The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) played a critical role in setting the stage for Tuesday’s cross-border strikes deep inside Myanmar by securing permission, highly-placed diplomatic sources told The Indian Express. The raid, sources said, was the culmination of a decade-long — and deeply controversial — programme of secret diplomacy reaching out to Myanmar’s armed forces, facing international sanctions since a 1988 coup.
Sources said New Delhi received assent from the Myanmar government on Monday for its plan to fly in special forces to attack three insurgent camps 15-20 kilometres across the border, in the dense forests of Myanmar’s western Sagaing division.
The details of the operation were shared with Myanmar’s military by the defence attache at the Indian Embassy, Colonel Gaurav Sharma, after Ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhyay secured high-level clearance.
Earlier this year, sources said, Myanmar’s military had also responded to requests for action against the NSCN (Khaplang) faction, sending in troops to target its main base at Taga. However, the insurgents disappeared into the forests ahead of the action by Myanmar.
New Delhi’s request for action came amid reports that the NSCN(K) was providing training to a welter of Northeast insurgent groups, including Paresh Barua’s United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had raised the issue of military cooperation against insurgents during her visit to Myanmar in August 2014, and received assurances of assistance.
“In actual fact”, a senior diplomat said, “depending on the state of relations and how willing they are to cooperate for their own reasons, Myanmar has done more at times, so long as it is well handled and they are not put in an embarrassing position”.
Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s admission that India crossed the border into Myanmar, another diplomat said, “could complicate things for the government there”.
For years, Indian diplomats have been working patiently to secure Myanmar’s cooperation against Northeast insurgents — in the face of Western calls to back the democracy movement of Aung San Suu Kyi, then imprisoned by the military Junta.
India staged limited cross-border operations against Northeast insurgents in 1995, targeting a column that was taking arms from Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh through the Mizoram forests.
The Army’s 57 Division, working together with the Myanmar Army, killed 38 insurgents and arrested 118 in the course of Operation Golden Bird — named after a Grimm Brothers fairytale — that summer. But Myanmar’s Army withdrew cooperation after Suu Kyi was awarded a medal by the Indian government.
Then, in the late 1990s, India resumed cooperation with Myanmar, providing its military with badly-needed arms and equipment. In 2012, it was to emerge that India had resold 83-milimetre Carl Gustaff rocket launchers to the Myanmar military, which it used against Kachin Liberation Army insurgents. Sweden, which had sold the equipment to India, formally protested — and received an assurance that equipment would not be resold in the future.
In the years after, though, India provided a range of equipment to Myanmar’s armed forces, including four Islander maritime patrol aircraft, naval gun-boats, 105 mm light artillery guns, mortars and rifles.
The payoff from the support became evident in 2010, when the Home Ministry’s joint secretary S Singh and Myanmar Army commander for Chin state, U Nay Wing, signed an agreement that Indian forces could pursue insurgents across the border.
In May last year, Ambassador Mukhopadhyay and Major General Kyaw Nyunt, Myanmar’s Deputy Defence Minister, signed a landmark agreement on security cooperation between the two countries. The agreement provided for coordinated patrolling and intelligence sharing.
Part of the reason is that Myanmar itself has become increasingly frustrated by cross-border insurgency. In March, a Myanmar Air Force jet bombed the Chinese city of Lincang, killing four civilians.
The raid targeted insurgent leader Phone Kya Shin, who attempted to seize Laukkai, the capital of the self-administered Kokang region. Phone Kya Shin, also known as Peng Jiasheng, allegedly played a major role in drug trafficking.
Myanmar officials say former Chinese military officials are involved in training the insurgents.