India and Burma join to purge rebels

Delhi looks set to sign an agreement with the Burmese junta for bilateral cooperation in combating India’s northeastern insurgent groups, one of the country’s many armed anti-state insurrections.

The document will be termed a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty and could be signed as early as next month, Indian media reported. Interestingly, the pact would potentially allow both countries access to one another’s detained persons or witnesses.

Accusations that Burma was harbouring separatist insurgents have persisted for years, as have Burma’s assertions that they are combatting these rebels. Paresh Barua, the leader of the main group of concern, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), is rumoured to be in northwestern Burma’s Kachin state, although some sources claim he is in fact in Indonesia.

The volatile Assam region has been a constant pain for India, both in strategic and security terms. “The treaty has enabled provisions that will help both countries expediting criminal investigations, judicial proceedings, gathering evidences and assisting each other during investigations,” an anonymous official was quoted by India’s Hindustan Times newspaper.

It has been alleged that arms for both northeastern insurgents and India’s resurgent Maoist rebels enter the region from Burma, whilst the porous border is positioning India as an increasingly attractive destination for Burma’s lucrative illegal drugs trade.

What may worry Indian taxpayers however is the provision for a ‘cost compensation clause’, which will in effect allow the Burmese side to claim costs incurred in efforts to track India’s insurgents, encouraged by an Indian government that has long clamoured for greater action against these groups.

India however, despite having an armed forces population of more than 4.5 million, is militarily stretched. The western front with Pakistan has long been the most strategic macro imperative, given the tensions between the two nations that several wars have brought.

Moreover, the Maoist movement in the so-called Naxal belt in eastern India has this year reared an ominous head and launched two major ambushes that have resulted large death tolls for the Indian security forces.

This has resulted in the recalling of many of India’s helicopters currently carrying out UN work. As a result the Burmese frontier, which is also strategically placed next to China, who claims the frontier province of Arunachal Pradesh as its own, is woefully undermanned. This has resulted in practices, such as the use of playing various armed groups off against one another, only heightening insecurity and criminality.

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