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Keep the guard up

Securing the Indo-Myanmar border is a crucial step in tackling insurgency. Sanjib Baruah writes.

india Updated: Dec 30, 2012 22:37 IST
Sanjib Baruah

Despite demands from security agencies to mount an effective border security grid along the 1,640-km-long Indo-Myanmar border, the proposal still hangs fire, resulting in an ineffectual model for countering insurgency in this volatile region.

Most North-east militant groups from Assam, Manipur and Nagaland have well-established set-ups and training camps just 30-50 km from the Indian border in Myanmar.

"The issue of deploying a paramilitary force other than the Assam Rifles along the Indo-Myanmar border and using the Assam Rifles to focus just on counter-insurgency operations has continuously been raised in the annual Directors General of Police conferences over the past three years. Yet we don't have a security grid in place in one of the most dangerous fronts," said a senior government security official.

"New Delhi's Kashmir-centric government security apparatus has failed to adequately acknowledge that the lack of a secure border with Myanmar has contributed immensely to North-east insurgency."

This particular belt along the border is in close proximity to the Golden Triangle area, an infamous hub for illegal narcotic drugs of every hue, including increasingly popular synthetic drugs, from where consignments are sent worldwide. Huge swathes in poppy cultivation exist in these remote stretches that are heavily forested with very rough terrain.

The other business activity in this lawless stretch is a flourishing weapons trade sourced from clandestine markets in Thailand, Myanmar and China. The weapons range from World War 2 vintage rifles to ultra-sophisticated ones. This has resulted in an assured supply of arms for insurgents in North-east India as well as Kachin, Karen, Shan and Naga rebels in Myanmar. The movement of militants laden with weapons and ammunition across borders is a widely acknowledged phenomenon.

Till the early 1990s, not much cooperation was elicited from the Myanmarese authorities because of India's pronounced slant towards the pro-democratic forces in that country. That policy underwent a change, leading to diplomatic engagements with that country's military junta so as to enlist their help in curbing North-east militancy. But realisation is slowly dawning on New Delhi that Myanmar's hands are tied because of domestic compulsions.

The 46 battalion-strong Assam Rifles is the designated force to maintain watch over the Indo-Myanmar border but it is not posted on the turbulent line, rather its stations are located far away, making the border porous and vulnerable.

Top sources say that the force has been averse to moving out to the border without infrastructural support. It has placed requests for infrastructure upgrade along the Indo-Myanmar border in the form of helipads and road connectivity. While the home ministry is keen on assigning the task of manning this border to another paramilitary force so that the Assam Rifles can focus on counter-insurgency operations in the region, this move is being opposed by the defence ministry. This is being increasingly seen in security circles as a turf war between the home and defence ministries.

The Assam Rifles itself is an odd entity. The Union home ministry finances it through budgetary grants while the operational control lies with the defence ministry. All officers from the company commander upwards are army personnel on deputation. All this while, police chiefs of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland, bordering Myanmar, have given the green signal for the proposed change of guard in what can be arguably termed the most dangerous frontier in India.