Current Affairs

Assessing Tatmadaw’s intention and capabilities: What is next for the North-East insurgencies?

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    8th May, 2021
Assessing Tatmadaw’s intention and capabilities: What is next for the North-East insurgencies?


  • India and Myanmar have had several on-and-off cooperation partnerships against North-East (NE) insurgents operating from the territory of the latter.
  • However, despite this cooperation, over 2000-3000Naga, Manipuri, and Assamese militants continue to use Myanmar as a terror launchpad against India.
  • Several observers have explained this phenomenon, by arguingthat Myanmar lacks the intent and the ability to flush out these insurgents—a debate that needs serious reconsideration with growing India-Myanmar cooperation, and a deepening crisis in the latter.
  • Assessing the roots of relationship
  • The roots of initial cooperation between India and Myanmar began in 1993.
  • Intending to extend its influence in South-East Asia, and also deter Myanmar from harbouring the NE insurgents, India beganaccommodating the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military).
  • On the other hand, to overcome its overdependence on China and appease India, the Tatmadaw started coordinating or acting against the NE insurgents, with the help of Indian-supplied
  • This also created an unanticipated incentivefor the Tatmadaw, to procrastinate their crackdown against Indian insurgents.

Northeast India

  • Northeast India is the most volatile and insurgency affected place in the country after Kashmir. It is the easternmost part of India.
  • The region is composed of eight states namely- Meghalaya, Manipur, Assam, Mizoram, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Sikkim.
  • India’s northeast connects with five countries — Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China and Nepal —by a 4,500 kilometer (2,796 miles) international border; the region, however, connects to India onlythrough a narrow and tenuous land corridor measuring merely 22 kilometers (14 miles).

China’s factor in India-Myanmar equation

  • However, in recent years, the China factor has amplified India and Myanmar’s intentions to cooperate against the North East insurgencies.
  • China continuesto use the NE insurgencies to off-balance India, limit its growth, earn profits through black arms markets, and also widen mistrust between India and Myanmar.
  • Consequently, China has even shelteredinsurgent leader Paresh Baruah and is also supplying arms to his organisation, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-I).
  • Parallelly, China continues to engage and armMyanmar’s ethnic rebels—Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Arakan Army (AA), and Ta-ang National Liberation Army—to keep the state closer and subordinated to China.
  • These insurgents of Myanmarand North East are further supplied with arms from China’s proxy—The United Wa State Army (UWSA).
  • This supply of arms has empowered several insurgent organisations, including the AA, which now poses a threat to India’s Kaladan Project; which has the potentiality to transform the NE and Myanmar into a key geo-economic location.
  • Consequently, both India and Myanmar have accelerated their cooperation against these insurgent organisations, in recent years.

Capability crunch faced by Tatmadaw

  • Regardless of this increasing intention for cooperation, the Tatmadaw does face a capability crunch.
  • Thin presence: The Tatmadawis overstretched dealing with insurgencies elsewhere and is only temporarily and thinly present in the difficult borderland terrains of India, making it difficult to flush out the militants.

Steps taken by India to increase Tatmadaw’s capabilities

  • Having realised Tatmadaw’s thin presence, India has been assisting Myanmar with intelligence, satellite images, and defence equipment.
  • But, with no change in the Tatmadaw’s total armed forces personnel, the bordering regions of India continue to have a thin presence of the army.

Therefore, despite various military operations, the insurgents continue to operate or re-establish in the bordering regions of India.

  • Strong alliance among insurgent group: And since most of these insurgent groups are located in Indian borderlands, they have also developed close cooperation amongst them. Consequently, several Manipuri rebel organisations in Myanmar had formed a conglomerate called Coordination Committee, which later started working closely with another alliance of Indian insurgents in Myanmar, called the United National Liberation Front of Western South-East Asia (ULFWSA).
    • This alliance includes several organisationssuch as ULFA, NSCN (K), NDFB etc, and were also responsible for the deadly 2015 ambush against Indian forces. Most of their bases were close to the NSCN (K) headquarters in Sagaing.

