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Myanmar ops a one-off, can't expect replay on western border

By Nitin Gokhale
Last updated on: June 10, 2015 13:05 IST
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Those advocating a similar raid in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, for instance, need to have a reality check on the applicability of the same template on other borders, says Nitin Gokhale.

Image: Indian soldiers carry out search operations at the Myanmar border following the Manipur ambush by north-eastern militants. Photograph: Courtesy Indian Army.

Twenty-four hours after the Indian Army's daring raid on two insurgent camps in Myanmar, an intense debate has begun on a possible change in India's counter-terrorism approach. 

After all, such an action has not been seen in several years. The last such publicly known operation by the Indian Army in a neighbouring country was in December 2003, when camps of the United Liberation Front of Asom and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland were jointly raided by Indian and Bhutanese troops. 

A bigger action was seen exactly 20 years ago under Operation Golden Bird all along the Indo-Myanmar border in which over 40 insurgents of various north-east militant groups were killed, over 100 apprehended and a huge arms haul recovered. The Myanmar army had played a significant role in that operation launched to interdict an arms consignment that was being transported from Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh into India's north-east via Myanmar.

So what prompted the swift action?

One primary reason is being cited. The government needed to send a clear signal to north-east militants that if security forces or the civilian population is attacked, they will have to pay a heavy price. As was evident last year, ceasefire violations by Pakistan on the International Border was met with disproportionate response, sending a clear signal to Pakistan that talks and terror cannot go hand in hand. Similarly, the north-east insurgent groups needed to be neutralised before they could strike again.

By destroying two camps and inflicting heavy casualties on the insurgents (at least 50 of them are reported dead), the Indian Army has sent out a clear signal that it will go after those creating trouble in the region even if they took shelter across the border in Myanmar.

Tuesday's raid was a result of a clear political directive, excellent actionable intelligence obtained through human sources and through technical means (using drones etc) and precise planning and execution by Special Forces.

The Myanmarese army, which has an ambiguous approach towards Indian insurgent groups (sometimes they act against them, sometimes they let them be), was in the loop but was not part of the operation. As commando operations go, this was copy book.

However, there is a need to have a reality check on the applicability of the same template on other borders. For one, Myanmar is not a hostile country. For another, the border between India and Myanmar is open, porous and sparsely populated. Moreover, people on either side of the Myanmar-India border are allowed to cross into each other’s territory up to 15-20 km.

Those advocating a similar raid in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, for instance -- in case there was a similar provocation in Kashmir or elsewhere in India -- must keep these facts in mind.

The difference between India's border with Pakistan and Myanmar is as stark as chalk and cheese. So all expectations on that count must be tempered with the realisation that each incident and operation comes with a peculiar set of circumstances.

That is the biggest lesson all of us as citizens must keep in mind even as we congratulate the government for its bold and prompt action.

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Nitin Gokhale in New Delhi