‘Hot Pursuit’: Capability, Ramifications Must Drive Policy Options
India should keep its capability and international ramifications in mind when considering the policy of hot pursuit.
On the intervening night of June 8 and 9, the Indian army and air force launched two surgical strikes to eliminate the Naga and Manipuri extremists responsible for several incidents of violence on Indian territory. In the process, two of their operating bases in Myanmar, across the borders of Nagaland and Manipur, were destroyed. (For the record, according to the statement issued by Army HQ, New Delhi, the operations were conducted ‘along’ the border).
Five days earlier, on June 4, a convoy of an infantry battalion had been ambushed in Manipur close to the border with Myanmar by insurgents belonging to SS Khaplang’s NSCN(K) and the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), a Meitei outfit. The casualties suffered by the battalion included 18 dead and 11 wounded.
The trans-border counter-attacks, launched in retaliation for the ambush in the short span of four days, were based on hard intelligence obtained from multiple humint and electronic surveillance sources. Both the joint operations were meticulously planned and systematically executed by India’s elite Special Forces. The strike forces were flown in and de-inducted by helicopters and were provided firepower support by attack helicopters. The extremists suffered over 20 dead and have been dealt a crushing blow that will keep them quiet for some time.
There is no reason for the conjecture that the Special Forces operations may have violated Myanmar’s sovereignty. The two countries have an agreement on security cooperation and the Indian army and the Myanmar army have been cooperating for over two decades in conducting joint counter-insurgency operations.
Indian insurgent groups (NSCN, ULFA and Manipur rebels among others) have been operating out of bases in the weakly controlled areas across the borders of the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram and the members of some Burmese rebel groups have often taken shelter on the Indian side. It is in the interest of both the countries to cooperate with each other to fight these insurgent groups in a coordinated manner.
In April-May 1995, Operation Golden Bird was undertaken as a joint trans-border operation to destroy insurgent bases on the Myanmar side of the border. While the Myanmar army blocked the escape routes, Indian troops acted as the hammer. Approximately 40 insurgents were killed by the Indian army and a huge cache of arms was recovered.
Since then the two armies have been cooperating with each other for mutual benefit. In November 2001, the Myanmar army had raided several Manipuri rebel bases, rounded up almost 200 rebels and recovered 1,500 guns. India-Myanmar cooperation is also essential to control narcotics trafficking and to curb the proliferation of small arms in the region. Again, in January 2006, joint operations were undertaken successfully by the two armies.
Myanmar has, however, issued a statement that contradicts India’s claims. The Director of the Myanmar President’s Office has stated in a Facebook post that the Indian Armed Forces carried out the operation on their own side of the border and not in Myanmar’s territory. The post added that Myanmar would never allow rebel groups to use its territory to attack neighbours.
Myanmar’s statement lends some ambiguity to the story of the operation but there is no doubt that the two countries have, in the past, worked hand-in-hand in their fight against rebels and insurgents.
The Policy of ‘Hot Pursuit’
There is a long history of ‘hot pursuit’ operations across international borders. These were commonplace during the Cold War. The South African Defence Force (SADF) had made trans-border raids part of its operational doctrine. The SADF repeatedly conducted hot pursuit operations into Angola against members of the People’s Army of Namibia (PLAN, armed wing of SWAPO) and the MPLA. The MPLA supported SWAPO and provided bases to PLAN, while the SADF supported UNITA, an Angolan rebel group. Similarly, Israel has always claimed the right of hot pursuit and such operations against Palestinian rebels suspected of violent attacks are part and parcel of the operational planning of the Israeli Defence Forces.
A nation’s policy for hot pursuit operations depends on the combat capabilities of its forces, the international ramifications of its actions and whether it has friends in the international community who will support it or if it has the gumption to go it alone – with complete disregard of international opinion.
Following the Special Forces raids into Myanmar, some analysts have been very vocally advocating that India should declare a policy of launching hot pursuit military operations to counter Pakistani terrorist groups launching strikes on Indian territory from bases in Pakistan and POK. They would do well to sit back and reflect deeply on the likely consequences of such operations.
Against Pakistan, the better option would be to undertake targeted covert operations against the leadership of the terrorist groups inimical to Indian security and the destruction of purely military targets across the LoC so as to raise Pakistan’s cost for waging its proxy war. Meanwhile, the operations conducted by India’s Special Forces inside Myanmar have already sent a strong message to the Pakistan army and the ISI.
(The writer is former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi)
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