Insurgency-related incidents

  • Insurgency-related incidents in the northeastern (N-E) states dipped by 80% and civilian deaths by 99% last year compared to 2014, according to the Union home ministry data.
  • The civilian deaths were in single digits (two) in 2020 for the first time since 1999.
  • The deaths of security forces’ personnel also came down by 75%.
  • The highest--2,644--number of insurgents belonging to various outfits surrendered to security forces in 2020.
  • Prior to this, the highest number of surrenders was in 2000 when 1,962 militants gave up arms.
  • About 1,824 insurgents have surrendered from 2014 to 2019.

Causes of Insurgencies in Northeast India

  • Lack of development: While the government’s military options have achieved only minimal results, lack of development continues to alienate the people of the region further from the mainstream.
  • Lack of recognition: The region has also received little attention from either the national or the international media.
  • Blame game: In the oil-rich Assam, militants have periodically targeted oil and gas pipelines for sabotage, alleging that India is exploiting the natural resources of the state.
    • In Tripura, national projects — such as the extension of the rail lines — have either been stalled or have moved with a tardy pace after militants attacked the construction sites and abducted workers.
    • Militancy has also stalled the prospect of linking the economy of the northeast with the neighboring Southeast Asian countries. 
  • Lack of conclusive talks: Apart from the Naga peace talks, talks with other prominent groups such as United liberation Front of Assam-Pro Talks faction (ULFA-PTF), Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and the United People’s Front (UPF) are yet to reach a conclusion.
  • Inter-state border dispute: Inter-state border disputes between Mizoram and Tripura and Assam and Mizoram continue to simmer. 

State specific ethnic issues:

  • Arunachal Pradesh: the demand of a Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC) by six communities (Ahom, Deoris, Sonowal-Kacharis,, Morans, Adivasis and Mishing) living in the Lohit, Namsai and Changlang Districts of the State; the objections by local Arunachali tribes on giving citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refuges settled in Arunachal Pradesh; and opposition by a section of the Yobin community on the renewal of lease agreements for ex-servicemen's families (mostly Gorkha), settled in the Vijaynagar area of Changlang District.
  • Assam: friction between the claimants of Scheduled Tribe status from six major communities [Moran, Matak, Tai Ahom, Chutia, Koch Rajbongshi and the tea tribes] and the tribes presently in this category [Bodos, Mishings Rabha, Karbi etc.].
  • Manipur: the dominant Naga and Kuki Hill tribes are at loggerheads on the issue of 'ancestral land', especially in Districts with mixed populations.
  • Meghalaya: the issue of implementation of the Inner Line Permit to regulate entry and stay of non-locals.
  • Mizoram: tension between Mizos and Non-Mizos over opportunities for employment and education.
  • Tripura: the issue of the settlement of displaced Brus from Mizoram in Tripura.
  • Nagaland: the implementation of the Register of Indigenous Citizens of Nagaland exercise, based on the Banuo Commission report, with December 1, 1963, as the cut-off date.

Impacts of violence in N-E India

  • Negative impact on tourism: Tourism, which could have flourished in the scenic northeast, has suffered. Although no foreign tourist has been abducted by the militants, an atmosphere of fear and trepidation has prevented national as well as international tourists from choosing the region as their destination.
  • Affected education sector: The education sector too has been affected by militancy. A number of schools in states like Tripura’s interior areas have been shut as teachers avoid the areas due to fear of militant strikes.
  • Impact on local economy: Extortion by the militant groups on the national highways that connect the different states with mainland India has shot up the prices of essential commodities. Trucks and buses have been burned and destroyed for non-payment of “taxes.”
  • Conclusion
  • The Government should work on meaningful engagement of the Centre, the State, civil society and ethnic groups to narrow the differences amongst citizens. It is an urgent imperative. Furthermore, constructive and continued engagement with Myanmar and other neighbouring countries is also essential.