11 June 2015

Inside Myanmar, in hot pursuit

June 11, 2015

By striking at militant camps across the border and inside Myanmar territory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has demonstrated that he is willing to bite the bullet and take tough action when it comes to the killing of Indian soldiers. Days after the June 4 killing of at least 20 personnel of the 6 Dogra Regiment in Chandel district of Manipur allegedly by militants of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), a robust response has come from the Indian Special Forces. Confirmation of the strike on two militant camps inside Myanmar territory has come from none other than Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. He confirmed that the Indian forces “carried out strikes on two of the militant camps, annihilating the entire camps, and have returned safely”. He pointed out that Prime Minister Modi had taken a “very bold step” and given the go-ahead for hot pursuit into Myanmar, adding that the response was a message to other countries that might be inimical to India. Meanwhile, the official Army version simply spoke of the forces having engaged two separate groups of insurgents “along the Indo-Myanmar border”, without referring to any cross-border operation.

India had traditionally justified its links with the military-run Myanmar government by pointing to the need to keep its eastern borders tranquil. Keeping the Myanmar government in the loop on any cross-border operation can only strengthen India’s efforts to ensure that more attacks do not take place. The Indian Army, for its part, has spoken of communication and close cooperation but stopped short of saying whether or not prior information was given on a cross-border operation. Other than the number of casualties inflicted on the militants, very few details on the exact nature of the military operation have been made available. For its part, the Khaplang faction has “denied” that any of its cadres were killed by the Indian Army in the crackdown. There are, as Mr. Rathore said in his statement, implications beyond Myanmar reflected in the nature of the operation conducted by the Indian Army. If the intention is to be surgical and engage in long-term anti-militancy operations, the Modi government and the BJP should desist from chest-thumping. While India makes it clear that as a nation it would not take attacks such as this lying down, the Myanmar operation sends its own signal to the rest of South Asia. It would be contextual to recall that even a major operation in end-2003 against anti-India separatist groups that were based in Bhutan was conducted by the Bhutanese army with support from India. The operation by the Indian Special Forces can only be welcomed. But at the same time, collateral damage in government-to-government relationships must be avoided.

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