Geopolitics, lawlessness & security challenges affecting Indo-Myanmar border – Part II

‘Free Movement Regime’ is the most exploited arrangement by insurgent groups at Indo-Myanmar border, which was actually for facilitating tribal communities’ free movement up to 16 km across the border.

In the present times, India and Myanmar share a large land and maritime boundary. The existing common frontiers were demarcated through two bilateral agreements – Land Boundary Agreement, 1967 and Maritime Boundary Agreement, 1982.

The border has considerable geographical diversity, ranging from low mountains to high ridges and peaks. Unlike the Indo-Bangladesh borderland, the Indo-Myanmar border has a low population density and is mostly unfenced, which makes it distinct from Indo-Pakistan and Indo-China borders.

The 1643 km long international border makes a tripoint, a geographical point at which the boundaries of three countries or subnational entities meet, with China in the north and Bangladesh in the south.

However, due to the border dispute with China, the position of the tripoint in the Indo-China border is unclear. Although, a de-facto tripoint exists in the north of Diphu Pass.

Insurgency and illegal activities among persistent challenges

The reports of violence and illegal activities also keep coming in from the region, which makes it one of the most challenging border regions.

The most challenging aspect, however, is the free movement of insurgents through the porous border. Over the years, cross border insurgencies have increased in gigantic proportions.

The inhospitable and underdeveloped border regions have proved to be a breeding ground for insurgents, non-state actors and drug & weapon traffickers who have been able to spread their operations and networks.

Interestingly, cross-border ethnic and cultural linkages of local communities with insurgents act as a facilitator of insurgency movements in the region.

One of the main insurgent groups in the region is NSCN-K which supports the separatism of Nagaland. For these groups, India has conducted counter insurgency operations under ‘Operation Sunrise’.

The exploitation of Free Movement Regime

Free Movement Regime (FMR) is the second biggest challenge, which is such a unique arrangement between Myanmar and India border that allows tribal communities free movement up to 16 km across the borders of both the nations.

The arrangement was made to help tribal communities living in the region to retain their old ties, but it has become a significant security concern in the present times.

Insurgent groups from both the countries have exploited the provisions of FMR and sustained their movements by establishing safe havens.

Interestingly, FMR also has a provision which allows communities to carry head loads of luggage across the borders and are exempted from ‘standard custom procedures’. These provisions are exploited by militants and trans-border criminals who smuggle arms, weapons, narcotics and even fake Indian currency.

Keeping the border agreement of FMR in consideration, it is a matter of analysis whether the fencing of this international border is the most appropriate option.

Gun-running and the curse of ‘Golden Triangle’

Rampant weapons smuggling and drug trafficking is also a challenge to deal with. Indian insurgent groups and Myanmar rebel groups like United Wa State Army (UWSA) procure their weapons from South East Asia’s black markets.

The bulk of these weapons are smuggled through sea routes from Thailand and Cambodia while fewer of the smuggling activities are also carried from China.

The proximity of Myanmar to the Golden Triangle is another major challenge for Indian security agencies. The Golden Triangle is the area where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers.

Golden Triangle has resulted into an opium production hub

Due to the existence of the Golden Triangle, the underlying area has become an opium production hub. More so because it was also an old route for the supply of narcotics to Europe and North America.

Due to the proximity to the opium producing region, the Indo-Myanmar border is vulnerable to narcotics trade.

Illegal narcotics drugs are supplied to North-Eastern states like Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland. Indo-manufactured chemical narcotics are also reverse trafficked to the South East Asia countries through the very border.

Not being directly involved, insurgent groups help drug mafias in cross-border smuggling of drugs in lieu of big money, which results in an unholy nexus among insurgents, drug mafia and smugglers.

Ironically, criminal activities have also become a serious cause of concern as there is high addiction to these lethal drugs in the Indian provinces close to the Indo-Myanmar border.

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