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Myanmar Operation: RULES OF GAME CHANGED, By Amrita Banerjee, 16 June, 2015 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 16 June 2015

Myanmar Operation


By Amrita Banerjee

(Research Scholar, JNU, New Delhi)


The news that caught the nation’s attention recently was the speed with which the Special Forces wing of the Indian Army launched a covert military offensive, allegedly conducting surgical strikes deep inside Myanmar, in response to one of the most gruesome and deadliest attack by north-east insurgents in two decades on the Indian Army in Manipur on June 4. The three insurgent groups – the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN (K)), the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) and Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) – claimed responsibility for the attack. There have been reports of the Indian intelligence carrying out successful telephone intercepts between Chinese PLA officers and Khaplang.


However, this was not the first such operation. Recall, to curb such inter-State terrorist activities from across the borders, Operation Golden Bird had been conducted along the Myanmar border in 1995 and Operation All Clear inside Bhutan in 2003. But what is different this time is the swift speed of execution of the operation along with a determined political will.


However, the operation has given rise to a fierce debate at home, i.e. whether this action was justified by means of the ‘doctrine of hot pursuit’ under international law or not. If we delve into a little bit of history, we find that the doctrine of hot pursuit owes its origin to the law of the seas, and had emerged to empower a coastal State to pursue on to the high seas a vessel that had violated its laws within its waters.


Over the years, some countries have sought to introduce an expanded doctrine of hot pursuit on land, to justify the breaches of territorial sovereignty of foreign States as part of the on-going pursuit of offenders. For instance, in 1986, South Africa sought to justify its incursions into neighbouring African States on the basis of the doctrine of hot pursuit, inviting the condemnation of the United Nations Security Council. More recently, Kenya sought to justify its military actions against Al-Shabaab militants in Somali territory on the basis of this adapted doctrine of hot pursuit, again inviting criticism from the international community.


As is explicit, the doctrine of hot pursuit is a highly controversial one and hence is generally rejected. The Myanmar Operation today is also criticised on this ground. But India’s legal position would be best served by calling this operation self-defence which has witnessed a normative evolution, particularly in relation to non-State actors, following the events of 11 September 2001.


Questions were also raised about the fact that India has breached international law as official authorities in Myanmar had not been informed about the operation. But these allegations can be conveniently side lined because the Indian Defence Ministry and the office of Myanmar’s President Thein Sein had together confirmed that the Army’s Special Forces had crossed into Myanmar to execute the operation. Also, such controversy is uncalled for because there is a treaty between the two nations from the 1990s on operations across the border in hot pursuit of the militants.


The other issue that is raised is whether the Indian Army would replicate the same in Pakistan? What one needs to bear in mind is that carrying out surgical strikes in Pakistan is a different ball game. Pakistan is an enemy nation and Myanmar is not. Sending troops to Pakistan will escalate the problem and might blow into a full-fledged war. In the case of hitting militants or terror units across the LoC, Indian forces will not be assured of support or even neutrality from the Pakistani authorities.


There are several important facets that have emerged out of this operation. First, is the issue of a marked shift in the security doctrine and the political decisiveness of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who himself had sanctioned the operation. The Army and intelligence agencies can provide the inputs and menu of options, but in the end such operations require a political call which involves substantial risks in case the operation failed. This would further strengthen Modi's no-nonsense reputation.


Second, is that this operation would give an important boost to our Armed forces and the intelligence agencies.The cross-border operation itself is significant and signals that political willingness now exists in New Delhi to pursue those that target the State even beyond India’s territorial borders. The political leadership has given the Army the necessary cover to push ahead and this is the exact way confident nations’ work.


Third, the operation underscores the importance of acquiring and sharing accurate actionable intelligence for planning and success of operations of this nature which carry high political costs. Also, it highlights the importance of joint operations not just between various defence services but also within the ambit of defence diplomacy with the defence forces of the country across the border.


Fourth, it is heartening to see the National Security Advisor and Chief of Army Staff coordinate the conduct of operations, but it should be an exception. Strategic security operations demand not only a highly integrated Defence Ministry but also coordinated ministries of Home and External Affairs. Neither political will nor military leadership can ensure success, unless a nimble higher defence management organisation with the functional and support structures for planning and execution are created.


Finally, covert operation is a deadly game of punch and counter punch. The cross-border strike has just changed the rules of the game, not ended it. The game goes on, as the solution is not military but political. Also, the military forces and the intelligence agencies should be on their toes to keep vigil and ready to respond in case any retaliation takes place from the rebel camps.


The most prominent discussion that should draw the attention of the people in context of the Myanmar Operation is not the fact about India’s capability to conduct precision strikes or engage in “hot pursuit” but to showcase how the two elected sovereign governments can simply be on the same page to effectively take on disruptive non-State actors. The other important issue that needs highlighting is about how we can maintain peace and tranquillity in our border regions by discouraging “third party” encouragement and interference through the use of non-State actors.

Shaken by this operation, the most worried State, Pakistan seemed to send feelers across the social media every now and then that it isn’t Myanmar and that any such action by the Indian army on Islamabad’s soil would invite trouble for New Delhi. To these lackadaisical statements made by the official authorities in Islamabad, one can only say that if Pakistan isn’t Myanmar, then neither is Kashmir the south of Afghanistan where it can send its armed proxies at will. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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