Aftermath of the Myanmar Ordeal: Its Legal and Political Repercussions

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Indeed by displaying much determination, spirit and efficiency, the Indian Army successfully executed its mission to bring down the terrorists who had earlier killed around 20 army men in a military ambush in Manipur. The operation resulted in the killing of about 40 National Socialist Council of Nagaland NSCN (K) militants (which is yet to be verified as so far no bodies have been recovered), sending out a resilient message to such ambitious militant outfits. This operation was followed by a plethora of statements from the political leaderships across the country applauding about the success of the Mission and thereby disclosing its whereabouts and similar other details. For the first time in the past few decades, have we heard of any such operation being carried out by the Indian forces across the borders with certain voices terming it as a move from ‘condemning to acting’, seeking to hint at the unresponsiveness of the earlier governments at the Centre in response to similar terrorist threats and attacks.

The task accomplished by our security forces was indeed commendable but the Centre was met with serious criticisms for its non-disclosure from the opposition parties, subsequent boastful claims about the successful covert operation, and at the same time jeopardizing its relations with Myanmar. There are certain eyebrows-raising issues, which strictly need to be looked at, in order to avoid controversies for such similar operations in the future.

In the beginning, the Indian Army and the Central Government had consistently maintained that the operation had been conducted ‘along the Indo-Myanmar border’ but refracting from this stand, later on, the Centre along with some concerned officials stated that the operation had been conducted within a few kilometers inside the Myanmar territory, citing the doctrine of ‘hot pursuit’, to which the Myanmar authorities have continuously declined, even though it was added that the same had been done after taking Myanmar’s authorities into confidence. Such disclosure has some serious problems associated with it.

Firstly, India claims to have performed this operation citing the doctrine of ‘hot pursuit’ which in itself is problematic in nature. A reference to the doctrine could be found in the United Nations Convention on the Law of Seas, where a vessel could be chased on the high seas but the same cannot be chased if it enters its own country’s territory or a third country’s territory. There is reluctance in the international community to accept the doctrine as countries like South Africa have faced severe criticisms from the United Nations Security Council for using the doctrine in the defense of its actions in past. It is hereby analyzed that in place of the doctrine of ‘hot pursuit’, India could have considered the application of the doctrine of ‘self-defense’ which has found its relative approval in the international arena (especially post-9/11 actions by the United States of America, which largely fell under the doctrine of self-defense).

Secondly, such disclosure clearly states that there were terrorists who were present in a country’s territory (even though the same might not be enjoying patronage of the said country). No country, in the first place, would like to admit that its lands have grown as safe havens for the terrorists, which time and again, strike on the land of other countries, especially given the fact that the leader of NSCN(K), SS Khaplang, who himself is a Burmese Naga, is undergoing treatment in one of the biggest hospital of Yangon (though considering that India did not have any problem with this as the ceasefire agreement was in force at the time of his admission and this was also before the attack had been carried out). Hence, though unintended, this might send out a message that there is a possible inaction or incapability on the part of the Myanmarese authorities in curbing the menace of terrorism.

Thirdly, Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry cited it’s Constitution which does not allow any foreign government to deploy its military forces on its land (Articles 41 & 42), striking down any indication that it allowed or would allow any such operation on its territory. The foremost problem with such disclosure is that it destroys the element of secrecy, which ought to be taken care of, even after the formal and physical execution. Such disclosure might prejudice any such ongoing operation by our army personnel in any part of the world. Recently, one former army personnel remarked that though it was highly praiseworthy of the Indian Army that it was carrying out such operations, however, utmost care has to be taken care while disclosing the details of such operations as numerous other factors are involved in this regard and the government should have restrained itself from boasting about it, time and again.

It is being reported that the formal disclosure that the operation had been executed in Myanmar has generated heated debate in Myanmar and it becomes even more crucial at a time when the country was gearing up for its assembly elections, after the military (junta) tookover last year. Hence, this might have serious implications on our relations with Myanmar, given the current political situation.

No sooner had the information been disseminated, there were certain voices speaking about the possibility of similar kinds of operations in Pakistan in future and that this operation had served as a critical warning to the countries allowing breeding of terrorist activities on their soil (a clear indication towards Pakistan as many suspected) which in turn drew obvious and expected sharp criticisms from Pakistan.

The divulging of information further might also provide an opportunity to other terror outfits to make strategies, after becoming aware about possibility of such operations by the Indian Army and to stay prepared for it accordingly (though it is possibility that seems farfetched, yet it cannot be completely ruled out). An opposition member had remarked that the reason behind that lack of dissemination of information regarding any such operations previously during the tenures of past governments was because no such disclosures were allowed to be made, considering the various security issues involved. Though the comment had been made in the wake of political rivalry, the fact that no such news came out in the past decades cannot be ignored and opens up a wide range of debate over the eternal secrecy of such military operations.

Though, the purpose of such disclosure was perhaps to reach out to the masses and highlight the achievements and capabilities of the Indian Army or to even gracefully showcase the transformation of our approach from ‘condemning to acting’, what should not be forgotten is that in the long run, this might have serious adverse implications on similar or even more complicated military operations to be carried out in future. Further, India’s relations with other countries has to also be taken into account, given the stakes involved in the light of rise of Chinese forefront and the constant cold tussle that India is involved in with its neighbors.

What is the need of the hour is a more prudential approach, which is expected on the part of country’s political leadership. To appreciate and feel proud about our achievements is one thing, but to ensure what is brought out on the public forum and what should remain disclosed, is a subjective matter, which needs to be ascertained in such sensitive matters. Also, one cannot overlook the fact that patriotism and jingoism are two very different things separated by a thin veil, and one must carefully venture while dealing with such aspects in the near and distant future.

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