India, Myanmar joint military operation in Sagaing may deal crippling blow to NSCN(K), other insurgent groups in North East

Deftly sidestepping a ceasefire agreement with the NSCN (Khaplang) faction signed in April 2012, the Myanmar Army (officially known as the Tatmadaw), in close tandem with the Indian army, is executing its biggest ever assault on the Naga insurgent group in recent times, a blow from which the Naga group may find it very difficult to recoup.

The implications may be far-reaching because the NSCN (K) controlled region in Myanmar’s Sagaing Division (called Eastern Nagaland by the Nagas) is a safe sanctuary for the training camps and general headquarters of the Assam-based ULFA(I) and Manipur-based PLA and UNLF. It's from this area that these insurgents primarily come out from, conduct their operations, and move back to the safety of their camps.

 India, Myanmar joint military operation in Sagaing may deal crippling blow to NSCN(K), other insurgent groups in North East

File image of NSCN(K) cadres. Image courtesy: Rajeev Bhattacharyya)=

The Naga insurgency movement, with total sovereignty as its main demand, is also known as the 'mother of all insurgencies' in the North East India region.

It may also be a much thought-out decision on part of the Tatmadaw to move into these insurgent-controlled areas to establish firm administrative control which no doubt may have been prompted by sustained Indian pressure. India has already been aiding the vastly under-equipped Tatmadaw with small weapons including 105 mm guns and mortars for a few years now.

But most of all, the Tatmadaw’s decision has also been prompted by India’s recent proactive help in ‘obstructing’ Myanmar’s ethnic-Buddhist Arakanese rebels from entering Mizoram during the Tatmadaw’s operations. The Arakanese rebels find it much easy to maintain safe havens in Mizoram because of ethnic similarities with people living near the International Border.

The tactical military move that has virtually caught the NSCN (Khaplang) cadres as well of the other outfits unaware, and is part of a close collaborative effort between the armies of the two countries that began on a strong footing about four years back. Since then many military top-brass parleys have been a frequent affair either in New Delhi or in Naypyitaw, the capital of Myanmar.

While the Indian Army has maintained that it has entered Myanmar territory and is only maintaining a steadfast vigil at the India-Myanmar International Border to block off any fleeing insurgents, a senior security source familiar with the operation has said on condition of anonymity that Indian soldiers belonging to its special forces are also operating in tandem with the Tatmadaw’s North Western Division Command in Sagaing. The source said the ongoing operation is expected to continue for a week or so.

The NSCN (K) has an ongoing ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar government that was signed on 9 April, 2012. The pact had five main points — a general ceasefire, continuing with negotiations, allowing free movement of unarmed NSCN (K) cadres inside Myanmar, setting up of a NSCN liaison office at Khamti in Myanmar, and an understanding to allow both sides to carry weapons in certain areas.

But the latest action is being undertaken in the pretext of flushing out fighters of the ULFA (Independent), PLA and the UNLF.

The Tatmadaw’s operation began on 16 May, 2019, in areas dominated by the Konyak Naga tribe in Sagaing Division and largely focused in the Naga-dominated villages near the townships of Lahe and Nanyun. Two such villages Hoyat and Laonyu are reported to be among the main bastions of the NSCN (K).

The latest assault follows an earlier operation that took place between 29 January, 2019 and 1 February, 2019, when about 400 Tatmadaw soldiers drove into the NSCN (K) headquarters at Taga in the Hukawng valley. There too, according to the source, a small contingent of Indian soldiers from the 21 Para based in Assam’s Jorhat took part after being flown in by helicopters.

Naga organisations and associations including the NSCN (Isak Muivah), the powerful Naga Mothers Association (NMA), Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) and the Nagaland Tribes Council (NTC) have expressed their support to the Nagas in Myanmar who are bearing the brunt of the attack.

Concomitantly, the Nagaland administration has extended night curfew for three months up to 21 August, 2019, along a three-kilometre belt along the India-Myanmar border in Nagaland’s Mon district ostensibly in an effort to blockade the movement of insurgents. Largely porous, locals are also allowed to freely travel up to about 16 kilometres on either side.

A 60,000 square kilometres size area and much of a thin corridor with an average of about 50 kilomteres width, that spans about 1,300 kilometres north from across Arunachal Pradesh to the south across Manipur in length till the Chindwin river in Myanmar, is home to some of the deadliest guerrilla fighters that are divided into many groups on the basis of ethnicity, region and the language they speak.

While the other main NSCN faction — the Isak Muivah group — is negotiating with the Centre, the NSCN (K) unilaterally pulled out from a ceasefire pact with the Indian government on 27 March, 2015.

The NSCN (IM) has about 4,500 guerrilla fighters while the Khaplang faction has about 1,500 fighters. But then, the NSCN (K) does not have a regular standing army even as every citizen is expected to put in three years of mandatory service.

But judged by the intensity and the extent of the Tatmadaw’s operation, obvert and the covert support by the Indian security establishment, it does appear imminent that the insurgencies based out of the northeastern states are to suffer a serious debilitating jolt.

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Updated Date: May 23, 2019 07:14:46 IST