a statement released in connection with the Foreign Secretary’s visit.
It will be a serious matter of concern for New Delhi if the information on the Myanmar military’s informal pact with Indian rebels proves to be true. The Tatmadaw would also never acknowledge its understanding officially with Indian insurgents, leaving New Delhi in a tricky situation.
It’s pertinent to mention here that Myanmar’s military generals had staged a coup on February 1, 2021, overthrowing a democratically-elected government of the National League For Democracy (NLD). NLD leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, cabinet ministers, the chief ministers of many states, opposition leaders, writers, and activists were detained before the announcement of the national emergency by the military.
The coup of the military generals sparked massive protests across the country and the military launched a brutal crackdown. More than 1,400 people have been killed by the junta and over 8,000 arrested, charged, or sentenced since the coup, according to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a monitoring group.
NLD lawmakers and their ethnic allies formed a parallel ‘National Unity Government’ in the wake of the coup, to challenge the junta regime’s legitimacy. Additionally, they formed an armed wing called People’s Defense Force (PDF), comprising hundreds of civilian resistance groups from across the country.
“Their activities range from deadly hit-and-run attacks to planting bombs at military targets to gunning down regime-appointed officials and collaborators and ambushing junta troops. The regime has branded them as terrorist groups,” The Irrawaddy reported.
What is Tatmadaw’s New Strategy?
The 1,643 border which India shares with Myanmar proves to be a boon for the Indian rebels who can easily slip back and forth between their camps and launch attacks on the Indian side. Needless to say, cross-border insurgencies have remained a major security threat to India’s northeast region for several decades.
New Delhi looks to the Tatmadaw to flush out Northeast India’s rebels from Myanmar’s soil. In April and May last year, as many as 22 rebels were handed over to India by Myanmar following their arrest in Taga in the Hukwang Valley.
Recently, five Manipuri insurgents belonging to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were handed over to India. The rebel group has been fighting for secession from India since 1978, reported the Euraasiantimes.
But the latest reports suggest many of these militant outfits are regrouping over two years after their camps and training facilities were dismantled in ‘Operation Sunrise’. A senior Indian government official has confirmed this development to The Diplomat, the report stated.
‘Operation Sunrise’ was conducted jointly by Indian and Myanmar militaries between January and May 2019 in the border areas targeting rebel groups from Assam, Manipur, and Nagaland. There were at least 50 rebel camps belonging to northeast India’s militant groups in Myanmar until 2018, The Hindu had then reported quoting security officials.
Later, some of these groups moved to other regions, including the Sagaing Division in southern Myanmar and the Pangmi Naga area.