One year after the military coup on February 01 last year, instability in Myanmar, particularly in the Chin State and Sagaing Region bordering India is likely to create security challenges in the North East in 2022. A curious mix of factors may add to the prevalent flux in this belt including curiously possible axis between the Tatmadaw and the North East militant groups, Chin fighters targeting the Indian militants and possible inducement of China to indulge in giving a fillip to the insurgents fighting India. Each of these issues is discussed herein.
Myanmar has a 1643 kms border with India spanning Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. A Free Movement Regime (FMR) on the Indo Myanmar border permits locals on both sides to go up to 16 km across the other side and stay up to 14 days. The FMR has been suspended for the time being to prevent the flow of refugees especially the Chin State. Many North East militant groups have a sanctuary in the North East. These include the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the KanglaYawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and the People's Republican Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), Yung Aung faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K/YA) and the ULFA (I) along with a few remnants of other Naga and Meitei groups.
Given the rising flux in Myanmar, with People's Defence Forces [PDF] and ethnic armed groups actively contesting the Tatmadaw or Army the situation will impact the North East in 2022, a year ahead of the military coup. Importantly, Sagaing Region and Chin State are in the front lines of resistance to the military coup in that country and have reported high levels of violence.
Myanmar Army had destroyed some camps of militant groups of North East on its territory in the past. One such Operation Sunrise in 2019 evicted a large number of these. But with the Tatmadaw now engaged in fighting the resistance forces post the coup, there is adequate leeway to North East terrorists to regroup and return to their former bases. There are varying estimates of up to 3000 North East militants lodged in the camps in Myanmar, which were destroyed but may have been revived in the interim.
Some of these have been located in the Hoyat village in Sagaing. The return has been facilitated by the diversion of the Myanmar Army as well as perhaps also aided by it. Moreover a partnership between the Tatmadaw and some North-East groups has been reported wherein the latter have joined the fight on behalf of the military to target the PDFs and others.
Reports of Chinese intelligence agencies based in Yunnan providing tacit if not active support have been received but which need to be confirmed. China may not have previously interfered directly, but things could change amid tensions at the LAC as insurgent groups in the Northeast have Chinese links.
The Myanmar Army, on the other hand, facing a brunt of attacks from locals ranged against the coup in the country, is resorting to using the North-East groups who have sanctuaries to target the PDF who are active in the Chin State and the Sagaing Region. As a quid pro quo, it is presumed that they are being provided more arms and munitions and safety in the bases in Myanmar. This was one of the critical issues that was discussed during the visit of the Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to Myanmar recently. In response, it is believed that Myanmar Army is reported to be carrying out operations against anti-India insurgent groups. "We have received inputs that Myanmarese forces have taken action against anti-India insurgent groups, which have set up camps in Myanmar," the ANI quoted sources in the Indian government.
In another dimension, On Jan. 14 a unit of the Chin National Army (CNA), the armed wing of the Chin National Front carried out an attack in neighbouring Sagaing Region on the base of People's Liberation Army (PLA) an insurgent group based in Manipur. 10 to 20 Manipuri insurgents were killed in the engagement, which lasted several hours and left one CNA fighter dead. This was at one time believed to be an operation launched by the Indian Army but on Jan. 17 the military formally dismissed speculation that it had been involved. This may be seen as a revenge operation by the CNA to target the Tatmadaw indirectly also amidst reports that groups as the PLA were assisting the Myanmar Army in crackdown of locals in this belt. Some also saw the attack as an attempt by the CNA to win the support of the Indian forces with commonality of objective in terms of denial of sanctuaries to the North East groups.
The situation in Myanmar thus may be favourable for the re-establishment of sanctuaries by groups operating in the North East. Recent attacks in Manipur and other states are attributed to the rejuvenation of these groups. Thus Indian security establishment needs to upgrade the surveillance and security network in the North East if not already done so.