Tuesday, 16 June 2015

India Invades Myanmar

Listen, and I’ll tell you a story.

A week ago as I write this, India invaded Myanmar.

I’m not surprised if you weren’t aware of this invasion. In terms of duration and the forces involved, it wasn’t much of an invasion, lasting for less than an hour. Besides, it did not involve white western countries bombing brown Asian or North African nations, so it was not newsworthy. I understand.

But it was an invasion nonetheless. And the effects of this invasion are potentially, at least, incalculably dangerous to South Asia.

Let me explain.

There are a group of tribes, collectively known as Nagas, who inhabit much of the frontier area between Myanmar and India. Some of these tribes live only in India, some only in Myanmar, and some straddle both sides of the border. In India, Nagas form the majority of the population in the state of Nagaland and a substantial part of the population in the hill areas of the neighbouring state of Manipur. And among the Nagas, of both India and Myanmar, there has been an ongoing insurgency since 1947 for an “independent Naga state”.

This isn’t the place to discuss the rights or wrongs of the situation, but there’s ample reason to believe that this so-called “independent Naga state” could never exist, for the simple reason that the Naga tribes – apart from their Baptist religion – have nothing at all in common. Even to communicate with each other, they had to invent an artificial language called Nagamese, based on Assamese with loan words from several other languages, including Hindi and Bengali. Their insurgency soon split into various factions along tribal lines, and today there are only two major groups that are active. One of these is the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), or NSCN (IM), Isak Swu and T Muivah being its two main leaders. They are both Indian Nagas, unlike the leader of the other major group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), whose chief, Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang, is a Myanmarese national.

SS Khaplang, wearing red tie, with NSCN (K) men at a camp in Myanmar [Source]

Since the 1990s, the various Naga groups have had intermittent “peace talks” with the Indian government, and the NSCN (IM) signed a ceasefire within the territory of the state of Nagaland. It has a major camp in Nagaland with its own private army, its own so-called government, and to date “negotiates” with the Indian government for a final peace deal. This peace deal will never happen because of various reasons – mostly the demand that all Naga inhabited areas of Manipur should be transferred to Nagaland as part of a united Naga “homeland”  – but the charade goes on and the “peace” between the two sides is mostly holding.

What the “peace deal” did, basically, was free up the two NSCN factions to begin a vicious internecine war between themselves, a war which has involved battles with machine guns, mortars, and revenge attacks on each other’s villages. The Khaplang group has its major strength in Myanmar, and most of its camps are in the heavily forested area on the other side of the border where the Myanmarese government writ barely runs. There, the group has allied itself with non-Naga insurgent groups like the Kachin Independence Army which (I’ve been told informally by people who should know) has been trained and armed by India in the past.

The NSCN factions aren’t the only Indian insurgent groups to have camps in Myanmar, either. There are many small Manipuri rebel groups there, which often share camps, as well as the once formidable but now nearly defunct United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which in the late 1980s virtually controlled the state of Assam but now is a shadow of a shade of a whisper of what it used to be. In any case, the area is filled with Indian rebel groups, and it’s beyond imagining that the Indian government doesn’t know exactly where the permanent camps, at least, are.

[For the purposes of this discussion, I’m using the term “rebel” and “insurgent” as though these groups – like the Maoists of the Central Indian forests, far to the south-west – have an ideology and carry out an actual armed revolution, but in reality they’re nothing more than narcoterrorist mafia making money through drug smuggling, jade running and extortion of “taxes” from ordinary citizens and “donations” from businesses. In the worst affected state, Manipur, parents routinely send their children to other parts of the country as soon as they’re old enough to fend for themselves, to keep them out of the reach of these groups; and nobody can build a house, buy a car, or carry out any large financial transaction without risking being asked to pay one or more of these criminal gangs in jungle fatigues a share. But let’s ignore that for the time being and pretend they’re legitimate rebellions, as far as that term can be interpreted.]

Now as I said, the Indian government and the NSCN (IM) have a desultory and farcical “peace process” going on. There were some talks with the NSCN (K) too, but they were even less productive for a simple reason: SS Khaplang is a Myanmarese Naga of the Hemi tribe and there was little to nothing that the Indian government could offer him. What was India supposed to do, annex Myanmarese Naga areas to hand over to Khaplang as part of his Greater Nagaland?

