Banning The NSCN(K): Has India Lost The Plot In Myanmar?

Proscribing the NSCN(K) comes as a desperate move by India which recently adhered to the chest-thumping doctrine.

4 min read

Members of the rebel outfit NSCN(K) parade around their camps, armed with guns and guitars. (Photo: Reuters)

India’s Desperate Move

  • India has decided to ban the NSCN(Khaplang)
  • It has asked Myanmar to hand over Khaplang and three of his top lieutenants to stand trial in India
  • Khaplang has not reneged on his ceasefire with Myanmar but broken it off with India and attacked Indian troops
  • Myanmar is discussing a national ceasefire accord with all armed ethnic rebel groups
  • On Wednesday, the day Indian cabinet agreed to ban the NSCN(K) , its representatives were in a formal meeting with Myanmar government’s representatives
  • That makes it clear Myanmar will not oblige on Khaplang

On September 16, when the Indian cabinet finally decided to ban the NSCN (Khaplang), representatives of the rebel group were closeted in a meeting with Myanmar’s Union Peace-Making Working Committee (UPWC) in Yangon’s Myanmar Peace Centre.

The meeting was part of the negotiations brokered by the Peace Centre between the Thein Sein government and nearly 20 ethnic rebel militias to work out a comprehensive national ceasefire before Myanmar goes to national parliament elections in November this year. In fact, the UPWC vice-chairman and Union Minister U Aung Min said that this was a “work coordination” meeting that he had with the NSCN (K) representatives.

Banning The NSCN(K): Has
India Lost The Plot In Myanmar?

Such meetings have taken place or is taking place with other ethnic militias as a prelude to signing the national ceasefire accord. Min is optimistic about concluding the accord by October.

These ethnic militias who are a part of Myanmar’s long civil war landscape have already worked out formal or informal ceasefire deals with the government. The national ceasefire accord will help Myanmar create the necessary peaceful conditions for the November parliamentary elections.

(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

Why Myanmar Won’t Oblige Delhi

Besides, it will lay the ground for more important negotiations with the ethnic militias for a “comprehensive federal deal” that could change the Myanmar polity towards something more acceptable for the wide multitude of national ethnic minorities, many of whom have challenged central rule and fought for secession or greater autonomy for several decades now.

Much is at stake over the national ceasefire accord. Thein Sein and his ruling USDP is keen to have a peaceful election and ensure the ethnic rebels don’t resume fighting like the Kokangs and the Kachins have done in recent months. It is also determined to give these ethnic groups more leverage because if over ground ethnic parties supported by them do well, it helps Thein Sein slice into the Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s NLD vote banks in minority areas. That is one sure way of denying the democracy icon a clear majority which can bring her within striking distance of changing the constitution after the polls.

So Thein Sein is in no mood to oblige Delhi by handing over the Burmese Naga rebel leader S S Khaplang to stand trial in India for his attacks on Indian security forces. The NSCN (K) signed a ceasefire with the Thein Sein government in 2012 and has adhered to it, even it reneged on its 2000 ceasefire with India in February this year and his fighters started attacking Indian security forces. Nearly 30 Indian soldiers have died in these attacks, provoking Delhi to order a number of ‘cross- border’ strikes on rebel bases inside Myanmar. Many rebels have been killed and at least three dead bodies were also dragged into the Indian Territory recently by Indian troops.

(Photo: AP)
(Photo: AP)

Fallout of Chest-Thumping

Myanmar would have looked the other way because such forays have happened before on a reciprocal basis and neither Delhi nor Yangon have not made a song-and-dance about these raids their armies launched while chasing ethnic rebels into each other’s territories. But when Indian ministers like former Olympic medalist R S Rathore resorted to unusual chest-thumping about these raids and publicly proclaimed they had taken place ‘deep inside Myanmar,’ the Thein Sein government was visibly upset.

It took some damage control by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and foreign secretary S Jaishankar to pave the way for important reciprocal state visits and Myanmar’s foreign minister and army chief visited India to proclaim “total cooperation in the fight against terror.”

(Photo courtesy: @Ra_THORe)
(Photo courtesy: @Ra_THORe)

For a while it looked like India was keen to get Khaplang back to the table. After the government signed a “framework agreement” with the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) on August 3, a Naga civil society delegation was lined up to speak to Khaplang and motivate him to support the agreement. But when Khaplang refused to meet this delegation, which had Delhi’s backing and deputed his military wing chief Niki Sumi to talk to them, the Indian government decided to foreclose possibilities of further negotiations and decided to go ahead with the proposed ban under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967.

But most significantly, it decided to ask Myanmar to hand over Khaplang and three of his close lieutenants to India to stand trial – on the lines that India has asked Pakistan to do with Dawood Ibrahim. Myanmar did not respond, but when its peace negotiators met Khaplang’s representatives in Yangon for formal negotiations on September 16, the message was loud and clear.

(The writer, a veteran BBC correspondent, is author of two highly acclaimed books on Northeast India – ‘Insurgent Crossfire’ and ‘Troubled Periphery’)

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