Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is in Myanmar for the first high-level Indian visit since Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League took power. The visit comes just as Indians have been served an unpleasant reminder that Nagaland’s long insurgency, an historic peace deal signed last year notwithstanding, is still underway. Last week, Indian troops staged a cross-border strike on a military outpost of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim’s S.S. Khaplang-led faction — part of a process of retaliation for the killings, in May, of six Indian soldiers by the insurgent group. Low-level cross-border attacks like these have taken place for decades, but in 2015, New Delhi had hyped one such cross-border strike, carried out in the wake of a murderous ambush that claimed the lives of 18 Indian soldiers. Learning from experience that chest-thumping doesn’t serve its interests, New Delhi has now asserted its forces didn’t cross the border — a claim that Myanmar, ever sensitive on sovereignty issues, has been quick to endorse. The truth, however, is that both countries have a shared interest in seeing an end to the insurgency, and its undertow of gangsterism, extortion and drug-trafficking.
Swaraj’s agenda is a broad one: Her meetings with Myanmar’s new president, U Htin Kyaw, as well as Aung San Suu Kyi herself, span everything from the upcoming BRICS summit to regional economic cooperation. It is to be hoped, though, that the external affairs minister will take the time to discuss what can be done to push forward on containing the threat from Khaplang’s insurgents.
The problem isn’t easy to solve. Khaplang is a partner in Myanmar’s own peace talks with its ethnic groups, but sees no interest in a peace deal that confines him to that country alone, leaving out Konyak Nagas on the Indian side of the border. He has no equities, either, in India’s pursuit of peace with the rival NSCN faction led by Thuingaleng Muivah, representing, in the main, Tangkhul Nagas. In a purely tactical sense, it is thus logical for Khaplang to use violence to disrupt the peace process, in the hope of securing a better deal from the two governments. Myanmar is best positioned, though, to pressure Khaplang to take what is on offer — and Swaraj should use the
opportunity to impress on her hosts that doing so would bring peace and stability to both sides of the border.