MANIPUR IS ON the boil with the Meiteis and the Kukis at each other’s throats. Sectarian policies adopted by the N. Biren Singh government has furthered the distrust among the two communities, leading to so many deaths and thousands being displaced from their homes. What is extremely worrying is that many people have crossed over to Myanmar.
What both the Union government and the state government have apparently not kept in mind is that there is a cross-border presence of tribal groups in Myanmar committed to carrying out acts of violence against India. Like those of Manipur origin―the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and the United National Liberation Front.
The Indian insurgents operating out of Myanmar are fully armed and materially supported by Beijing. The equipment and training being carried out by China’s proxies among Myanmar’s ethnic groups―the Wa and the Kokang.
What’s more, in strife-torn Myanmar, where the people are at war with the military junta and the Tatmadaw, large-scale engagements are taking place in the Sagaing division where the Bamar-composed People’s Defence Force (PDF) and the Kachins are fighting the Tatmadaw. Here, what should worry us is that the Tatmadaw has been utilising the services of the Indian insurgent groups like the PLA against the PDF. This has resulted in such groups being armed with more sophisticated weapons and gaining experience in tactics that they could use against India.
With an open border between India and Myanmar, that is over 1,600km long, any policy that sows distrust among the ethnicities in the northeast only results in strengthening the insurgents with more people being enabled to join their ranks.
The turmoil created by the acts of omission and commission by the state government in Manipur has gifted China another opportunity to exploit in the sensitive northeastern states.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah has spoken of fencing the border as a solution. This, even if fully implemented, would be a mere palliative. The tradition of open borders is one thing that would come in the way, then there is the disputed tri-junction that could not be fenced, and with China bent on creating mischief for India in the northeast, this would remain an area that it could continue to exploit.
One solution that is open to the Union government is for it to refrain from supporting sectarian policies being followed on its behalf by state governments, as in Manipur, to deny additional avenues to be exploited by the Chinese, in the support that they are extending to the Indian insurgent groups operating out of Myanmar. The other is to up the ante with the junta to prevent its use of these insurgent groups in the civil war that it is waging against the people of Myanmar.
Under no circumstances should Delhi ignore the fact that every opportunity created by its sectarian policies in the insurgency prone states shall be exploited by China to further its policy to pressurise and weaken India. Ladakh is not the exception but the rule. As is also what China is trying to achieve in the Chumbi Valley to threaten the Siliguri Corridor and thus further intensify its threat to India’s northeast.
Malik was ambassador to Myanmar from August 1990 to September 1992.