In March, the NSCN (K) finally withdrew from the ceasefire with the Indian government and over the next two months launched a series of attacks over the territory of three states in which 31 soldiers and policemen were killed. Then, on 4th June, they ambushed a patrol of the army’s 6th Dogra Battalion in Manipur, killing 18 soldiers at one go and injuring 11 others.

Site of the ambush and destroyed vehicles [Source]

 That the 6th Dogra Battalion was caught flatfooted is obvious. In fact, it shouldn’t have been out in the open at all, seeing that all its officers, from the colonel in charge on down, were apparently away on secondment or various courses. The Indian Army, from British times, has deliberately discouraged initiative in its rank and file and concentrated authority totally in its officer corps. The idea behind this originally was that the ordinary soldiers, all Indians, should not be able to rise up in rebellion against the British, or British-trained-and-controlled, officer corps. Today, the tradition continues because the Indian Army is now more British in its hidebound conventions than the British army is.

Obviously, then, without officer leadership, this sort of army is decapitated and tends to stop in its tracks, something that had happened before as well during India’s intervention in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s, when Tamil snipers picked off the officers and immobilised entire divisions until they could be replaced. When ambushed, the battalion, commanded by Junior Commissioned Officers (the equivalent of sergeant majors or warrant officers) pretty much froze where it stood and took the consequences.

According to Khaplang, the ambush had been a joint venture of the NSCN (K) with two Manipuri ethnic Meitei rebel groups, the Kanglei Yawol Kunna Lup and the Kangleipak Communist Party of Manipur. If there’s one thing that exposes the hypocrisy of the entire Naga “rebellion”, it’s this. Allegedly, the Nagas of Manipur are oppressed by the Meitei, so they need to be joined to the Naga “homeland” of Nagaland, and Naga groups in Nagaland have repeatedly launched economic blockades of Manipur. But when it comes to military cooperation, there seems to be no bar to joining with Meitei groups to attack the army. Both NSCN factions, in fact, have in the past also joined up with different ethnic Kuki rebel groups earlier to fight each other, though the Nagas and the Kukis have their own inter-tribal war on.

So this was on 4th June. On the 9th June, Indian army commandos of the 21st Para allegedly launched a helicopter assault “deep inside Myanmar”, attacking an NSCN (K) base camp, and (also allegedly) killed 38 Naga insurgents and wounded seven others in an operation lasting forty minutes. I say “allegedly” in all this, because experience has taught me that any and every pronouncement of the Indian security forces about their, uh, alleged, exploits has to be confirmed before it can be believed. There have been many, many, many occasions in the past where these same security forces have murdered civilians in different parts of the country and passed them off as “terrorists”, “Maoists”, or “bandits”. I simply don’t trust them to tell me the truth after all that.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the paratroopers did attack an NSCN (K) base, that it did kill 38 Nagas, and that all of them were NSCN (K) men and no random civilians were harmed. Let’s also assume, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, the claim that the killed men were those responsible for the ambush and not other NSCN (K) cadre, even though the army itself is far from certain of this.  For the purposes of this article, let’s assume all that as fact.

Now, this is the kind of operation, obviously, that involved an armed incursion into the territory of another nation, and that constitutes an act of invasion. This, too, was obviously an act that could be justified as being necessary. The NSCN (K) and other groups had become adept at launching hit and run attacks in India and retreating into Myanmarese territory, where they could rest and get ready for the next attack without fear of retribution. This kind of in and out operation, designed to cause the maximum amount of damage in the minimum possible time and bring home the fact that these sanctuaries could no longer be depended on, is absolutely justified under these circumstances. But any sane thought process would conclude that these operations should be kept clandestine, “black ops” as they say, and officially everyone should pretend that they never happened. After all, the NSCN (K) could hardly remain unaware that it had lost 38 dead and seven wounded, and one of its bases destroyed, even if India didn’t officially utter a word about it. And it would have drawn the obvious conclusion that its hitherto safe rear area was no longer safe.

