GAD

Global Affairs Desk

Tue Jun 18 2024

India-Myanmar Border Issues

~ By Aarush Joshi on 2/22/2024

India-Myanmar Border Issues

The security situation in Myanmar remains tense. Taking into consideration the ongoing security situation, India’s Ministry of External Affairs advised Indians not to travel to the Rakhine state. The Ministry also advised Indians living in the Rakhine to immediately leave the state.

The MEA, in an official release, said, “Given the deteriorating security situation, disruption of means of telecommunications, including landlines, and severe scarcity of essential commodities, all Indian citizens are advised not to travel to the Rakhine state of Myanmar Those Indian citizens who are already in Rakhine state are advised to leave the state immediately.” This statement by the MEA comes following India’s concerns that were raised over the deteriorating situation in Myanmar. This crisis was also mentioned in the MEA’s weekly press briefing where it urged for the “complete secession” of violence and Myanmar’s transition to a federal democracy. Further, MEA added that it was concerned about developments along the Myanmar border where the junta has taken a back seat owing to a concerted offensive by resistance forces, and said the security situation will impact the Indian consulate in Sittwe.

The Government of India has decided to immediately suspend the Free Movement Regime for people living along the India-Myanmar border, following an earlier decision to completely fence the 1,643-kilometre-long border. The decisions were made after thousands of citizens from Myanmar, including military personnel, entered Manipur and Mizoram to escape the fighting in recent weeks.

Characteristics of the India-Myanmar border issue

Security challenges along the India-Myanmar border are primarily non-conventional in nature. These include issues such as cross-border movement of insurgents, trafficking of narcotics and drugs, gunrunning, smuggling of wildlife, essentials and even more. The vulnerability of the India-Myanmar border to these threats and challenges is primarily due to the nature and location of the border. The international boundary between India and Myanmar has been mapped out in the India–Burma Boundary Agreement of March 10, 1967, except for the northern tri-junction between India, Myanmar and China, which is a pending resolution of the India-China border dispute. The dispute over the location of the nine pillars along the international border in the Manipur sector remains unresolved. The unresolved border stretch did not pose any major problem between the two countries in the initial years as large portions along the international border remained un-administered and both, India and Myanmar were occupied with addressing other internal problems in their respective countries.

The terrain along the 1,643-kilometre-long India-Myanmar Border has since the 1950s been a scene of ethno-nationalist-driven, low intensity conflict, posing a hindrance to the state-to-state relationship. Stealthy cooperation between the two countries to combat transnational militant groups and Burmese attempts at reducing India-hostile militants has faired poorly. The relationship between the two countries has been characterised by distrust and disengagement. In early 2017, Indian Assamese Police forces assumed that 2,500 Indian militants were residing in sanctuaries in Myanmar. To complicate the issue further, the Burmese have a ceasefire agreement with militants that actively launch cross-border attacks into Indian territory, which were once a shared security threat. On its side, India no longer seems to host anti-Burmese militants. In recent years, a spirit of cooperation has emerged as a prominent feature in Indo-Burmese counter-militancy operations for the first time. In the past, the two states signed comprehensive cooperative agreements on intelligence, and border patrolling, as well as initiated exchange programs and joint exercises on counter-militancy.

Threats and Challenges along the India-Myanmar Border

Moving from a generic exercise at analysing the threats and challenges to developing a more nuanced understanding of the same. There are primarily four main concerns that keep the border engaged at all times, posing a challenge to New Delhi and Naypyidaw in developing a more healthy and robust relationship.

Trafficking of Narcotics and Drugs

Trafficking of narcotics and drugs is a rampant issue along the India-Myanmar border. Since Myanmar lies along the route of the ‘Golden Triangle’, it remains the second largest illicit producer of opium in the world after Afghanistan. The bulk of the heroin (80-85 per cent) produced in the region is trans-shipped to the international market through the Myanmar-Thailand and Myanmar-China routes. However, a small portion of it enters India through the porous India-Myanmar border. However, the fact that officials continue to seize consignments of heroin in Guwahati and other Indian cities indicates an increasing trend along the international border. A rise in the smuggling of psychotropic drugs has also been witnessed.

Heroin and ATS produced in the ‘Golden Triangle’, especially in Myanmar are trafficked into India through Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland from Bhamo, Lashio and Mandalay. The route from Mandalay that continues to Monya and Kalewa and then bifurcates to enter India at two points is of utmost importance. The first moves northwards, entering Moreh in Manipur through Tamu and travels to Imphal and Kohima. The second tranche moves southwards and enters Champai in Mizoram through Rihkhwadar. Moreh, Champai, Dimapur and Guwahati have become hubs for narco-trafficking of precursor chemicals from India to Myanmar also takes place through the same route. Also, Ephedrine is diverted from factories in South India to Kolkata and Guwahati from where they are trafficked to Myanmar overland. In addition, Opium produced illicitly along the India-Myanmar border, especially in Manipur and Mizoram is reported transported to Myanmar and the drugs are again trafficked to India.

