New Delhi tastes the salad of AFSPA, Chinese fish tails, Myanmar’s nationwide ceasefire and NE insurgency

Puyam Rakesh Singh *

Map of Indo - Myanmar Border
Map of Indo - Myanmar Border :: Pix Credit - TSE

The NSCN (K) under the chairmanship of S.S. Khaplang abrogated the 14-year long ceasefire with the Government of India stating it as a futile attempt toward restoring Naga sovereignty. This development that happened on 27 March 2015 will be a setback for New Delhi because it has given a clear message to the anti-talk groups fighting for sovereignty. How will New Delhi respond to this move? Time will tell everything but there are already some moves. Probably, it will also affect the peace talks between NSCN (IM) and the Government of India.

Any settlement between NSCN (IM) and New Delhi that does not meet the core demands of the struggle can cause more problems in the Naga family. The birth of the NSCN (Reformation) is a glaring example of this politics. Moreover, the Shillong Accord is still fresh in the minds of many Nagas. As a result, any serious deliberation has to look into possible backlashes of such a settlement. Divide, weaken and destroy could be the lessons in counter-insurgency schools.

In April 2012, NSCN (K) entered into a ceasefire agreement with Myanmar and Nay Pyi Taw is pushing the peace process to consolidate sovereignty, unity and union solidarity of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. As of now, the Khaplang group’s ceasefire agreement with Myanmar is still in force. In view of this, without serious actions on the part of Myanmar to flush out the Northeast insurgents, New Delhi’s counter-insurgency operations may not have the desire effects to secure ‘law and order’ for its nation-building process in the Northeast.

Despite the ‘divide and rule’ policy, some groups have managed to co-exist and support each other to face India’s increasing diplomatic and economic clouts. This politics of ethnic co-existence and fraternal ties for shared and parallel political aspirations continue to shadow the calculations of New Delhi. If not everything, the fraternal relations between NSCN (K) and some of the established anti-peace talks groups remain a hard rock.

Controlling cross-border activities across the international border stretching from Anjaw district of Arunachal Pradesh to Lawngtlai district of Mizoram continues to pose many problems to counter-insurgency agencies. Besides, the Indo-Bangladesh co-operation against the Northeast insurgency has not resulted in major successes. These developments could also be affected by political tides in the Muslim-majority country having a long sea coast.

In April 2015, the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Ministry of Home Affairs reported about the collection of border report for effective management of the Indo-Myanmar border. Policing the international border to control movement of insurgents and arms has been given top priority. Interestingly, the report will also enlist the names of villages and communities inhabiting along the international border. During the high-level team’s visit to Imphal, RN Ravi, the interlocutor for the NSCN (IM) and the Government of India peace talks did not say anything concrete about a final settlement.

While New Delhi may have all the time in the world to find a solution to the vexed problems, the pressures on the organised groups fighting against New Delhi and the civilian population in the Northeast may increase. Or, it is interested only in managing the situation with repression from time to time. New Delhi is busy trying to block fund flow, tax collection and movement of insurgents and arms across the international borders.

Will some development projects make the insurgents surrender without dealing with the root cause? The development projects in the northeast have failed to increase per capita income of the people. Nevertheless, a small section of the population who are benefited by the central funds and development projects are flourishing. The politicians and high officials and their yes men continue to long for more projects in the name of the people by using insurgency-affected state tag and get richer and richer. But there is little sign of change in the economic landscape.

For peaceful solution seekers, the extension of AFSPA to 12 districts of Arunachal Pradesh bordering Assam is a good message from New Delhi. Earlier, an area of 20-km radius of each district bordering Assam was opened to the armed forces for their operations against the insurgents. The Act was in force in Tirap, Changlang and Longding (carved out from Tirap) districts since 1991. The extension of AFSPA will facilitate the Indian Army’s operations in the state sharing a long border with China. Interestingly, China claims a large part of the state as ‘Southern Tibet’ leaving only a small part of the state bordering Assam, Nagaland and Myanmar.