But that would, as I said, apply only if the thought processes involved were rational. Unfortunately, India is ruled at the moment by a Hindunazi cabal that glorifies militarism and has a huge chip on its shoulder. Back in 1999, when a previous Hindunazi regime had held power, jihadi terrorists had hijacked an Indian airliner from Nepal and flown it to Kandahar in the then-Taliban ruled Afghanistan. They then successfully negotiated the release of three top terrorists in return for freeing the plane. The then Hindunazi foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, had invited widespread mockery when he accompanied these three terrorists to Kandahar to personally turn them over to the hijackers. Subsequently, whenever the Hindunazis had accused others of being “soft on terror”, the answer had invariably brought up this episode. The regime needed something to cancel the “shame” out. Also, the current Prime Minister had built up a reputation for himself as a “tough guy” and needed to maintain it. And, besides, the last one year of Hindunazi rule hasn’t exactly proved the Golden Age of the fevered imagination of the people who voted for them. Jingoism provides a great distraction for people who have already started noticing that prices are still rising, unemployment is still rampant, corruption is still everywhere, and that not one promise the Hindunazis made has even started to be fulfilled.

So it was that, instead of keeping mum about the whole business as prudence and sanity demanded, the Hindunazis – using the ultra-right wing Indian media, which actually is even more extreme than the Hindunazis themselves – splurged the details of the operation all over. They identified the unit – 21st Para, as I said – involved, the number of soldiers (70), the fact that drones had been used to plan the operation, the weapons involved, including thermal imagers and rocket launchers, and even the tactical movements made when the unit had been helicoptered in, how it split into two sections in a pincer movement. In fact, I can barely express how appallingly idiotic the whole thing was. If they wanted to tell any future targets exactly how to defend themselves from attack, they could not have done better. And the crowning bit of idiocy is that the Hindunazi politician who was making the maximum noise about this was a former Army officer, Rajyavardhan Rathore, who certainly ought to have known better.

Soldiers of 21st Para and (right) Rathore [Source]

 Politically, it did even worse. Except for a brief dalliance with the horrible Aung Sang Suu Kyi in the 1990s, which involved sheltering Myanmarese hijackers, the Indian government has been friendly to Myanmar. Since 2007 relations have been improving steadily, with Indian firms deeply involved in setting up infrastructure projects in the country. The Myanmarese government was in this case also eager not to rock the boat and said that the Indian attack had taken place “along the frontier” in Indian territory. That would normally have been taken as a signal to India to stick to a line both sides could agree on. But the Hindunazis wouldn’t have any of that – they, to prove how tough they were, insisted that the operation had been “deep inside Myanmar”, something guaranteed to raise the hackles of the generals in Naypyidaw. It was compounded by alleged data leaks “proving” that China was arming and training the rebels, which in turn roused a sharp protest from the Chinese. In fact, if the idea was to push Myanmar away from India – and, inevitably, towards China – the Hindunazis could again not have done better.

Not that the army was any more competent in its response. It took  two whole days to get off its arse and make any kind of statement, by which time even  the photos of the soldiers involved had been plastered all over the media. And all it did then was say that it had not authorised any “memento” of the operation. Where did all the information about the weapons, personnel and tactics splashed over the media come from then, you ask?

Don’t ask.

By that time, in any case, the loonies had long since taken over. Rathore – the ex-army Hindunazi – began it by threatening the same tactics against Pakistan. “It is undoubtedly a message to all nations that harb­our ill intenti­ons — be it the west or the specific country we went into now — we’ll choose the time and place to hit them,” he said.

To anyone with even a tenuous grasp on reality, this should have rung alarm bells. It’s one thing to launch a commando operation inside Myanmar, a country that made no attempt to fight off the attack, and which was in any case directed against a group with no heavier weapons than small arms and light mortars. It’s a whole order of magnitude different when you start blathering about a commando raid inside Pakistan.

Let me now speculate on what might happen in the not too distant future. Suppose there’s a major terrorist strike along the border in Kashmir. In fact, sooner or later, there is absolutely guaranteed to be a major terrorist strike along the border in Kashmir. The terrorists then flee across the border into Pakistan, or are said to have fled across the border into Pakistan.

So, what do Mr Rathore and the rest of the Hindunazi cabal do then?

Let’s take a moment to remember that this isn’t Myanmar. It’s Pakistan, which has a highly competent military quite capable of defending itself, and, which, furthermore, has a large arsenal of nuclear weapons. Let’s remember that not even the USSR, during all the years of the CIA-run Afghan jihad, made any attempt to strike the terrorist camps in Pakistan. Let’s remember all that, because we will need to.

