Para commandos of the Indian Army carried out covert surgical operations using helicopters inside Myanmar early on June 9 and killed several militants in two camps along the Indo-Myanmar border. The Special Forces (SF) commandos returned back safely after the 13 hour-operation in which militants belonging to the NSCN-K (NSCN Khaplang) and KYKL (Meitei Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup) were killed. Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) (K), which reneged from a ceasefire in March this year, has been involved in a series of attacks in coordination with some other militant groups under the banner of the so-called “United Liberation Front of South East Asia”.
India and Myanmar have a “Hot Pursuit” agreement under which, both countries can cross the border if they get any input on militant activity on the territory of the other country, but with consent.
The planning for the cross-border strike was initiated soon after 18 soldiers of the Indian Army’s 6 Dogra Regiment were ambushed and killed and many injured in Manipur’s Chandel district on June 4. Reports had indicated that militants from NSCN-K and KYKL were among those involved in the attack. The revenge operation, which lasted about 30 minutes, inflicted “significant casualties” on the militants while there were no fatalities among the Indian troops.
The operation in the official release was termed as “preemptive”, since “credible and specific intelligence” had indicated that the threat from armed militants from across the border in Myanmar was imminent. However, most observers would say the strike was retaliatory and would have been surprised if it had not taken place. It was required to restore the morale of the troops and prevent any rash actions. On the other hand it was also required to sober down the upbeat militants who would have thought that “hunting season” was on.
The Myanmar government was reportedly informed hours after their offices opened at regular hours on June 9 morning. India and Myanmar have a “Hot Pursuit” agreement under which, both countries can cross the border if they get any input on militant activity on the territory of the other country, but with consent. This is not the first operation which has been carried out across India’s borders. In the past, Operation Golden Bird had been conducted along the Myanmar border in 1995 and Operation All Clear inside Bhutan in 2003.
The defence community has been excited over the strike primarily because of the presence of a clear and strong political will…
The defence community has been excited over the strike primarily because of the presence of a clear and strong political will and not because of the emergence of “new” surgical strike means. Such a capability has existed with the military for years effective in all situations, terrain and theatres. However, one would be more circumspect with regards to the talk of “emergence of a strategy of pre-emption” or “transformative doctrinal shifts”. Yet there were some vital lessons to be learnt.
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. Two, 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. Three, it is heartening to see the National Security Advisor and Chief of the 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.
Strategic security operations demand not only a highly integrated defence ministry but also coordinated ministries of Home and External Affairs.
There is also this understanding now that even tasks such as border guarding require specialised training and orientation for effective managing of our borders. To that end it is making the government reconsider its decision of employing an essentially counter-insurgency force, the Assam Rifles, in border securing role on the Indo-Myanmar border instead of the Border Security Force (BSF).
Finally, there is a word of caution. As the developments in Iraq and Syria indicate, every escalatory measure triggers an evolutionary and innovative response from the other side, particularly if it presents an existential threat. It 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. Therefore, while some in the military establishment would have uncorked the champagne, there would be some who would be reaching for their thinking caps to “preempt” the militants’ next move.
Message to the Neighbours
The so-called message or “signaling” may not be so much about India’s capability to conduct precision strikes by SF and to engage in “hot pursuit” but of how two elected sovereign governments can simply be on the same page to effectively take on disruptive non-state actors. Two, it is about how we can maintain peace and tranquility in our border regions by discouraging “third party” encouragement and interference through the use of non-state actors.
As for Pakistan, which seems visibly “rattled” and shouting across that it is not Myanmar, one can only say neither is Kashmir the south of Afghanistan where it can send its armed proxies at will.