Renewed Indian Pressures on Opposition Groups Feared as Burma Prepares for Polls
23 March 2010: Fear that India may be putting renewed pressures on Burma’s ethnic opposition groups operating along its international borders with Burma, notably the Chin National Front (CNF), is creeping back following fresh high-level talks between the Indian government and the military junta in January.
During a three-day visit to the junta’s new administrative capital Naypyidaw January 19-21, Indian Home Secretary G K Pillai had pressed for the eviction of Indian northeast rebels operating from across the border on Burmese soils. Pillai told reporters on February 28 that India and Burma have agreed to conduct a coordinated military campaign to flush out northeast militant camps inside Burma.
India-based Burma’s pro-democracy groups are already feeling the pressures although the Indian government has made no public move to carry out similar operations against opposition groups within its soils. But pro-democracy groups and observers alike believe that such actions are imminent given the nature of cross-border security agreements between the two nations.
“There have been no public pressures from India yet. But given that India-Burma bilateral ties are based on a give-and-take relationship, we have valid reasons to be concerned for our security,” says Paul Sitha, General Secretary of the Chin National Front.
In 2005, at the request of the military regime, Indian security forces stormed Camp Victoria, the base camp of the Chin National Front and its armed wing Chin National Army. The incident ended without bloodshed when the CNA members quietly abandoned their position prior to the crackdown. The CNF commemorated its 22nd founding anniversary this week with renewed call on India to exercise restraint.
Observers see the repeat of such a scenario especially in light of the pre-election atmospheres in Burma in which the military junta is actively seeking to annihilate the ethnic armed opposition groups before the planned elections.
Even some of the largest ethnic armies that have maintained a cease-fire agreement with the regime are bracing for new military offensives from Naypyidaw as they find it difficult to accept arbitrary terms set by the junta in violation of the existing cease-fire arrangement. These terms include the requirement that all the cease-fire groups submit to the demands of the junta within a tight time-frame so that they can be regularized under the command of the Burma Army as “Border Guard Forces.” The New Mon State Party (NMSP), for example, is reportedly relocating its weaponry in anticipation of new attacks from the Burma Army. The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), one of the largest standing ethnic army with cease-fire arrangement with the junta is also preparing for the worst case scenario: a return to civil war.
Look East Policy
India’s look east policy is premised on the belief that building strategic and economic relationship with its Southeast Asian neighbors would benefit India’s long-term national interests. The goal is to counter-balance Chin’s growing influence in the region. However, Burma, as its immediate neighbor to the east, represents the first hurdle in reaching out to countries in the region. Although initially supporting Burma’s pro-democracy movement, India made a policy U-turn in 1993 by seeking closer bilateral relationship with Burma’s military regime and closely cooperating with the regime on security, trade and other issues ever since.
Principle over Short-term Interests
Since 1993, not only has India maintained utter silence or uncritical stance on Burma the issue of human rights and democracy, it has been providing military and financial supports to the military regime. Critics say India has sacrificed its moral authority as the world’s largest democracy over short term interests. Justifying its national security interests in supporting the military regime, India has gone so far as to try to silence Burma’s opposition groups operating within its territory. A case in point is the military crackdown undertaken by India in 2005 against members of the Chin National Front. Some critics even point out that India’s failed attempt at securing a permanent seat in United Nations Security Council was “deserved,” in light of New Delhi’s unprincipled position with regards to Burma.