Unless I’m very much mistaken, I believe that the government will want to take the sane road and do nothing. It’s not that the Hindunazis are necessarily sane, but there’s a very big calculation they’ll need to factor in. The Hindunazis – being fascists – are totally in bed with Big Business, and said Big Business and the industrial areas are all concentrated in the north and north-west of the country, bordering Pakistan. Prime Minister Narendrabhai Modi’s own home state, Gujarat, is India’s westernmost state, and forms a vulnerable salient between Pakistan and the sea. A major war will destroy the business and industry the Hindunazis depend on for financial support, and they won’t want to risk that. So the Hindunazis won’t want a war.

But the Hindunazis won’t be allowed to sit idle, because of the media.

I’ve written in the past about my contempt for the Indian media, which exceeds even my contempt for the Great Indian Muddle Class. The sane media these days is on the verge of vanishing – I can think of only a few sources, like the Hindu Group of newspapers and magazines (despite the name, a left wing anti-Hindunazi grouping) and Outlook magazine. The rest of the media, especially television, is divided between the right, the far right, and the extreme slavering crazy ultra-right which makes Fox News look almost normal. And the media won’t, let me assure you, hold back from goading the government to launch a “commando raid” on Pakistan just like it did on Myanmar. And if the government doesn’t comply, the same media won’t hesitate a moment to brand it a regime of cowards and eunuchs.

But can an Indian government allow itself to be forced into a ruinous war by jingoist media? Actually, it already has. In the late 1950s, as I have written elsewhere, border tensions with China were stoked by the media to the point where the then (socialist) government of Jawaharlal Nehru was forced to take an increasingly hard line just to keep the pressure off its back. In order to quench the accusations of cowardice, it invaded the Portuguese colonies of Goa, Daman and Diu in December 1961 and quickly conquered and annexed them. The victory was facile because the isolated and weak Portuguese forces put up only a token resistance, but to the media of the day it was a huge victory.

Did it quench their zeal for military glory, as Nehru had hoped? Of course not. Instead it increased their demands for war against China, to the extent where Nehru felt compelled to begin an ever more provocative policy, including pushing troops into regions which even according to Indian maps was Chinese territory.

And what did that achieve? On 20th October 1962 the Chinese finally struck back, and within a month had so utterly routed the Indian army that the country is yet, psychologically, to recover from that defeat. And all that was under a government which was not only not Hindunazi, not militarist, but was actively anti-militarist.

Now imagine what happens under this Hindunazi regime when it’s challenged to prove its guts against Pakistan.

I’ll repeat that the government will not want a war. It might consider a limited heliborne assault by commandos as in Myanmar, but Pakistan is heavily defended and such an attack is all too likely to result in destroyed helicopters, dead soldiers, and prisoners paraded on Pakistani TV. That would raise the pressure for further war to unbearable levels, to the point that the Hindunazis could no longer resist.

Instead, as a compromise, they might want to launch a couple of airstrikes, probably only just over the border into Pakistan, hitting random villages and claiming they were “terrorist camps”. This is something Pakistan has grown used to at the hands of its Amerikastani masters operating drones from Afghanistan. But India is not the Imperialist States of Amerikastan, and what Pakistan will swallow from the latter it will not swallow from Delhi.

So it’s more than likely that an Indian airstrike will result in retaliatory Pakistani attacks, probably by missiles and artillery barrages on Indian positions. That in turn will raise the pressure in Delhi for further escalation. What will the Hindunazis do then? Back down?

Let me remind you that both these countries have large nuclear arsenals. How does that make you feel?

Not too good, I’ll bet.


According to this article, only seven low level terrorists' bodies were found after the strike, "one of the two camps" attacked was empty, and India has now sent representatives to apologise to Myanmar, which proves my point about not believing a word the Indian Army says about anything.


  1. i have to read this more than once, it is confusing mess

    1. @Chi, yes, but it is next to inevitable when you try to stuff into one article the context that is enough for a small textbook.

  2. Naturally, the war mongers of the media, just like their fellows in politics will never see front line combat. Therefore, they will push for war and more war, just as Faux Noise does here in 'Merikkka. Not that the other TV channels that say they are news channels do any less pushing.
    Yes, the chicken hawks love war, as long as they and/or their family members don't have to do the fighting and dying/bleeding. Bunch of gutless damn cowards, just like Mr. 5 deferments Cheney.


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