Has soft belly turned hard?
Indians love to make noise, much more than what is needed and necessary. Otherwise, there is no rational explanation for the ruling class and TV channels to tom-tom the surgical military operation conducted against insurgents in the thick jungles of Myanmar on Tuesday.
It was the first of its kind executed in utmost secrecy and precision by any country in this region. As New Delhi stated, units of Special Forces of Army and Air Force had crossed the Indo-Myanmar border and decimated a few militant hideouts inside that country in less than one hour and returned without suffering any casualties. The accounts of rebel deaths vary in numbers.
The cross-border raid to neutralize some of the militant outfits operating out of the long porous border between North-Eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram and Myanmar was, by all accounts given by the Defence Ministry, a spectacular success. The print and electronic media had gone overdrive to stress the fact that the government would no longer take militant killings of civilians and army personnel in the country lying low and retaliate in a decisive manner. Obviously, the covert operation had been planned in response to an insurgent attack on an Indian Army convoy in Manipur last week killing 18 troops.
It is a well-known fact that several rebel groups operating in North-East and creating havoc have their bases in Myanmar. They also have tacit support of local population and Burmese insurgents. It is also suspected that local Myanmar military commandants have been in collusion with Indian militants and facilitate their movements across the border. Despite the mayhem being unleashed by these insurgents in the North-East, provincial and central governments have little control over their movements and tackling them has become a herculean task. Armed with sophisticated weapons, the militants would escape to the other side of the Indian border to evade detection. In a way, the Indian security forces and the rebels had been playing a cat-and-mouse game in the woods. Now, the rules of the game have changed with India going after the insurgents crossing the border line. When viewed against this background and the backdrop of need to contain the vicious forces, India’s secret, albeit limited, operation is laudable and the commando units that took part in it deserve all the praise.
However, the discordant note that resonates is the attempt or the way the issue – highly sensitive, considering the global repercussions and inter-national relations involving a sovereign state — has been handled at the government and media level. Instead of portraying the ‘hot pursuit’ exercise as the only option available to the Indian security forces to end the insurgency, the clandestine Rambo-style blitz has been made out to be an operation to give a machismo image to India. Our Special Forces have been lionized and likened to American SEALS who stormed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s den in Pakistan and killed him in 2011. Obviously, the kind of ‘special relationship’ Washington enjoys with Islamabad New Delhi doesn’t have with Yangon.
While the Indian government had said that it had informed the Myanmar government after the operation was over and press reports had indicated that it was conducted a few kilometers from the border, Yangon has denied the accounts.
“According to the information sent by Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) battalions on the ground, we have learned that the military operation was performed on the Indian side at India-Myanmar border. Myanmar will not accept any foreigner who attacks neighbouring countries in the back and creates problems by using our own territory,” a cryptic statement from Yangon said.
No government worth its salt would officially acknowledge a raid of this nature by a neighbouring country. Even if the statement is a token of stating the country’s sovereign position for the outside world, it has given a stick to detractors in the country and adversaries outside to rap India. To boot, jingoistic statements by some government ministers aimed at provoking Pakistan which will be waiting in wings to attack India.
Pak reaction to the Indian action on militants is on the expected lines – and in the same language! The suggestion that similar surgical operations could be carried out inside Pakistan to neutralize anti-India militants is seen as putting the neighbouring country on notice. In a swift reaction, Pakistan has warned India against any ‘misadventure’ and said, “Pakistan is not Myanmar and India should not think of repeating such an exercise inside Pakistan territory.” An immediate meeting of cabinet and security establishments has underscored military and government concerns –and according to Pak watchers in India, fears – about Modi government’s next move on the western front.
The bold action against North-East insurgents, despite its long-term impact on relations with neighbours, has, nevertheless, changed the general perception that India is a soft belly for militant strikes and terrorist attacks. The Mumbai terror strikes and dozens of blasts engineered and executed by militants across the country during the Congress-led coalition rule had given an impression to the outside world that India was a soft belly and anybody could poke it at will.
But that perception appears to be changing. Army evacuations of stranded Indians and other nationalities from conflict zones in Iraq and Yemen and now the cross-border operation have given India a new face. But the new posture India has adopted should be tempered with caution and controlled public utterances. Unbridled enthusiasm and gung-ho over what Indian forces are doing (other than being a fitting fighting force) may boost their morale and spirits but exposing them and over-publicizing their heroic actions would be detrimental to conduct of strategic planning and statecraft.