Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Mission Myanmar : Tough Rules of a Tough Game


The Indo-Myanmar relations more so in the context of strategic importance and counter insurgency operations is the flavour of the new season. A sizeable portion in western Myanmar is dominated by the ethnic Nagas, who share biological fraternity with the Nagas in India. Thus it is often argued by political parties in Indian side of the border and also security experts in the South Block that the condition of Nagas in Myanmar can have some impact vis-à-vis the insurgency movement of the Nagas this side.
That means this could easily impact states like Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
Sentinels Guarding North East Hills
The issue has come to the fore with the 4 June, 2015 ambush by Naga rebels from across the border against Dogra Regiment killing 18 Indian soldiers and India and Myanmar supposedly acting tough. India shares a long land frontier with Myanmar that runs longer than 1600 km. The government of India for decades took scant note of the fact that Myanmar’s so called “isolationist policy” – under the military regime – has only befriended it more to China. 

Now in last few years if the political turmoil and sustained international pressure one way or the other changed the lives of common Myanmarese, it has also changed things for Nagas in Myanmar who have often suffered the loss of home, lives and culture.
Do they often feel unwanted in their homeland thus also deserve finer scrutiny.
The Nagaland government has submitted a paper to the Government of India on these lines.

But having said these it needs to be appreciated that certain aspects of supposedly internal matters of Myanmar can easily bamboozle Indian government, which despite subjected to all kinds of criticism has been practicing functional democracy for over six decades.  

An 'unstable' Myanmar is always a matter of concern vis-a-vis northeast insurgency-hit states. A resemblance of democracy has come in Myanmar and in circa 2015 all eyes – as expected - would be on the general elections likely to be held by October-November. But elections can be often destabilizing factor too.


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The dastardly killing of 18 Dogra Regiment soldiers left Indian army no choice but to act fast. Thus a covert army operation along the Myanmar border and also perhaps into the interiors of Myanmar was carried out ostensibly with the green signal from the highest level in the country. 
The Junior Information Minister, R Rathore was not alone. Other Indian ministers and BJP leaders portrayed the military action—which was meant to be covert—as a major success and as a declaration that Prime Minister Modi was ready to carry out surgical strikes against militants beyond India’s borders. The real issue is India’s western neighbour-  Pakistan.
But in the melee of this fierce debate, one factor that needs to be understood is why insurgency flourishes in states like Nagaland and Manipur and how do Indian authorities – with or without army -- tackle the menace. And also what role Myanmar has ?
The government of India for decades took scant note of the fact that Myanmar’s so called “isolationist policy” towards it – under the military regime – has only befriended it more to China. 
In last few years if the political turmoil and sustained international pressure one way or the other changed the lives of common Myanmarese, it has also changed things for Nagas in Myanmar who have often suffered the loss of home, lives and culture.
Modi with Aung San Suu Kyi

Now importantly, among the armed-chair glib talkers in Delhi TV studios, perhaps very few know about the ethnic ties of the Nagas from both sides of the international border. The ensuing elections have made the military commanders in Myanmar redraw their chessboard. Till now, the generals continue to have the “final say” in the appointment of the Defence minister, Home minister and the minister of Border Affairs in Myanmar. So, one apprehension has been what would happen if October election will take away certain vital powers from the military commanders? 

The suspicion is military rulers will make use of the existing law and can ensure handover of power "by the President" to the military. Firstly, such a situation is not entirely ruled out. Secondly, in such an event, the Naga Self-Administered Zone in western Myanmar as stipulated by the 2008 constitutional norms would end up. 
The Modi government seems to understand the key issues involved and thus Modi's trusted man, NSA Ajit Doval was deputed for a two day visit to Myanmar for talks with Myanmar rulers. The military junta rulers in Myanmar have been suave operatives and quite experts in diplomacy too.
Modi and his Chanakya, Doval

The so called isolationist policy adopted by India and western countries in the name of subverting democracy against Aung San Suu Kyi could not dampen the spirit of the military rulers. They moved closer by inches if not more to China. Today, even the US realises the folly. Thus USA's new proclamation about democratic spirit in Myanmar is not the usual 'free and fair elections'; rather Washington is simply talking about transparent, inclusive and credible elections. Thus, a reality Indian PM Modi and his NSA Doval and others should respect is that the Myanmar generals have successfully managed to engage the West, not the other way round.
So in curbing the militancy menace in the states of Nagaland and Manipur too, the Myanmar cooperation is an essential ingredient for preparing the meal for peace talks.
(Ends)  

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