It would be prudent to establish a joint working mechanism with Myanmar at the diplomatic and military levels for managing the borders - unless we want China to keep winning.
India has conveyed to Myanmar on December 6 its security concerns, especially the challenges along the border, including that of refugee flow, in the backdrop of fighting between government forces and the anti-junta groups. Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the issue figured in India-Myanmar foreign office consultations in New Delhi. Fighting near the Indo-Myanmar border has triggered an influx of Myanmar refugees into the northeast Indian state of Mizoram. Bagchi said, “We discussed the full range of security concerns, particularly challenges faced on the border, including refugee flows. On a larger perspective, we have always been encouraging peace there or a return to democracy.”
Myanmar has been witnessing widespread protests demanding restoration of democracy since the military seized power in February 2021. The military has been using airstrikes targeting opponents and those carrying out armed struggle against the regime. According to the UN, over 26,000 people from Myanmar’s Rakhine State have been displaced since November 20, 2023 and around 5000 from Myanmar have entered Mizoram following fresh air strikes by the Myanmar Army in supposedly rebel areas bordering India. Some Myanmar military personnel who entered Mizoram have been sent back through another route.
Manipur situation remains concerning
The situation in India’s Manipur state has gone well past simple Meitei (Hindu)-Kuki Zo (Christian) ethnic hostility to well-armed factions on both sides, including terrorist organizations like KYKL (Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup) and ZRA (Zomi Revolutionary Army). Manipur is in two halves now – Imphal Valley with the Meitei and the tribals in the hills. The ongoing violence has already claimed over 190 lives with over 60,000 displaced.
A significant event happened in June which was deliberately not covered by the Manipur media. Based on specific information, an Indian Army column captured 12 armed KYKL terrorists in Manipur on June 24, 2023, including self-styled Lt Col Moirangthem Tamba alias Uttam who had masterminded the KYKL ambush on a convoy of an infantry battalion on June 4, 2015, in which 18 army personnel were killed. However, a 1000-plus mob, mostly women, led by Manipur MLA Thaounaojam Shyamkumar Singh forced the infantry column to hand back these 12 terrorists. KYKL is a Meitei organization. No action has been taken against this politician, which indicates the suspected Centre-State nexus to use these terrorists for ethnic cleansing of Kuki-Zo.
On November 29, Home Minister Amit Shah announced the signing of a “peace agreement” with the UNLF (United National Liberation Front) of Manipur and the surrender of arms by them. But on December 2, the Central Committee of UNLF issued a press release saying the Centre had signed a deal with Pambei Group (breakaway group of UNLF) and that the deal was only a “peace agreement” not a peace deal (https://raksha-anirveda.com/peace-deal-with-unlf/).
On December 5, the media reported that 13 people were killed in a gunfight between two groups in Manipur’s Tengnoupal District. According to sources on the ground, these 13 were “armed” cadres of the UNLF’s breakaway Pambei Group who attacked Kuki-Zo. The National Human Rights Commission has reportedly taken up the issue.
On December 15, the Indian Air Force airlifted 64 bodies of tribal victims of ethnic violence since May 2023 in Manipur to their native places. Airlifting was made possible by the Supreme Court's directive to the state. The irony is if relatives went to collect the dead bodies, they too would have been killed. These 64 were part of the 88 identified but unclaimed bodies of victims. Finally, on December 20, mass burial was held for 87 tribal victims, including a one-month-old baby, a 86-year-old man and eight women, in Churachandpur district.
All along the news has been of Manipur refugees coming into Mizoram. But now suddenly Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh says 6,000 Myanmarese refugees have entered Manipur and more are likely to come. Whether the visuals in media are of the already over 60,000 displaced is not known but it does indicate the quality of border management. Also, despite the entire political din over Rohingya refugees, not even 60 have been deported to Myanmar over the last nine years, and none to Bangladesh.
Fallout of Myanmar instability
There is little doubt that large part of the instability in Myanmar is because of the harsh sanctions led by the US and the support to anti-junta groups and terrorist organizations – a policy akin to using Al Qaeda and ISIS as proxies (https://x.com/kibosilee/status/1736474146907754607?t=TPX-EMzXgkmzHzDCCLgEfQ&s=08).
Looking at the conditions within Myanmar, India asking for a ceasefire and return to democracy is as useless as the UN and the Pope asking for a ceasefire in Gaza, WHO deploring Israel for bombing hospitals, and the collective West protesting the arrest of Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong.
Thailand has a similar problem along its border with Myanmar (91,337 Myanmar refugees across Thailand as per UNHCR) but Thailand and Myanmar are working jointly to address the problem. By using the KYKL and UNLF’s Pambei Group cadres in Manipur, India appears to be using terrorists like the US, albeit ironically within the country.
The recent abduction and killing of an Arunachal Pradesh BJP leader Yumsem Matey by the NSCN (Khaplang) cadres near the India-Myanmar border indicate other forces are coming into play. It would be prudent to establish a joint working mechanism with Myanmar at the diplomatic and military levels for managing the borders - unless we want China to keep winning.
(The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views are personal)