Done being a soft state: Indian Army playing avenger in Myanmar is a message to China, Pakistan

The fact that Indian Army reached out across the Myanmar border (as well as into Nagaland) and attacked separatist forces in their hideouts is quite remarkable.

Rajeev Srinivasan June 10, 2015 15:33:21 IST
Done being a soft state: Indian Army playing avenger in Myanmar is a message to China, Pakistan

The fact that Indian armed forces reached out across the Myanmar border (as well as into Nagaland) and attacked separatist forces in their hideouts is quite remarkable. The fact that we think it is remarkable is even more remarkable: Because no other country has ever suffered so much by way of humiliating attacks from across international borders, and done so little about it in the past.

"Hot pursuit" is a legitimate expression of national defence, but India has never said or acted as though it had the right to act thus. There have been innumerable cases where terrorists infiltrate, cause mayhem, and then melt away across a convenient border, whereupon India bombards the neighbour with dossiers and desperate pleas, but not much more. This, of course, marks India as a classic Soft State.

The nadir of this, naturally, is the response to 26/11. It has been several years, and Pakistan has done nothing – not even lip service – to bring those responsible to justice. India has huffed and puffed and sent reams of dossiers across, but the Pakistanis, quite brazenly, allowed the masterminds to roam free. The image of a hand-wringing, impotent India hoping, in vain, that some godfather would help remains a painful memory.

Done being a soft state Indian Army playing avenger in Myanmar is a message to China Pakistan

Representational image. AFP

That the co-ordinated assault, with Myanmarese army co-operation, which reportedly killed 15-20 terrorists is laudable, although information is sketchy. I also understand there were no casualties on the Indian side. In a way, this is the soft under-belly of guerilla warfare: Unless your hosts are willing to protect you, it is easy for a conventional army to ambush you, just as much as you can do it to them.

And in this case, clearly the Myanmarese are fed up with the separatists fighting India (they have their share of violent separatists too). Either that, or the Indians applied carrot or stick, or both, to get them to co-operate. This is also a signal to China (which is widely suspected of aiding and arming the separatists) that their mischief may no longer be tolerated. Myanmar is rather pointedly moving away from China’s Dhritarashtra-aalingnam.
By co-operating with Myanmar, and presumably with Bangladesh too, it will be possible for India (and for the other two as well) to deny safe havens abroad for separatists and other terrorists who have made a habit of slipping across porous borders.

The reported story that there were no Indian casualties suggests the raid was well-planned and competently managed. That also reinforces the dictum that the Indian armed forces are competent, and that it is the lack of political will that has always defeated India’s pursuit of national strategy. Exhibit A, of course, the 93,000 Pakistani PoWs in 1971, sent back without extracting a suitable pound of flesh from their government, such as a verifiable lid on terrorism.

Incidentally, on the same day, another story broke: 12 alleged Maoists were killed in Jharkhand. If this story is as accurate as reported, then that implies the government has decided to clamp down on ongoing internal terrorism as well. It is a matter of conjecture that the Maoists may well be supported by Western interests, and, more immediately, by China.

A third, related story, is that India may well be getting berthing rights in Haiphong harbor in Vietnam, as in "Clash of Titans: India’s ‘Act East’ policy meets China’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ in the South China Sea" by Gordon C Chang in the Journal of Political Risk, quoting Srikanth Kondappalli of JNU. It should be noted that in these columns I have previously suggested an Indian Navy presence there, as well as in the giant Cam Ranh Bay naval base.

All this suggests that Narendra Modi may be willing to flex some muscles in the pursuit of geo-political aims. I read a long piece recently quoting Mackinder’s “heartland” theories, but I am personally more convinced by the rival "rimland" theories of Spykman. In the latter, the Indian Ocean, and its littoral states, will soon be a key pivot in geo-politics, which suggests that an aggressive stance on building up a blue-water navy would serve Indian interests best, and both Myanmar and Bangladesh would be useful allies, along with the littorals of the South China Sea such as Indonesia and Vietnam.

Going back to the land borders of India, hawkish analysts have always wondered about Indian pusillanimity in hot-pursuit across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. The only time there was a serious chance of an Indian assault was immediately after the Parliament attack, and the mobilization under Operation Parakram. There are indications that Pakistan was really worried about it, and that it used its coterie of moles, including leftist and/or “Faigate” types in the US, to create diversions in India, and quite successfully. But I digress.

By pursuing this surgical strike across the Myanmarese border, India is indicating that the days of turning the other cheek are over. It will use appropriate force. There was a preview of this in the withering counter-fire when Pakistanis began bombarding India a few months ago. And it’s not only Pakistan that’s on notice. China as well: because that is the proximate enemy, as in George Fernandez’s words. Enough already with the Soft State.

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