Beyond the raid into Myanmar

Beyond the raid into Myanmar
The media is agog with news of the recent Indian Special Forces raid against Naga insurgents, with Pakistan passing an anti-India resolution (not the first time), Myanmar denying the raid was in its territory, an Indian journalist posting fake pictures of militants killed attributing them to the Myanmar raid, and the Modi government facing flak over the manner in which this operation has been publicised. 

No doubt the raid was a sequel to the ambush on June 4 in Manipur, where 18 army personnel were martyred. Though the NSCN (K) and KYKL owned responsibility, the United Liberation Front of WSEA (West, South, East Asia) brought together in April 2015 through active involvement of Chinese Intelligence, was apparently behind it. The ISI-Let backed Islamic groups in Manipur, particularly the PULF (Peoples United Liberation Front), also supported the Manipur ambush. Significantly, various western arms mafia too have been active in Northeast, the Purulia arms drop being one such indication. Today, Myanmar is in the throes of sub-conventional conflict with both Chinese and western involvement. China has also created her deadliest proxy in Myanmar by arming the USWA (United State Wa Army) with missile fitted helicopters.

India’s riposte in striking two militant camps in Myanmar was reportedly based on credible intelligence that further attacks were planned by groups involved in the Manipur ambush. This certainly is not the first time cross-border operations have been undertaken. In all probability, the Myanmar government was informed, which they, like any other country, would deny for political reasons. Joint military operations have been conducted between the two militaries in the past. If the raid in Myanmar was without intimation, our Ambassador to Myanmar would have received a demarche and Manipur would not be preparing to flush out Naga militants towards India. Considering the terrain and the cross-border distances, the raids would have been undertaken on foot, with helicopters staging forward the force to own posts in a manner not arousing suspicions.  The army didn’t mention the number of militants killed albeit the media mentions 20-50 and even 100. Talk of a para drop at the militant camps appears to be the fantasy of journalists who conjure airborne operations, the moment there is mention of Special Forces or paratroopers.

The raid did indicate the Modi government’s resolve in dealing with cross-border terrorism. Some 1000 of 1500 NSCN (K) cadres are reportedly based in Myanmar, all told insurgent camps assessed around 61, of which 11 are reportedly NSCN. With all the hype and publicity surrounding the raid, these insurgents will now be a lot more alert. Chinese and Pakistani intelligence may even supply these outfits with air defense missiles, as China has done elsewhere. The question now is what next?  Treasonous harm to our security was done when the Army’s Technical Support Division (TSD), which had excellent capabilities of trans-border interception and facilitating covert operations, was disbanded by the previous government. 

The Myanmar border is a haven for infiltration and smuggling and the Manipur government is reportedly fully involved. Militant activities along the land borders were effectively under surveillance till the TSD was operational. Sadly, the Modi government is yet to revive the TSD despite the host of scholars and security experts urging the government to do so. The government would do well to immediately reinstate the TSD. The Prime Minister would need to overcome the politico-bureaucratic-mafia nexus and the politician lobby under ISI blackmail, having drawn sums via the hawala route (as reported by R&AW veterans) and engineering the disbanding of TSD. It sure would severely test Mr. Modi’s guts with the arms mafia funding all political parties.

The rugged Indo-Myanmar border has thick undergrowth and gaps between posts are large. Such thick undergrowth facilitates infiltration and smuggling. It would be foolish to replace Assam Rifles (AR) with the Border Security Force (BSF). Yet there is a need to plug the gaps by deploying the BSF to augment the AR. However, like AR, the BSF too should be put under command the Army to ensure unity of command, avoiding situations like in <g data-gr-id="67">Depsang</g> and Chumar where the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) continues to be directly under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The surveillance, communication interception, IED/mine detection and countermeasure capabilities of units in the Northeast must be enhanced. Presently these are far below compared to the troops deployed in Jammu and Kashmir.

Recognising the strategic value of irregular forces over other forms of conflict, China and Pakistan have joined hands to destabilise India through terrorism and fanning insurgencies. The China-ISI-Taliban-LeT nexus is targeting Afghanistan, Maldives, North India and South India. Northeast India is a strategic objective for China; to annex Arunachal Pradesh and reach out to the Indian Ocean. Tactical level raids are fine, but we need to address these issues at the strategic level. We need to control the fault-lines of our adversaries (anonymity and ambiguity being the hallmarks), rather than them controlling ours. The pursuit of idealism and inward looking policy (aided by the enemy within?) has cost us much more.  We must mix idealism with the realism of the 21st century and urgently establish credible deterrence against unconventional and proxy wars unleashed by our enemies.

The author is a veteran of the Special Forces, Indian Army
Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

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