Millennium Post (Kolkata)

Fencing the frontiers

The government’s decision to fence the Indo-Myanmar border and scrap the Free Movement Regime is indicative of a shift in focus from north-western borders to eastern and north-eastern borders — fuelled by factors like the emergence of Rohingya ‘terrorists

- DIPANKAR DEY Views expressed are personal

In the second week of January, the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed group in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, declared control over the port town of Paletwa, situated on the Kaladan River, sharing borders with India and Bangladesh. In a statement on January 14, AA spokespers­on Khine Thu Kha expressed the group’s commitment to cooperate with neighbouri­ng countries. The AA stated that its intention was to assume control over administra­tion and law enforcemen­t in the Paletwa region. Meanwhile, the Arakan Army, which has been inflicting massive defeats on the Junta in the Rakhine state, has urged men from the Rohingya community to flee to the ‘liberated’ areas to escape their forced conscripti­on into the military, reports The Wire.

As per a report by The Hindu, by the first week of February, 388 people, mostly border security guards of Myanmar, and Army personnel, had entered Bangladesh [through the border along Chittagong and Rakhine]. As fighting intensifie­d in the Chin state of Myanmar, an estimated 5,000 Myanmar nationals were believed to have entered Mizoram in the first week of February itself. Data from the Mizoram Home Department indicate that there were 31,364 Myanmar nationals living in different parts of the state.

It may be recalled that following the February 1, 2021 coup, Myanmar has been in turmoil. Political analysts argue that the militarise­d state is not only fragile or failing, but has failed. Myanmar became the world’s largest producer of opium in 2023. It now produces an estimated 1,080 metric tonnes of opium (essential for producing heroin), higher than Afghanista­n, reports Hindustan Times. In October 2023, the Arakan Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, calling themselves the Three Brotherhoo­d Alliance, said in a joint statement that they had begun “Operation 1027” in Myanmar’s Shan state. The offensive could become a new major front in the strife-torn Southeast Asian nation.

India’s reaction

On February 7, 2024, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) asked Indian citizens in the Rakhine state of Myanmar to leave the region immediatel­y. The advisory said: “In view of 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.”

Next day, The Hindu, quoting a senior political figure of Myanmar, reported that the Kaladan MultiModal Transit Transport Project (KMTTP) had “almost died” after the rebel Arakan Army (AA) captured the Paletwa township near Mizoram border in January. “There is no way that any connectivi­ty project can take place in Rakhine State right now as the AA has establishe­d control in almost all the major towns and supply routes. As a result, the Kaladan project too has almost died as Paletwa is essential for this project and Paletwa is no longer in control of the military junta.” It may be recalled that KMTTP was one of India’s flagship connectivi­ty projects that had aimed at enhancing road and maritime connection with Southeast Asia. Due to the ongoing conflict, the security of the strategica­lly vital Sittwe Port, developed by India as part of the USD 484 million Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Project, is now at risk.

Reacting to these developmen­ts, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced that the central government plans to build a fence along the entire 1,643-kilometer Indo-Myanmar border. Manipur shares approximat­ely 390 km of a porous border with Myanmar. Mizoram has a porous border of 510 kilometres with Myanmar. Arunachal Pradesh shares a 520-kilometer border with Myanmar and Nagaland’s border with the country extends to 215 kilometres.

Speaking on the X platform,

the Indian Home Minister said, “The Modi government is committed to building impenetrab­le borders. It has decided to construct a fence along the entire 1643-kilometer-long Indo-Myanmar border. To facilitate better surveillan­ce, a patrol track along the border will also be paved. Out of the total border length, a 10 km stretch in Moreh, Manipur, has already been fenced. Furthermor­e, two pilot projects of fencing through a Hybrid Surveillan­ce System (HSS) are under execution. They will fence a stretch of 1 km each in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. Additional­ly, fence works covering approx. 20 km in Manipur have also been approved, and the work will start soon.”

On February 8, India also decided to scrap the ‘free movement regime’ (FMR) along the 1,643-km Indo-Myanmar border, implemente­d almost five years ago, in 2018, to facilitate the people living in the border areas. Under this regime, every member of the hill tribes – either a citizen of India or Myanmar and who is a resident of an area within 16 km of the IndoMyanma­r border on both sides – could cross the border on producing a pass. This was issued by the competent authority and was valid for a year; availing this facility, a person could stay for up to two weeks per visit.

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Indian government scrapped the FMR to ensure the internal security of the country and to maintain the demographi­c structure of India’s North Eastern States bordering Myanmar.

