Implications Of Free Movement Regime (FMR) Which Is Set To Go As India To Fence Its Border With Myanmar

Implications Of Free Movement Regime (FMR) Which Is Set To Go As India To Fence Its Border With Myanmar

A recent big offensive by three armed groups against the Myanmar military is a setback to China which had backed coup orchestrated by Army Generals in 2021.

KS TomarUpdated: Sunday, January 28, 2024, 10:45 PM IST
Implications Of Free Movement Regime (FMR) Which Is Set To Go As India To Fence Its Border With Myanmar |

Alarmed over the influx of refugees and insurgents from across the border owing to civil war, the Indian government has decided to fence the Myanmar border to discontinue the free movement regime (FMR), as with the Bangladesh frontier.

Union home minister Amit Shah’s announcement of an advanced barbed wire fencing system along the India-Myanmar border preceded Manipur chief minister Biren Singh’s request to him in September 2023 to check infiltration of suspicious elements and refugees. Due to violence and turmoil in Myanmar, more than 6,000 refugees have taken shelter in Manipur till December last year and are being provided food by the state government. Manipur shares a 398-km border with Myanmar of which six has been fenced. Its completion will bring an end to the FMR, introduced in 1970.

Mizoram CM Opposes Border Fencing

Contrariwise, Mizoram chief minister Lalduhoma has opposed the fencing and requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi and external affairs minister S. Jaishankar not to undertake the fencing. More than 38,500 people from Myanmar have taken refuge in Mizoram since the military coup in February 2021,  which has burdened the state administration. Over 500 Myanmarese soldiers had crossed to Mizoram following the capturing of their camps by the ethnic Akram Army (AA) in the western parts of Rakhine state.

India’s northeastern states, including Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, share 1,643 km of a porous mountainous border with Myanmar, which has created a security problem, necessitating preventive measures.

India Needs To Tackle Myanmar Crisis With A Caution

Given Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu's honeymoon with China, India needs to evolve a realistic strategic blueprint in line with the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy to save Myanmar from China’s overtures to the junta through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), besides supporting border areas rebels by brokering peace between  warring groups and army generals in this violence-plagued country.

India took a cautious stand when the army, known as Tatmadaw, engineered a coup on February 1, 2021. India had diplomatically and indirectly supported the junta, refraining from openly supporting the democratic forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi, which has now put it in a dilemma. India faces the challenge of checkmating China, which is dangerous because it supports some ethnic groups.

In this complex scenario, “OPERATION 1027” was undertaken in December 2023 by ‘The Three Brotherhood Alliance’ comprising the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, AA and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, which had shaken the junta. An offensive against the junta had dealt it a devastating blow, prompting China to support it.

‘The Three Brotherhood Alliance’ had captured key roads and military posts, hitting the cash-strapped junta's revenues and obstructing troop movements. Reports from the conflict zone suggested that the surprise attacks on the Shan state were followed by the AA opening a front against the army in its base in Rakhine state on the west coast. It was a coordinated attempt by insurgents spilling over to Kayah state bordering Thailand to the east and the Sagaing region and Chin State, bordering India. It was in violation of a ceasefire in force between the armed groups and the junta over a year.

The bold move threatens the military’s control over crucial trade routes to China thereby hitting its interests. It was a welcome step for China when the army led by Min Aung Hlaing dethroned the elected government, but now the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, thereby challenging the junta.

The Brotherhood’s May Be The Junta’s Biggest Challenge

The alliance has been successful in cutting off the junta from a stretch of land which handles about 40% of bilateral border trade with China; around $1 billion of the trade comes from natural gas piped into China. The fighting erupted recently in Shan, Kachin and Chin states, which are situated in the country’s north as well as in Rakhine state in the west.  Three Brotherhood fighters have claimed they have overrun dozens of military posts across the region and seized major roads leading in and out besides forcing the surrender of over 100 soldiers of the Myanmar army, demoralizing the junta. The armed groups have taken the fight to the Tatmadaw in Kayah State in the country’s east which is important to the Myanmar army.

India Requires To Rethink Its Strategy Fast

India will need to rethink its old-fashioned position towards Myanmar before the fallout threatens its interests. India feels the US should seize the moment to enhance engagement with India on Myanmar and work to alleviate the humanitarian situation thereby supporting the anti-junta forces and establish a federal democracy. India has tried to maintain equidistance between the military generals and pro-democracy political parties to ensure that the junta does not fall into China’s lap.

Chain Reaction And Junta To Hit Back

The army generals were not ready for the alliance's huge offensive, which set off a chain reaction, cornering the junta. Armed groups are reported to have taken control of fifty towns and villages and 100 posts.  Army chief Hlaing has promised to undertake a counterattack on terrorists in the north, which might expose the junta's weakness.

Armed rebellion by ethnic armed organizations has dealt a diplomatic blow to the army generals who have been exposed; China will be directly impacted. The Ukraine war had come as a blessing in disguise for the junta as the US and EU were preoccupied with it. The Hamas attack on Israel has further alienated western powers from Myanmar but the attack by armed groups may change the entire scenario. The National Unity Government (NUG) formed by opposition lawmakers in Burma is considered close to the West, which is feeling encouraged after the successful offensive by the armed groups.

China’s Peace Initiative And ‘Double Speak’

China has urged Myanmar to restore border stability even as the junta’s conflict with armed groups intensifies. Myanmar has been asked by China to ‘cooperate’ with it to maintain stability on the common borders. China’s official stand is intriguing;  “As a friendly neighbor, China sincerely hopes that Myanmar will restore stability and development as soon as possible, and supports all parties in Myanmar to properly resolve differences within the constitutional and legal framework and achieve reconciliation through dialogue.” A recent visit by assistant foreign minister Nong Rong holds significance after armed groups stepped up an offensive, which put Chinese residents and infrastructure at risk. Some former diplomats are surprised over the ‘Dual Policy’ adopted by China, which has been actively supporting the militant groups. The United Wa State Army (UWSA)  in Myanmar’s northeastern Shan state receives weapons and political sustenance from China.

Notwithstanding the claims of ‘neutrality’ in the conflict between Myanmar and ethnic groups by UWSA, China remains a major arms supplier to the insurgent forces. As per long-term strategic goals, China’s interests in Myanmar relating to ethnic conflicts in the border regions are in consonance with a well-thought game plan. China’s key geopolitical objective vis-à-vis Myanmar pertains to “border stability,” which is of paramount importance owing to strategic, security and economic reasons. Another strategic interest is access to the Indian Ocean with which Myanmar serves as a ‘land bridge.’

The China-Myanmar oil and gas pipelines, linking Myanmar’s Rakhine state to the Bay of Bengal and the Chinese Yunnan provincial capital Kunming, plays a vital role in transporting imported energy from the Bay of Bengal, Africa, West Asia, etc. to Chinese hinterlands.

The Diminishing Role Of ASEAN in the Myanmar Crisis

The Myanmar regime has rejected a five-point consensus agreement which was adopted on April 24, 2021 in Jakarta. It included halting the violence in Myanmar, a visit by a special envoy, and dialogue among all stakeholders. Military generals have opted to ignore the peace initiative of ASEAN, which is stuck. The West is pressuring ASEAN to continue to isolate Myanmar’s junta.

(Writer is political analyst and having an experience of foreign posting in a neighbouring country)


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