India’s central government has made a major push for development in the North East. In the past several months the region is being pitched in various internal and external forums as the next destination for growth given the rich resources physical as well as socio cultural.
Many foreign governments have shown interest in investments in the North East led by Japan.
Tokyo is a conservative investor despite which multiple projects have been lined up in the region and Japanese diplomats have been making several visits.
Instability in Myanmar may however impact security in the North East, even though the portends are not grave for now but need to be watched closely.
For one geographically Myanmar provides land connectivity to South East Asia and is thus the bridge for India’s Act East policy. Until there is peace in that country the quest for the land bridge will remain unfulfilled.
Even the high profile Kaladan Multi Modal project which is essentially on the periphery in the Western coastal zone is also awaiting completion with deadlines being pushed forward each year.
As identified in a report by us in the past, “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”.
Exploiting North East Groups in Myanmar
Now a report in Nikkei Asia which has been carried by several media outlets denotes presence of the Meitei group, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Eastern Command of the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) which is collaborating with the Tatmadaw or Myanmar Army in putting down the Chin rebellion.
In turn the Chin groups are determined to fight the ZRA and the PLA along with the Myanmar Military.
The resistance groups are being proactive and it is reported that 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 PLA.
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.
North East Insurgent Collective in Myanmar
The use of the North East groups which have sanctuaries in Myanmar for fighting the People’s Democratic Forces (PDF) the main resistance militias by the Tatmadaw will be with an assurance of support to these against the Indian state.
Apart from the 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 have a base in Myanmar.
The collective capacity of these groups whose strength is estimated to be 3000 to create mayhem across in the North East may be limited for now but given an assured, yet officially deniable support by Myanmar these could assume a dangerous dimension even though public support to these groups in the region is very limited.
Importantly, Sagaing Region and Chin State which border India are in the front lines of resistance to the military coup in that country and have reported high levels of violence.
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.
Another though less menacing dimension is that of the Chin refugees in Mizoram. Mizoram is issuing identity cards to nearly 30,000 refugees from Myanmar who have fled military rule. “These are temporary identity cards that include the name, age, place of origin and their current residence. We have issued the cards for the safety of the refugees as well as easier identification,” Mizoram’s home affairs minister Lalchamliana told the Indian Express.
The present state of violence in Myanmar denotes that stability and security in the country is unlikely in the short term. While the Tatmadaw has granted amnesty to the PDF recently only a handful accepted amongst the estimated 250 plus local groups.
India’s negotiating leverage with the State Administrative Council (SAC) as the military’s administrative arm is known in Myanmar is hampered by constraints of international and regional pressure.
Under the circumstances Myanmar Army could turn a blind eye to rising profile of North East groups in the Sagaing and Chin belt as a quid pro quo for their support to counter the internal rebellion which needs to be watched out.