On May 8, 2014, India and Myanmar signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Border Cooperation. The MoU was signed by Gautam Mukhopadhaya, Indian ambassador to Myanmar, and Major General Kyaw Nyunt, deputy defence minister of Myanmar, in Nay Pyi Taw.
The MoU is intended to provide a framework for security cooperation and intelligence exchange between Indian and Myanmar security agencies. It provides for the conduct of coordinated patrols on the respective sides of the international border and the maritime boundary by the armed forces of the two countries. It provides for exchanging information and intelligence in the fight against insurgency, arms and drugs smuggling, human and wildlife trafficking between India and Myanmar. Both sides have also agreed to take steps to prevent illegal cross-border activities. The MoU specifies the level and frequency of meetings between the armed forces, drug control agencies and wildlife crime control agencies.
In a statement released by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, it was expressed that it is expected that this MoU will lead to enhanced and tangible cooperation between Indian and Myanmar security agencies in ensuring peace, stability and security along the long international land and maritime border between the two countries.
Ensuring security along the 1,643 km land border shared by India and Myanmar has been one of the most interminable problems facing the two countries. The entire border length touches Arunachal Pradesh (520 km), Nagaland (215 km), Manipur (398 km) and Mizoram (510 km). This MoU is the latest in a string of such advances which have been recently pursued by India and Myanmar.
Some of the other steps taken in the direction of securing the border include contingents from the Assam Rifles being deployed for counter-insurgency and border guarding along this border. Of the sanctioned strength of 46 battalions, 31 battalions are for counter-insurgency and 15 are for border guarding role. They are mandated to check infiltration, smuggling of arms, ammunition, drugs, fake currency notes etc. Moreover, fencing work by India’s Border Roads Organization has been sanctioned and processed but is hotly contested by the local population, political parties of both India and Myanmar.
The MoU is intended to alleviate some of the border related issues like cross-border movement of militants, illegal arms and drugs which are some of the security problems emanating from the porous nature of the India-Myanmar land border clearly articulated by the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Insurgency has been a major hindrance to life in the north-eastern region of India. Myanmar has been a ground in which groups like the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) faction and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), among others, are known to have set up bases. Additionally, checking infiltration, smuggling of arms, ammunition, drugs, fake currency notes are some of the issues high on the border security agenda, all of which find resonance in the MoU.
The MHA had previously noted that the border (Indo-Myanmar) permits Free Movement Regime (FMR), up to 16 km across the border, making it extremely porous. Although this relaxation is meant for the local people in the border area, it was being exploited by nefarious elements. Moreover, cannabis herbs, ganja and banned pseudoephedrine tablets are regularly seized by Assam Rifles personnel and Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) officials when they are being smuggled to Myanmar.
Illegal trading has been a constant issue along the border as well. Lack of adequate infrastructural facilities at Moreh and Zokhawatar – the two designated points for normal trade and border trade respectively, and a restrictive trading list have adversely affected normal trade at Moreh and given rise to informal trade, which compounded and complicated the security issue further. The MoU is intended to enable this entire gamut of issues to be effectively handled and to the benefit of both countries as well as the local people along the border.
The MoU thus takes into account the need for promoting security cooperation with Myanmar. Myanmar is integral to India, given its geographic proximity as well as the cultural-historical linkages that bind the people of northeast India with their brethren in Myanmar. Undoubtedly the MoU underscores the need of the hour, which is to ensure security cooperation between the neighbours. However, it is missing a cultural component, which will go a long way in ensuring the support of those inhabiting the border areas in preventing security related disasters from occurring and in an overall manner as well.
The FMR should not be compromised, and other such benefits for the local border inhabitants are warranted to ensure that the life they live due to the security-bereft situation is somewhat offset by the local avenues for contact and cooperation among kindred inhabiting lands on both sides of the border. The MoU is a laudable effort as it is yet another step towards buttressing India-Myanmar ties, especially as Myanmar is also India's only land bridge to Southeast Asia, and thereby to the dynamic and the potential economic cynosure of the world, the ASEAN. This underscores the importance of having a favourable overall relationship with Myanmar, especially where the land border is concerned.
Apart from being the gateway to the ASEAN, Myanmar is also the prism through which India is geographically compelled to ‘Look East’ or ‘Engage East’ for any fathomable progress in its ties with the countries of Southeast Asia and beyond. The MoU is impressive for the framework it generates to tackle security issues and it provides a basis for further cooperation between India and Myanmar in the cultural, economic and strategic avenues.
South Asia Monitor