Taken by surprise in Myanmar
Published June 14, 2015 | By admin
In the past, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), or NSCN (K), had gotten away with ambushes on Indian Army personnel. But this time was different.
In April, the group had targeted a 4 Rajput Regiment convoy in Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh, killing three Army personnel and injuring four. Yet, it did not suffer any major retribution from India. Slipping away easily across a porous border into Myanmar, the group continued to plan attacks on the Army and succeeded on 4 June to inflict a major blow on the 6 Dogra Regiment, killing 18 of its personnel. Trusting earlier patterns of no targeted,
intelligence-based special operations by India, after its ambush, NSCN (K) targeted an Assam Rifles camp on 7 June at Lazu, also in Tirap district. This attack was thwarted with no casualties.
But NSCN (K) committed a fatal error during its 4 June ambush.
It quickly claimed responsibility for the attacks in the belief that Myanmar and its ungoverned border areas offered the group a safe retreat from where it could plan similar attacks in the future. The Indian military’s special operation on 9 June shattered that myth. Based on available intelligence of where NSCN (K) had established camps in Myanmar, the 21 para troopers (a special operations force) were airlifted by the Indian Air Force’s M-35 helicopters across the India-Myanmar border and succeeded in killing 22 insurgents, including those involved in the 4 June attack.
Whether S.S. Khaplang, the man after whom the group is named, has been killed or injured, we do not know yet, but several other leaders of the outfit, including self-styled finance minister Starson Lamkang who was involved in the 4 June attack, as well as other Meitei insurgents have been killed.
The element of surprise and speed were of utmost importance as any hint of the operation would have alerted the insurgents, ensuring they dispersed deeper into Myanmar’s jungles.
What does this bold operation achieve? First, it has sent a strong message to groups such as NSCN (K), the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), which had also claimed responsibility for the 4 June attack, that Myanmar does not offer a safe haven.
This would deter ambushes in the near future. Second, the operation shows that India’s efforts to ensure Myanmar’s cooperation in helping identify and root out northeast insurgent camps appears to have borne some fruit. Third, it demonstrates the importance of specialized operations, similar to the one that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011
What more needs to be done? There have been reports of telephone intercepts between China’s People’s Liberation Army officers and Khaplang by Indian intelligence sources. A former PLA colonel, Muk Yan Pau Huang, had actively helped in arming NSCN (K). Huang is credited with helping Khaplang clinch the ceasefire with the Myanmar government in April 2012. Being a former member of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), Muk Yan Pau Huang enjoys credible influence in northeast Myanmar close to the Chinese border and with the Myanmar government.
This is one of the most serious security issues India faces: the extended implicit, if not overt links, that China has with northeast insurgents, specifically the deep, long-term relationship the United Wa State Army has with China.
UWSA is the largest source of weapons for northeast insurgents, including NSCN (K). UWSA is the military wing of the United Wa State Party (UWSP) founded in 1989 with members of Wa National Council (WNC), which represents the Wa ethnic group and former members of the CPB.
UWSA declared its own Wa State Government Special Administrative Region within Myanmar on 1 January 2009, but is not recognized by the government of Myanmar. Wa territories are completely under the Chinese radar. Because of the absence of a written script, the Wa State government conducts its official activities in Chinese.
Most commodities within the Wa State are from China and the renminbi is the currency of exchange. The Chinese Phoenix TV is very popular and the cellular phone network is dominated by China Mobile. Even Chinese postal codes are used for mail delivery. For China, the links to UWSA are of prime strategic importance, even more so than the bilateral relationship with the democratizing Myanmar government.
Breaking these covert Chinese connections with insurgent groups such as UWSA, with the help of Myanmar is crucial for the long-term stability of northeast India.
In counter-insurgency situations of this nature, it is necessary to not only strengthen governance in affected areas, but also destroy sources of weapons for insurgents that are easily transported porous borders. In the coming weeks, India should be prepared for reactions from insurgents to the special operation in Myanmar.
They will be out to seek revenge, and we should be alert.Namrata Goswami is research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses