By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
Para Commandos of the Indian army have carried out two surgical operations deep inside Myanmar crossing from border points in Nagaland and Manipur in the early hours of Tuesday, killing scores of NSCN (K) insurgents supposedly in retaliation for the killing of 30 some Indian soldiers in recent weeks.
India and Myanmar reportedly has an agreement to allow their respective soldiers into each other’s countries for anti-terrorist operations with prior consent. In this instance, consent does not seem to have been requested nor granted. Indian Army Major General Ranbir Singh in a post operation briefing has hinted that it had been a unilateral operation. The two operations supposedly began at 3 am. By the time the Indian Ambassador informed the Myanmar Foreign Ministry when offices opened on Tuesday morning, the operation which lasted 13 hours was well under way. An Army statement states, “while ensuring peace and tranquillity along the border and in the border states, any threat to our security, safety and national integrity will meet a firm response,” implying India’s willingness to take the fight into any state it suspects of harbouring terrorists. Announcing the success of the operation, India has stated it was not a one-off operation, a clear indication that international borders and international law had no place in India’s new strategy to fight terrorism and India will not honour such obligations.
This operation is an emphatic statement by the current Indian government it will hunt down terrorists both in India and elsewhere. India’s Minister for state for Information & Broadcasting has confirmed that the operation was sanctioned by PM Modi and attacks on Indians whether in Iraq, Yemen or elsewhere will not be tolerated. He has further stated “this is a message to neighbours who harbour terrorists”, a clear warning to India’s neighbours.
This is the first instance since independence, India has overtly used the doctrine of sending its forces to other countries across international borders to hunt down terrorists, hitherto practised only by USA. However, some covert operations are known to have been undertaken by the India Army in neighbouring countries.
India has a track record of aiding and abating terrorists in neighbouring countries namely in former East Pakistan and Sri Lanka, besides meddling in internal affairs of countries such as Nepal and Sikkim which was annexed in 1975 thanks to a plebiscite held while the Chogyal was under siege by the Indian Army in his Palace. It has also gone to war with Pakistan thrice and with China once since independence. Its involvement in East Pakistan in 1970 was justified on grounds of 10 million refugees who poured into India. The involvement in Sri Lanka was officially attributed to a hundred thousand refugees who fled to South India subsequent to the riots in 1983. However, the critical factors though not publicly admitted were Sri Lanka’s ill- advised dalliance with USA and Israel during 1980s and the need to pacify politicians in Tamil Nadu in order to garner their support for coalition governments in the centre.
In a manner of speaking, the shoe is on the other foot. India is now at the receiving end of terrorism within its own borders. It is not the first time India has been faced with such a situation. However, terrorism in India in the past has been of relatively low intensity, the two exceptions being with Sikh Leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers which was brought to an end by the Indian army in 1984 and the recent terror attack in Mumbai in 2008 by members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic militant organization supported by Pakistan’s ISI.
We have a unique situation in Sri Lanka of terrorists who commenced their campaign with the killing of 16 government soldiers in July 1983 and thousands thereafter being housed, trained, funded and equipped for decades by India who thirty two years later has sent in its Army into a sovereign country in pursuit of terrorists guilty of killing 30 some Indian soldiers with total disregard to Article 2, Section 4 in the UN Charter which states “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”. Meanwhile Indian social media is awash with proud and self-congratulatory messages. There is no mention of Myanmar’s lost pride and what explanation its hapless government could give its citizens. The subject of Myanmar’s national integrity is not part of the equation.
It is indeed a difficult task to define a terrorist. While authorities the world over refer to those taking up arms against an elected government to fulfil their political aims as terrorists, some others consider them as Freedom Fighters, Liberators etc. In our own country, while the government and the Sinhalese community term the LTTE as terrorists, there are many in the Tamil community and diaspora who does not see it that way and consider the LTTE as freedom fighters even now, despite the LTTE’s defeat.
The NSCN (K) camps did not spring up overnight and have been in existence for a while. It is reported that left with no alternative in the aftermath of the foray by the Indian Army into Myanmar, the Myanmar army has begun ‘flushing out’ NSCN (K) terrorists and forcing them towards the Indian border in order to prevent future incursions by the Indian Army into their country.