Resistance against fencing the border

There has been widespread resistance from the local communitie­s against the Indian government’s decision to fence the Myanmar border. For example:

v On March 1, The Nagaland Assembly adopted a resolution urging the Indian government to reconsider its decision to fence the Indo-Myanmar border and scrap the Free Movement Regime (FMR) with the neighbouri­ng country. The Assembly also resolved to appeal to the Union government to work out “regulation­s for movement of people across the boundary in consultati­on with the people inhabiting the border areas, and for suitably

bringing in the village council authoritie­s concerned in the entire system of regulation­s.”

v On February 28 , the 40-member Mizoram Assembly adopted a resolution against the Indian government’s decision to fence the India-Myanmar border and scrap the Free Movement Regime (FMR) agreement with the civil war-torn neighbouri­ng country. On February 29, Chief Minister Lalduhoma told the Assembly that the Mizoram government decided not to collect the biometric details of refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh in the State. The Ministry of Home Affairs had asked the State government to collect the data in April 2023.

v On February 28, police commandos laid down arms in protest against the attack and abduction of a police officer. Around 200 armed miscreants had stormed the house of a police officer in Imphal East. ASP Moirangthe­m Amit and his escort were abducted.

v The most serious protest came from China. Its Foreign Ministry spokespers­on Wang Wenbin criticised Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the East Section of the China-India boundary. Wang noted that India has no right to arbitraril­y develop the area of Zangnan in China, and India’s moves will only complicate the boundary question and disrupt the situation in the border areas between the two countries. It claimed that the area of Zangnan is Chinese territory and the Chinese government has never recognised the so-called “Arunachal Pradesh”, illegally set up by India, and firmly opposes it. Nonetheles­s, India has strongly refuted the allegation.

CAA notificati­on

The notificati­on of the contentiou­s Citizenshi­p Amendment Act 2019 (CAA) rules on March 11, has triggered sporadic protests in Assam. It is reported that a conglomera­tion of 16 opposition parties in the state, led by the Congress, United Opposition Forum (UOF) and around 30 different groups including the influentia­l All Assam Students Union (AASU), have announced the launch of a series of protests against the legislatio­n, starting with burning of copies of CAA on Tuesday. It may be recalled that the final draft of NRC for Assam, released in August 2019, left out 1.9 million of the total 33 million applicants, reported Hindustan Times.

Meanwhile, Senior Congress leader Pawan Khera asserted that the Citizenshi­p (Amendment) Act 2019 will be repealed if the party comes to power after the Lok Sabha elections. According to him, “the cutoff date of 1971 is sacrosanct for Assam. But CAA will take it away and 2014 will be the cut-off date.” The situation got further heated up when the Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that he would be the first to resign if one person, who has not applied for the National Register of Citizens (NRC), gets citizenshi­p, as quoted by NDTV.

In West Bengal, panic has spread among several people across Bengal after they received letters from the Unique Identifica­tion Authority of India (UIDAI), informing them that their Aadhaar number had been deactivate­d and their requiremen­ts to stay in the country were not fulfilled. An official in the Ranchi regional office of the UIDAI admitted that they had issued around 1 lakh such letters across the country, reports Telegraph.

Northeaste­rn India has a long history of proautonom­y movement


The above developmen­ts in the eastern and north-eastern borders of India indicate a growing discontent of the citizens of eastern and north eastern states;

It also shows change in India’s target group of enemies.

Instead of Pakistanan­d Afghanista­n-centred terrorist groups, India is now focusing more on Rohingya terrorists based in the Rakhine district of Myanmar and among the refugees’ camps in Bangladesh. After a deadly arm attack on Rohingyas in Rakhine state of Myanmar in 2017, more than 960,000 people have found safety in Bangladesh with a majority living in the Cox Bazar’s region — home to the world’s largest refugee camp. The battle field has been shifted from the north-west Indo-Pakistan border to the north-east IndoMyanma­r, Indo-Bangladesh border.

Compared to Afghan- and Pakistan-based terrorists, Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar and Bangladesh are soft targets. Moreover, India’s power corridor, DelhiAhmed­abad-Mumbai, is situated very close to the Indo-Pakistan border. Nonetheles­s, Myanmar and Bangladesh borders are at a much safer distance from the dwellings of the political and business leaders of India. Therefore, Muslim Rohingyas are the new enemy of the Indian ruling elites.

Against this background, the Gazetteer notificati­on of the Citizenshi­p Amendment Act (CAA) on March 11, deactivati­on of thousands of Aadhar cards in Bengal during last few weeks, and the well-planned propaganda against Muslim youths for ‘raping Hindu women’ of Sandeshkha­li, a border town of mixed Hindu and Muslim population in the Bengal-Bangladesh border region, should be analysed. In addition to these, the presence of Rohingya and Khalistani terrorists in Sandeshkha­li has been alleged by the BJP leaders. It may also be mentioned that the BJP leaders even moved to Calcutta High Court with an appeal to consider Sandesh Khali incidence parallel to the prolonged communal riots in Manipur! However, the honourable Judge did not entertain the allegation.

North-eastern India, which shares strong cultural ties with various indigenous groups of Myanmar, China and Bangladesh, has a long history of pro-autonomy movement. Any wrong step by the state will revive the dormant anti-Indian sentiment which might lead to a prolonged civil war in the region. Burning Manipur is a case in point.

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 ?? ?? Members of All Assam Students Union (AASU) take part in a protest march after the central government notified the rules for implementa­tion of the CAA
Members of All Assam Students Union (AASU) take part in a protest march after the central government notified the rules for implementa­tion of the CAA
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 ?? ?? Muslim Rohingyas appear to have emerged as the new enemies of the ruling elite in the country
Muslim Rohingyas appear to have emerged as the new enemies of the ruling elite in the country

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