Long Arms Reach Further Out

The Indian government, after years of hesitation, has finally decided to extend its counter-insurgency operations against militant groups in the Northeast to neighbouring countries Bhutan and Myanmar. It’s common knowledge that many Northeast militant groups like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the United Nationalist Liberation Front (UNLF) have bases in Bhutan and Myanmar. Defence minister George Fernandes also confirmed the launching of operations across the border. “An action plan has been prepared with the help of neighbouring countries to contain militancy,” he said. Later, an army commander directly involved in counter-insurgency operations in Assam told Outlook: “Brisk preparations on the ground are on to launch operations in Bhutan very soon, and in Myanmar in the near future.” Nearly a division-level force (almost 40,000 troops) is currently deployed in Assam along the Bhutan border. Most of the ULFA and NDFB cadres have been holed up in camps in the southern Bhutan jungles since 1994. The UNLF, on the other hand, has several camps on the porous India-Myanmar border tracts along with some other Manipuri militant groups.

According to a highly-placed defence source, the green signal from Bhutan came a few weeks ago. Bhutanese foreign minister Lyompo Jigme Y. Thinley had hinted at this when he stated in Norway last month that Thimphu was ready to use military force to drive the ULFA and NDFB insurgents from its territory.