After the Naga leader's death, Chinese intelligence may ensure ULFA terrorist Paresh Barua takes over as leader of the anti-India rebel groups operating out of Myanmar, says Nitin A Gokhale.
Indian intelligence officials, with the active help of the Myanmar army, are keeping a close watch on the funeral of veteran Naga insurgent leader S S Khaplang, left, who died on Friday, June 9, at Taga in the Sagiang division of Myanmar, top sources in India's north-east told me.
The reason: They expect Paresh Barua, the head of the recalcitrant faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom, ULFA, and Khaplang's closest ally in recent years, to try and attend the last rites of the Heimi Naga insurgent leader who had formed an anti-India alliance aided and abetted by Chinese intelligence officials since early 2010.
Barua -- who is believed to be based in Ruilli in north-east Myanmar, on the Myanmar-China border -- is apparently being assisted by Chinese intelligence operatives to reach Taga, a stronghold of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) or NSCN (K), which has been led by Khaplang since 1988.
Villages around Taga are considered more or less a 'liberated' zone where the writ of the Myanmar government or the Tatmadaw (the Myanmar armed forces) is absent.
It, however, remains to be seen if Barua makes it to the funeral.
Khaplang and he among others had formed the United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia, UNLFW, earlier this decade.
The UNLFW claimed responsibility for the June 4, 2015 ambush in Manipur that killed 20 Indian soldiers and triggered an Indian cross border raid on a common camp of the alliance near Momo and Onzia villages inside Myanmar, just four or five km from the border on June 9, 2015.
The raid carried out by the Indian Army's 21 Para Special Forces had killed at least 40 to 45 insurgents and sparked off a minor diplomatic crisis between India and Myanmar until National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Dr S Jaishankar rushed to Nai Payi Taw in the immediate aftermath of the Indian forces raid.
After the generals were mollified by the Doval-Jaishankar duo, intelligence and military cooperation between India and Myanmar has been stepped up in the past two years.
Army chief General Bipin Rawat was the latest high ranking Indian official to have visited Myanmar this past fortnight.
Khaplang had co-founded the NSCN in 1980 with two senior comrades-in-arms, Thuingaleng Muivah and Issac Chisi Swu after they had rejected the largely farcical Shillong Accord signed in 1975 between the Indian government and the Naga insurgency leadership.
However, in 1988, Khaplang split from Muivah and Swu and formed his own faction and held sway in the Nagaland districts of Mon, Tuensang and partly Mokokchung, besides making inroads into the two eastern Arunachal districts of Tirap and Changlang.
The Issac-Muivah faction came to be known as the NSCN (I-M) since 1988 and was considered more powerful and influential.
In fact, according to one of the topmost Meitei (Manipur) insurgent leaders, Rajkumar Meghen alias Sana Yaima, leader of the UNLF (the United Nationalist Liberation Front), Khaplang and his men had almost succeeded in assassinating Muivah and Swu at a large common camp the NSCN used to share with other insurgent groups on the India-Myanmar border.
Alerted in the nick of time by their followers, Muivah, Swu and other top NSCN leaders, escaped by a whisker in the pre-dawn raid by Khaplang loyalists.
They were given shelter and protection by the UNLF, Sana Yaima had recounted to this reporter more than a decade ago.
Sana Yaima is currently in jail after he was caught in Bangladesh by Indian sleuths with the active assistance of their Bangladeshi counterparts in 2010.
With the passing away of Khaplang and Issac Swu's death in June 2016, only Th Muivah, among the most influential, second generation Naga insurgent leaders, remains active and alive.
Muivah and Swu had entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government in July-August 1997 followed by the NSCN (K) in 2001.
While the government has signed a framework agreement with the NSCN (I-M) in August 2015, Khapalang walked out of the ceasefire in early 2015 and decided to team up with the Paresh Barua faction of the ULFA and KYKL (a Manipur insurgent group).
Khapalang's death will force Barua to take on the mantle of leadership of the group in the coming weeks.
This will also mean that the Chinese, who have been supporting and facilitating Barua's movements, will consolidate their grip over this anti-India grouping currently active in three states -- Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal.
Earlier this week, an Indian Army major was killed while three ULFA cadres were eliminated in an encounter in Mon district of Nagaland bordering Myanmar.
Khaplang may have gone from the scene, but the challenge he posed to the Indian State all these years, is far from over.
Nitin A Gokhale is a well-known national security analyst and founder BharatShakti.in