The two protrusions of the Nyingchi (Nyingtri or Linzhi) Prefecture in Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) known as ‘fish tails’ have attracted New Delhi’s security attention. The longer fish tail dividing Dibang Valley district and Anjaw district in Arunachal seems to be longing for Tinsukia district. Anjaw, Lohit, Namsai, Changlang, Tirap and Longding districts of Arunachal constitute a very strategic part of the state bordering Myanmar. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) wants to make sure that the Zayu County in Nyingchi does not shake hands with Tinsukia District. On the other hand, the Chinese PLA troops made several attempts to drink tea in Assam but has failed so far.

This strategic part of Arunachal bordering has been on New Delhi’s security radar for a long time. Now, AFSPA has left only Anjaw, Dibang Valley, Upper Siang, Upper Subansiri, Kurung Kumey and Tawang districts after embracing the 12 districts. Territorially speaking, only a small part of Arunachal is outside the clutches of the AFSPA and the Army will have similar control over these districts too in the course of time.

The soldiers empowered with ‘special powers’ under ASFPA cannot unlearn and forget the habitual addiction to these special powers when they cross the neighbouring districts beyond the clutches of the Act. Most probably, the entire state will experience the power of ASFPA in one way or another. There is no widespread anti-India armed movement in the state except for the few districts where the Naga insurgents operate. Truly speaking, alienating the Arunachalis will not serve New Delhi’s long-term interests and this might restrain the actions of the Home Ministry and its armed boys.

The security pundits have many stories to tell about the arms trafficking and cross-border activities of many insurgent groups operating in some parts of Arunachal. Volatile security situation in Myanmar especially in the neighbouring Kachin State is another important issue. What will New Delhi gain from the peace process in Myanmar? The abrogation of the cease-fire by the NSCN (K) groups that has strong base in Myanmar is a development worth introspecting for New Delhi.

Besides, the security analysis of New Delhi was reported to be informed by the activities of the left-wing extremism, presence of ULFA (I), NDFB (S), NSCN (IM), NSCN (K) and some Manipur-based armed groups. Some analysts are of the view that left-wing extremism in Assam does not pose danger to India’s security. Other reliable inputs negate the Chinese support to Northeast insurgents. But New Delhi’ apprehension could have been fed by the intelligence reports fearing left-wing elements and Chinese agents shaking hands with support from Northeast insurgents operating freely across the Indo-Myanmar border.

The Union Home Ministry issued the notification regarding extension of AFSPA to 12 districts of Arunachal on 27 March 2015. The Government of Arunachal has opposed the unilateral move. But when it comes to AFSPA, the state government is just a puppet of New Delhi. Will New Delhi review the move? New Delhi has a different take of the people of Arunachal unlike the Nagas and Manipuris. There are reasons for it. However, strategic location of the state and the ‘China factor’ will surely lure Panda-killers to hand over Arunachal to the military boss of the country.

Many in New Delhi see almost all the northeasterners as Panda-huggers. The physical features of the Nagas, Manipuris and Bodos tempt many leaders in Delhi to put them on the other side of the Himalayas at least psychologically. Unfortunately, this mindset is sick and the trust between Northeast and the rest of the country cannot be built upon this foundation.

Probably, some insurgent groups will wait for another India-China war. The prophetic words in the puya may hold water in such a scenario where the Senpi Khaki Leipak and Nongchup Pasa Leibak kindle the WW III over territorial dispute marking the end of the world. Is there an arm race of some sort between India and China for military superiority? It seems they cannot undo the Himalayan Knot and managing the relations without resolving has many limitations when it comes to mutual trust.

Zayu County of Nyingchi Prefecture in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China sits on the eastern part of Arunachal and Kachin State of Myanmar. This County also shares border with the Nujiang Lisu Prefecture of Yunnan Province. The Nujiang Prefecture of Yunnan Province and the Nyingchi Prefecture of the TAR are located in the geographically difficult terrains. These scenic places are also important security zones. Militarisation, development of border infrastructures, military satellites, deployment of advanced fighter aircrafts and missiles and other military-related developments are being pursued to meet any eventuality on both sides of the Himalayas.

