Local communities on both sides of the Indo-Myanmar border are socially and culturally connected and already confront challenges as a result of the border’s presence.
A formal international boundary agreement between India and Myanmar was outlined through the Boundary Agreement 1967 on March 10, 1967. However, there is a lot of mismatch between the borders outlined in the formal agreement and the actual ground situation.
This is mainly because the Indo-Myanmar boundary doesn’t match the borderland’s socio-cultural landscape.
The local communities across the borders are linked socially and culturally with each other and already face difficulties due to the mere existence of the border.
Most of these tribes do not respect the existence of boundaries and continue to maintain cross border ethnic linkages. As exploitation, certain insurgent groups also set up cross border ‘safe havens’ owing to these ethnic linkages.
The borderland’s complex terrain and decades of neglect
The complex terrain of the border increases its vulnerability. High mountains, deep river channels and lush forest patches make up this borderland.
Establishing communication lines and transportation facilities are difficult in the Indo-Myanmar border region due to harsh terrain and hostile conditions. Therefore, it is not only sparsely populated but also suffers poor economic development.
Lack of provisional facilities like roads and communication links hampers the efficiency of men policing the Indo-Myanmar border.
The remote region has also been neglected for decades now, leading to underdevelopment and instability. The local people have been complaining for decades about their problems and inadequate attention from the Indian government, but not much has been done to resolve their issues.
This is why this neglected Indo-Myanmar border region is becoming a big threat to national security from a traditional and non-tradition security perspective.
Instead of fencing borders, productive measures needed
Given the various complexities surrounding this porous border, the Indian government wanted to fence the Indo-Myanmar border but the fencing with barbed wires couldn’t be implemented with much success.
In fact, fencing this borderland proves counter-productive because fencing will breed further discontent among local communities as it will disrupt their cross-border socio-cultural discourse.
Instead, the government needs to take productive measures to ensure the free flow of cultural links between cross-border communities because ethnic ties of these tribes are not only normal relationship bonds but a means of their survival. These share a symbolic relationship and separating them will be akin to snatching their livelihood.
Measures needed to further ‘Act East Policy’
Government should also explore measures to further its ‘Act East Policy’ while utilizing the potential of these borderland communities in the region.
Act East Policy can also be beneficial for transforming the North-East region’s landlocked status to land-linked, for which the government needs to deploy appropriate policies. This will also ensure that rich natural resources and forest products in the region are protected from being exploited by insurgent groups and smugglers.
It is in place to note that Act East Policy aims to promote economic cooperation, cultural ties and develop a strategic relationship with countries in the Indo-pacific region with a proactive and pragmatic approach and thereby improving the economic development of the North Eastern Region (NER).
Enhancing security & increasing community interaction also required
Poor security conditions at the Indo-Myanmar border can also pose a big threat to the national security of India, so the government needs to redouble its efforts.
Not only should be the Assam Rifles given the sole responsibility of guarding the Indo-Myanmar border but its men should be adequately equipped. Manpower of the forces should also be enhanced.
As the government has started a ‘community interaction programme’ to engage local communities in the nation-building process, it needs concerted efforts to be sustained and made meaningful.
However, international borders are best managed when neighbours cooperate to secure their mutual borders. And, to materialize the cooperation, political and diplomatic initiatives need to be crafted appropriately. Therefore, the present times require constructive engagement with Myanmar, so that it remains sensitive to India’s security concerns.
Feature Image: By Ericwinny – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71999600