By Joseph Allchin
Indian separatists hiding out in northwest Burma have been aided by China since they were expelled from Bangladesh, according to a leaked Indian government memo.
A “top official” was quoted from the internal memo in India’s Deccan Herald newspaper as saying that, “India’s success in Bangladesh had given an opportunity to China to deal with these outfits at one place in Myanmar [Burma] and use them against India”.
The memo also allegedly notes that Chinese and Pakistani operatives have visited Indian separatists at their bases in Burma.
China has been organising groups to bring about more unity amongst the ethnic rebel groups who are fighting for more autonomy from the Indian state in the northeast region of the country, the memo continues. China claims parts of this region, namely Arunachal Pradesh, which they say is part of Tibet, despite having belonged to British India.
“These outfits were getting weapons from China, which was a matter of serious concern,” says the memo.
India separatist outfits such as the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) are rumoured to have sheltered in remote areas along the Indo-Burma border and receive arms from China.
China sees India’s harbouring of the Dalai Lama as an affront, as it views the Tibetan spiritual leader as a threat to Beijing’s sovereignty. His cause is rumoured to have been funded by US intelligence.
Bangladesh for its part has moved towards India following the election of the Awami League Party led by Sheikh Hasina, whose father was aided by Indira Gandhi in the country’s struggle for independence against Pakistan in 1971. Her daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi, now presides over India’s ruling Congress Party and made an historic visit to Dhaka this year after years of frosty relations between the two South Asian nations.
The Bangladesh about-face saw ULFA cadres arrested and serious assets seized, including textile mills and other businesses.
Where Burma stands in the tussle between its two neighbours is in doubt. Some allege that Naypyidaw has remained apathetic about India’s concerns, repeatedly pledging to flush out separatists from its territory but not lifting a finger.
Journalist Bertil Lintner called a recent operation against ULFA by the Burmese as a “phantom operation”.
But India’s former ambassador to Burma, Gopalapuram Parthasrathy, sees more commitment from the Burmese. He told DVB in August that, “The reality is that on occasions in the past Myanmar [Burmese] soldiers have shed their lives fighting Indian terrorists.”
As with Burma, there is a common fear that ethnic armed groups in India will unify, thereby causing a greater headache to planners and the military. The memo expresses fear that the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang (NSCN-K) had made alliances with Meitei groups from the state of Manipur.
The Indian state for its part is rumoured to fund various groups to perpetuate division amongst armed groups. The rumours that groups receive Chinese funding is not new, but may instead be a deliberate leak in order to put pressure on the Chinese at a crucial time.