The worst-affected peoples are the trans-border ethnic minorities such as the Tai/Dai/Shan, Singpho/Kachin/Jingpo, Deng/Mishmi and Lisu who are scattered in India, China and Myanmar. Some Naga tribes are on both sides of the Indo-Myanmar border. Their settlements in the isolated and difficult terrains are becoming the centres of attraction for nation-builders. New Delhi, Beijing and Naypyitaw must work to safeguard the interests of these ethnic minorities and join hands to facilitate easier cross-border cultural and educational activities.

Every effort should be made to avoid making their homes and paddy fields the targets of bombs and missiles.

The conflict situation in Myanmar, presence of Northeast insurgents in Northwest Myanmar and its long border with China’s Yunnan Province are good reasons for New Delhi to strengthen security measures along this section of the international border. The Indian intelligence agencies have busy time trying to trace the gun trails across the sensitive border areas.

The northeast region has no ammunition factories and New Delhi always remembers China as the major source, if not the only source of these sophisticated arms and gadgets. Beijing is silent on this and has little word to say on this matter. The world has enough guns and bombs to feed every conflict anywhere in the world. Drug, flesh trade and arms trafficking are said to be the most profitable businesses on earth. Who do not want to become rich in the world? Any covert activity of Beijing (if any) in the region to support the insurgents in Northeast is a good reason for New Delhi to close the international border or to discourage large-scale activities such as meaningful trade and people-to-people contacts across the Indo-Myanmar border. In fact, keeping the Northeast as war zones serves the purposes of many stakeholders including the Indian military.

The mistrust between the two neighbours goes beyond the boundary issues. Sugar-coated diplomatic words cannot cover up the health of the bilateral relationship. In fact, the ‘China factor’ has denied the geographical advantage enjoyed by Northeast to engage in multi-national trade and the people are forced to live with low per capita income. Will the changes in Myanmar bring good news to Northeast? Is the Chinese Dragon already in Myanmar?

On 7 April 2015, Myanmar President Thein Sein visited tea farms and rubber plantations in the Homalin Township in Sagaing Region. His team also visited Hkamti/Khamti Township to discuss development works in that isolated region. These townships having Naga tribes were not included in the Naga Self-Administered Zone created under the 2008 Myanmar Constitution. A move to expand the zone to include the two townships was resisted by other ethnic groups.

The thickly forested Sagaing Region bordering Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh is a major concern for India’s security agencies in their endeavours to control Northeast insurgency. SS Khaplang’s changed attitude toward New Delhi and Myanmar’s focus on China-Myanmar and Myanmar-Thailand border areas will keep bullets and bombs in action mode in Northeast. Will New Delhi travel to Naga Self-Administered Zone in Sagaing for development projects?

For a lasting peace and stability in Myanmar, the Myanmar Government and representatives of 16 armed organisations that constitutes the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Committee (NCCT) signed a historic draft Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) on 31 March 2015 to push forward the peace process. It was lauded as a ‘historic and significant achievement’ by the United Nations Special Adviser for Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar.

Interestingly, China’s Special Envoy for Asian Affairs, Wang Yingfan also attended the ceasefire agreement signing ceremony. Like New Delhi, Beijing has strong interests in the peace process to restore stability along the China-Myanmar border. Both India and China are keenly following the developments in Myanmar to secure their borders and push the nation-building works. The world has to see how New Delhi, Nay Pyi Taw and Beijing deal will the borderland ethnic groups. They could become the preys on the frying pan of international diplomacy, economic relations and geo-political interests of China, the US, Japan, India and Myanmar. Some will say the ethnic minorities are already on the pan.

* Puyam Rakesh Singh wrote this article to The Sangai Express
This article was posted on April 22, 2015.

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