Early this Tuesday, the Indian army carried out strikes on two rebel camps in Myanmar to avenge the deaths of at least 20 of its soldiers killed last week in an ambush on a troop convoy in north-east India. The army had carried out an extensive search involving hundreds of soldiers and helicopters to track down the rebels, who after the ambush were believed to have crossed the border into Myanmar (also known as Burma) from Manipur’s Chandel district.
A Rare Operation?
Indian army’s entry into Myanmar is being pinned down as “a very rare cross -border operation” and has sparked debates on a possible shift in India’s counter-terrorism approach. The reason for such a reaction is that the last time such an action was seen was in December 2003, when the camps of United Liberation Front of Asom and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland were raided together by Indian and Bhutanese troops. Another example of such ‘rare’ large scale action taken by the government would be Operation Golden Bird carried out 20 years ago, all along the Indo-Myanmar border wherein 40 insurgents of different north-east militant groups were killed and followed by the recovery of a huge arms haul.
Motivations for carrying out the strike
Minister of state Rajyavardhan Rathore, said that “we will not tolerate any strikes on India or Indians. We’ll always wield the initiative on either being friendly or engaging in aggressive action. We will strike at a place and at a time of our choosing”. Thus the primary objective behind the attack was to send a message, loud and clear to the militant groups in north-east India and elsewhere that if the security of Indian citizens is threatened, India will not hesitate to take swift action. Government was reluctant initially to reveal the details; earlier Mr. Rathore had simply stated that “significant casualties have been inflicted on the militants.”
Was Myanmar in the loop?
What is strange is that there is a stark difference in details released by the government and reports in large sections of the media. The Indian government claims that the operation took place “along the Indo-Myanmar border”, however the media reports based on anonymous sources claimed that the operation took place inside Myanmar without the permission of the Myanmar government. If so, it would be a violation of the 2010 agreement signed by the United Progressive Alliance ( UPA) where Indian and Myanmar officials had agreed during a meeting in Mizoram that Indian security forces could cross into Myanmar to apprehend terrorists after taking due permission from the Myanmar authorities. The government wasn’t forthright in officially acknowledging the attack. In fact, the government and the military had initially declined to identify the group that was attacked or offer details on the number of militants killed. But finally it has come out clean. Minister of state, Rajyavardhan Rathore, acknowledged that India’s Special Forces entered Myanmar for the strike to retaliate against the killing of its soldiers, adding that the “troops had gone “deep” into the neighbouring country” . An official statement from the Prime Minister though would go a long way in adding to the credibility of the government on this matter.