Gunrunning

While militancy requires funds, support and infrastructure, weapons and ammunition are vital for the sustenance of the military. A crucial aspect for the military to threaten the state and challenge public order is to maintain a steady flow of weapons. The Northeast insurgent groups have been able to acquire weapons easily from numerous sources. Initially, they received weapons from China and Pakistan as well as from other Myanmar-based insurgent groups. In later years, the Indian insurgent groups were able to access the covert arms markets of Southeast Asia with the help of the KIA and Karen National Union (KNU). However, in the late 1990s, the Yunnan mafia, having access to the Chinese state-run ordinance factories, emerged as another source of weapons for the insurgent groups. Lately, the Myanmar-based rebel group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) has become the ‘principle’ supplier of Chinese arms to the Northeast insurgents.

The bulk of the ammunition is purchased from black markets in Thailand and Cambodia and then shipped through the Andaman Sea to the Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, and thereafter to other parts of the Northeast through the India-Bangladesh border. Some of the arms and ammunition are also smuggled overland through the India-Myanmar border with the help of Chin and Arkanese insurgents. Weapons produced in China are directed across the Myanmar border at Ruili and then via Lashio, Mandalay and Monywa to enter the Indian border through Phek, Chandel, Churachadpur and Champai. In recent years, Mizoram has emerged as the most preferred route through which weapons are smuggled into the North-east. One of the reasons for this is that the state has remained peaceful for decades with no militant movements, resulting in the surveillance along the border being relaxed as compared to other states along the international border.

Smuggling across the border

Smuggling of essential items, including forest products is quite rampant along the India-Myanmar Border. It has also been observed that the opening of border trade routes has resulted in large-scale smuggling of contraband through the trading posts. At the Zokhawthar land customs station, between 2009 and 2013, a total of 106 cases of smuggling amounting to Rs. 2.1 crore had been detected. Ready-made garments, foreign liquor, footwear, electronic items etc. are some of the items which are smuggled through Zokhawthar. The enormity of the volume of the smuggled items can be ascertained from the fact that numerous retail shops in Aizawl, selling these smuggled items have sprung up and are doing brisk business.

Wildlife products such as rhino horns, tiger teeth and other herbs and plants are also smuggled through the border for the markets of Southeast Asia where there is a huge demand for these products as ingredients for traditional medicines. For instance, the horns collected from poached rhinos in Assam reach Dimapur from where they are sent to international markets through the India–Myanmar border.

The Union Home Minister Amit Shah, as a means of response, said earlier that the government has decided to construct a fence along the long and porous border. “Of the total border length, a 10 km stretch in Moreh, Manipur, has already been fenced. Two pilot projects to create a fence using a Hybrid Surveillance System (HSS) are under execution. They will fence a stretch of 1 km each in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.” Further, fencing covering 20km in Manipur has also been approved.

Amit Shah made a similar statement on January 20 in Assam. He said that the government is reconsidering India’s Free Movement Regime (FMG) agreement with Myanmar that will soon end free movement to India.

Fencing the border will end the Free Movement Regime. Under this, every member of the hill tribes, who is either a citizen of India or a citizen of Myanmar, who resides within 16 kilometres of the border can cross the border upon producing a border pass that is usually valid for a year and can stay up to two weeks per visit.

The Manipur Chief Minister has attributed the ethnic violence in the State that has claimed around 200 lives since May 2023. The Manipur government has already suspended the FMR in 2020, post the COVID-19 pandemic. On September 23 previous year, the Chief Minister urged the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to cancel the FMR along the India-Myanmar border.

This move by the government underscores the government's resolve to fortify India’s borders and ensure the security and integrity of the nation, by curbing the inflow of illegal immigrants and illicit drugs into the country and secure the integrity of the nation by fortifying it against the hoes of the nation.

References:
1. Pushpita Das (2019). Security Challenges and the Management of India-Myanmar Border. idsa.in (Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis)
2. Modi Govt. decides to construct a fence along 1,643 kilometre-long Myanmar border (2024). Timesofindia.indiatimes.com
3. Vijaita Singh (2024). Govt. will fence entire border with Myanmar. thehindu.com
4. India to fence Indo-Myanmar border, says Amit Shah (2024). livemint.com

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