It must be underlined had India undertaken a similar course of action in the 1980s, Sri Lanka and its people would have been spared decades of death, destruction and billions of dollars.
Terrorism needs to be dealt with in a decisive manner by all nations and governments the world over. The unfortunate reality is that it suits some nations to ferment and support terrorism especially in their neighbouring countries for their own selfish reasons.
What is important here is India’s new strategy in handling terrorism within its own borders. Can India justify the intrusion by its Army into an independent country violating its sovereignty on grounds of punishing terrorists who had killed some Indian soldiers? Would India permit the same privilege to one or more of its neighbours such as Pakistan with similar terrorism related problems, sharing land and sea borders which afford such groups a safe haven inside India? If that be the case, should not India admit its support for LTTE terrorists in the years gone by as the Indian Prime Minister’s open admission in Dhaka during his recent visit, of India’s open involvement against Pakistan’s territorial integrity? Or will India follow the diktat “do as we say, not as we do”?
Notwithstanding the current Indian Prime Minister’s friendly visits and goodwill gestures to neighbouring countries, India’s incursion into Myanmar is cause for serious alarm. It is a clear indication that India, when it involves its own security will act with total disregard to the interests of small neighbouring countries. Therein lies the need for a suitable counter balance – a role for which China is eminently suited similar to the role played by USA in countries located in China’s backyard. Small countries are at the mercy of hegemonistic tendencies of big and powerful countries in the neighbourhood as we have seen, may it be in the vicinity of USA, Russia, China and now India.
Any member state of EU, ASEAN and GCC are able to raise any dispute arising with another member state in their respective forums and seek redress. However, it is not the case with SAARC as we learnt in 1987 when the issue of the violation of our air space could not be raised in the SAARC summit. India insisted SAARC was a forum for multilateral and not bilateral issues. It is too late to think of SAARC without India. But it is time to think of Pakistan’s proposal to admit China into SAARC as a full member. Besides the economic benefits it would bring to the association, it would also be a good counter balance to India, the need for which is bound to grow especially in light of its new strategy.
Pakistan has a common border with India and a longstanding dispute over its alleged aiding and abating of terrorists. It must be borne in mind that unlike Sri Lanka, Nepal and Myanmar, Pakistan will not take kindly to any incursion into its territory by India in pursuit of terrorists or for whatever reason. Pakistan has already gone on record warning India of retaliation in the event of an intrusion into Pakistan similar to that of Myanmar. Both countries possess nuclear weapons and any dispute between these two countries will have an adverse and destabilizing effect in the region. It will also compel neighbouring countries to take sides which will help no one.
India’s new strategy to pre-empt terrorist threats with no respect for international borders should make South Asian leaders examine their stand point to India’s claim for a seat in the Security Council in the UN which the Indian Prime Minister touched on during his recent visit to Bangladesh. South Asian nations need to critically examine its stand point based on their different bilateral issues with India and a possible future necessity for redress through the UN on such issues. With India as a permanent member in the Security Council, let alone a resolution against India but even placing such an issue in the agenda would be still born.
During the Indian Prime Minister’s recent visit to Sri Lanka, much was said of our common bonds and the gift of Buddhism given to Sri Lanka by India. However, when it comes to affairs of state and security, common bonds tend to take a back seat. It is fire power that comes to the fore as we experienced first-hand on 4 June 1987. What the smaller and less powerful nations around India need to understand is that despite all the bluster of friendship and financial aid extended, its track record from 1947 till last Tuesday is clear proof that India could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
A country does not achieve greatness though fire power nor by muscling its way through smaller countries. It does so through understanding, magnanimity, mutual respect and peaceful co-existence with its neighbours, especially small neighbours. It is a department in which India has performed poorly.
To conclude, it would be pertinent to narrate an incident which took place in 1961 when India opted for a military solution to take Goa from Portugal by force rather than a negotiated settlement as advocated by the UN and the west. India had previously been lecturing the world about the virtues of nonviolence. American President John Kennedy told the Indian Ambassador to USA, “You spend the last fifteen years preaching morality to us, and then you go ahead and act the way any normal country would behave. People are saying the preacher has been caught coming out of the brothel.”