Inconsistency Reaps a Disquieting Harvest.

The Central Investigation Department of the Assam Police is on the lookout for Rajiv Rajkonwar. Under his alias, Arobindo Rajkhowa, Rajiv is one of Assam's most dreaded and most well known names. He heads the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) a secessionist organization that has lost all popular support due to a string of brutal terrorist acts that had almost paralyzed the frontier Indian state. Rajiv, who heads the terrorist-secessionist outfit, had trained under either the Kachin Defense Army (KDA) or the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).

Ever since the Burmese government sponsored ceasefire agreement with the KDA, the KIO and other tribal armies like the Eastern Shan State Army and the United Wa State Army, these organizations have enjoyed significant political independence. Some of them have now extended their influence to areas previously occupied by the Mong Tai Army (MTA). Due to political exigencies necessitated by the need to maintain the territorial integrity of the Burmese State, the Burmese Government has found it extremely difficult to restrain these groups on two fronts- the international trade in opium and heroin and international arms trafficking. The agreement between the Myanmar Government and the KDA was reached in January, 1991 and that with the KIO in October,1993.The KIO was allotted Kachin State Special region (2) which has a common border with India.

It must be noted here that the position of the Kachins in the Burmese Union has always been slightly problematic. Although Kachin delegates had participated in the Panglong Conference, no decision was taken on the the issue of a separate Kachin State. In addition, the Panglong Conference had postponed till later any decision on the hotly debated issue of granting states the right to secede from the Union. Kachin was invaded by China and it was only after the border agreement in 1960 that the state had reverted to Mayanmar's control. Kachin insurgents had been active since 1948 when Myanmar became formally independent. However, even prior to independence, Kachin had been a special administrative unit that was ruled separately from British Burma. Kachin has been well known to be one of the world's premier poppy producing areas. Though international pressure has prompted the military government at Yangon to take steps to curtail the production of poppy, the lucrative ness of the trade and the general irresponsibility of the various factions have meant that poppy production remains unabated and there has been no significant decline in the export of opium from Myanmar. Myanmar's opium production is second only to Afghanistan's.

For India, however, the more serious issue is cross-border terrorism. It is known that former insurgent groups in Myanmar, and notably, the KIO and KDA,(now recognized as part of Myanmar's legitimate body politic) have made a lucrative trade out of gun running across the border with India. These groups have also allowed the setting up of training camps for terrorist outfits like the ULFA. Though there have been agreements between the Indian and Myanmar sides on policing the 1600 mile Indo-Burmese border and fighting insurgency, these agreements have been honored more in the breach than in the keeping with India perceiving the Burmese side as falling short of their obligations. A serious impediment to the working out of an effective arrangement to check cross-border insurgency is India's continued support to the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar. While there was a slight tilt in India's foreign policy toward working out bilateral cooperative arrangements with Myanmar in the areas of cross-border terrorism and bilateral trade, this policy has never been consistent. Yangon's improved relations with China and its friendship with India's arch rival Pakistan are viewed with suspicion by New Delhi. This has meant that India's support for the pro-democracy movement, though less vocal than in the early nineties, still continues.

This policy of conflicting priorities adopted by New Delhi has meant a failure both, in terms of the perceived national interest in checking insurgency along the Indo-Burmese border and in terms of a India's image as an advocator of human rights and democracy. There are no estimates of the Burmese refugee population in India. However, unofficial figures put the total number of ethnic Chin refugees in Mizoram alone at more than 40,000. Only a very tiny fraction of actual refugees have been granted official refugee status. India's attempts to improve relations with the repressive regime in Yangon also raises serious questions about the treatment of Burmese refugees in India. A Human Rights Watch report of 2000 raised these question with respect to the treatment meted out to Chin refugees who were detained in Mizoram by the State police on grounds of illegal entry. The fact that Indian law does not formally distinguish between illegal immigrants and refugees is a hindrance and does not bode well for the thousands of Burmese refugees who have already fled Myanmar and are currently residing in India without a formal refugee status. The lack of a formal legal status and a conscious government policy towards Burmese refugees as for example has been the case for Tibetan refugees, has also helped fostering and sustaining ethnic tensions between refugees and indigenous tribes in certain states like Mizoram. In most such strife, the refugee population has to fend for itself and cannot expect or demand any legal aid.

On the other hand, symbolic support for the pro-democratic movement of the kind that resulted in the discontinuation of the joint cross border insurgency operation "Golden Bird" in 1995 due to a withdrawal by the Myanmar side following the conferment of the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Justice on Aung San Suu Kyi, is not helping the law and order process in the insurgency infested North Eastern States of India. The current Indian defense minister George Fernandez is known to be a committed supporter of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar at the personal level. For example, Myanmar dissenter Soe Myint accused of hijacking a Thai plane to Kolkata in 1990 has been living in Mr. Fernandez' residence. Mr. Fernandez' personal philosophy, however, has not translated to public action at the formal level of policy framing and implementation.

In the meantime , the narcotics trade from across the border continues with Indian insurgent groups resorting to it as a prime source of finances. Poppy grown on the Indian side of the border is transported into Myanmar for refining and the refined heroin either finds its way to Thailand or is routed back into the Indian states of Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram and Meghalaya. In the North _east of India, the narcotics trade and insurgency are close allies with insurgents selling heroin to procure arms. The losers from New Delhi's foreign policy mess are the law and order process, helpless thousands of Burmese refugees and thousands of addicted youth in the north-east Indian States. It is time New Delhi acted to remedy the situation through a consistent and well thought out policy program.


More by :  Abul Kasim Sajjadul Islam

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