With the stepping-up of military crackdown against blood thirsty United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the Government of India has shifted its focus on Myanmar and Bangladesh, as they are being blamed for allowing bases to terrorists in the north-east.
India and Myanmar share a 1,640-kilometre-long porous border, through which the armed cadres sneak into that country and continue using their soil to carry out terrorist activities in the region.
To pursue the matter with Myanmarese military rulers, the Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee visited Myanmar on January 19. The visit caps a series of discussions between India and Myanmar and seems set to lead to a substantial increase in arms sales and other forms of military cooperation with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) leaders.
?I asked them to help us tackle the problem of insurgent groups operating from their side of the border. They have assured their cooperation,? Mr Mukherjee told reporters. He is believed to have advocated to the SPDC leaders the need for a joint military operation against Indian insurgent outfits sheltered in the jungles of northern Myanmar.
New Delhi believes that a number of northeastern armed groups including ULFA, NSCN (I-M and K factions), PLA, PREPAK, UNLF, KYKL, and KCP among others are taking shelter in military-ruled South East Asian country.
Meanwhile, Assam continues to attract media headlines for explosions and killings of common people by ULFA. The insurgent group is on a killing spree that cost nearly hundred lives in a fortnight.
A series of bloodbath, carried out by ULFA since the first week of January, was followed by frequent explosions in different parts of Brahmaputra valley including Guwahati. The frequent explosions in the state during the period left more than 50 people injured.
The Government of India has already launched a massive counter insurgency operation against ULFA cadres in Assam and its adjacent state Arunachal Pradesh. The Indian Army, paramilitary forces and state police continue to conduct combing operations in the trouble-torn locality, where nearly 20,000 soldiers are engaged. Security personnel arrested more than 15 ULFA men and five terrorists were killed in encounters. Seven militants were apprehended from the Mon district of Nagaland, trying to flee to Myanmar in a vehicle. A radio set, a dicta phone and mobile phone SIMs were seized from them.
India has been putting pressure on the military regime to launch a massive military crackdown along the lines of a similar operation that took place in Bhutan in December 2003 to crush militant bases belonging to a wide range of rebel groups that remain in India'snortheast.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony, during a recent visit to the troubled region, suggested that New Delhi would seek help from both Myanmar and Bangladesh to deal with the rebels operating from their territories. Earlier Home Ministry-level meetings between the neighbouring countries involved detailed discussions on cross-border terrorism. Home Minister Shivraj Patil explained the areas of interest for India to his Myanmarese counterpart Major General Maung Oo during a December 21 meeting in New Delhi.
In a recent interview to a news agency, General Shankar Roy Choudhury, former Indian Army chief, opined that New Delhi must maintain diplomatic relations with Naypyidaw, and the Indian Army must develop a military-to-military relationship with Myanmar.
Talking about the Bhutan All Clear Operation, General Roy Choudhury disclosed, ?The Royal Bhutan Army cooperated and functioned with great effectiveness and efficiency against ULFA and Bodo militants? bases in Bhutan. The Indian Army did not cross the Indo-Bhutan border. As Bhutan is a sovereign country, whatever operation was carried out by the Indian Army was on the Indian side of the border.? He also added, ?Similarly as far as Myanmar is concerned, if such an agreement is arrived at, the best method would be for the Myanmar army to operate on the Myanmarese side of the border with the Indian Army operating on the Indian side of the border. And if there are coordinated operations, perhaps some effective results will be achieved. The operation will be to the benefit of both countries.?
The year 2006 was significant for the military relationship between India and Myanmar as the year witnessed all three Indian military services commanders visiting Myanmar during the year, offering military support to the junta, which had been on a buying spree of its own as the country'scoffers had been enriched by timber and energy sales to China. In addition, the President of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, also visited Myanmar during the year. Earlier the SPDC chief and Head of State, Senior General Than Shwe, visited India in 2005. The visit of General Shwe Mann, Burma'sArmy chief, in December 2006 was another example of the growing military relationship with India.
Indian Air Marshal S.P. Tyagi offered military hardware sales to Myanmar during a November visit. The package reportedly included helicopters and radar manufactured by Bharat Heavy Electricals. The Indian Air Force chief also offered them India-made advanced light helicopters that would be useful for combating insurgent groups in their country. Prior to Tyagi, the Army Chief of India, General J.J. Singh was in Myanmar'scapital to offer special package for training to the Myanmarese forces engaged in counter insurgency campaigns. Earlier the Indian Navy chief, Admiral Arun Prakash was also in Myanmar to discuss about military help to SPDC.
Though Myanmar has been identified as one of the prime sources of trouble in the northeast, as the recent ULFA violence is traced back to terrorist camps located in the Kachin province of the country, there are observers with another point of view. Sreeram Chaulia, a New York-based researcher on world affairs, argued that the SPDC leaders had been using the menace of ULFA as a bargaining chip against New Delhi, while the civil societies of India continued supporting Aung San Suu Kyi'spro-democracy movement.
?The military rulers keep on trying to prove its usefulness to India by occasionally cracking the whip on ULFA and NSCN (Khaplang-led faction, which is ULFA'smentor in Myanmar) while not entirely smashing their hideouts on Myanmarese soil,? claimed Sreeram Chaulia, who does not subscribe to the idea of enhancing the military relationship with SPDC by India.
Rather he argued, ?For over a decade, India has been betting on the wrong horse in Myanmar. If New Delhi hopes to counter Chinese influence in Yangon (Naypyidaw) and defeat ULFA, democracy in Myanmar is the only honourable and pragmatic solution.?