A recent arms haul in Thailand and an ambush on an Assam Rifles team in Manipur have sent Indian security agencies into tizzy about possible Chinese attempts to destabilise India’s northeast through proxy war just as Pakistan is trying to do in Kashmir.
The seizure of a large cache of Chinese-made weapons by Thailand police in the country’s Tak Province bordering Myanmar on June 23 rattled the security apparatus in India as they believed the consignment could have been passed on to Indian militants.
Among the 33 weapons seized by the police were M16, M79, M5.5 and AK47 assault rifles, grenade launchers and machine guns.
After the seizure, Indian ambassador to Thailand Suchitra Durai on July 20 went to the Southeast Asian country’s Tak province to hold discussions with its governor, Unsit Sampuntharat. Significantly, the local police chief and immigration officials of Thailand were also present in the meeting.
Sources said, during the meeting, the Indian ambassador wanted Thailand to share more details about the source of the consignment and its possible destination.
During the course of investigation into the arms seizure, it reportedly came to the light that consignments of arms were sent in the past through the Thailand-Myanmar border in Tak province to Indian insurgents based in the Sagaing region in Northwest Myanmar, bordering India.
Intelligence sources claimed the the Arakan Army (AA) and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), active in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, and India’s northeast insurgents were mainly procuring weapons sourced from China by local gun runners.
Among those arrested in connection with the June arms haul was a former member of the Royal Thai Army, identified as Sadayu.
Since the deterioration of India-China ties after the clash in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley on June 15, it has been a concern for India that Chinese agencies could wage a proxy war in the north-eastern region.
Some defence experts even saw Chinese hands in the attack jointly carried out by three north-eastern militant groups on an Assam Rifles petrol party, killing three jawans in Manipur’s Chandel district, bordering Myanmar, last week.
It was the first major ambush carried out by the militants on security personnel after Myanmar and Indian Army launched a joint operation, code-named “Sunrise”, to flush out Indian insurgents based in the neighbouring country. Since the launch of the operation last year, several bases of the militants dotted along the 1,640-km-long India-Myanmar border were destroyed by the armed forces of the two countries.
The recent attack on the Assam Rifles squad was carried out by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of Manipur, the United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent) and a lesser known Manipur Naga People’s Front (MNPF), a splinter group of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Issac-Muivah). All these groups are based in Myanmar.
The agencies investigating the attack are reportedly looking into the Chinese angle into the ambush. “It’s a well established fact that the PLA has close ties with influential people in the Chinese government, and so also the ULFA (I) leader, Paresh Barua. There are all possibilities that China will like to take advantage of the presence of so many anti-India groups in its backyard,” said a senior army official posted at Nagaland’s Dimapur-based 3 Corps, which also oversees counter-insurgency operations in Manipur.
Former Director General of Assam and Tripura Police GM Srivastava too claimed the Chinese agencies had been trying to keep the northeast disturbed by helping militant groups, and there was every possibility of them intensifying such efforts after the recent border standoff.
India is, however, not yet jumping to any conclusion about China’s direct role in the two incidents. A military intelligence officer, who had extensively worked in Myanmar, told The Federal that north-eastern militants were not getting any arms from China for free.
He said both Indian and Myanmar’s insurgent groups mostly purchase arms from Norinco, a Chinese government-owned armed factory in Yunnan. Some corrupt officials of the Norinco reportedly have also set up an illegal arms manufacturing facility at Myanmar-China border to produce “fakes” of their original products.
The Brigadier-ranked officer said it could be possible that it were the provincial leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and local army commanders who were dealing with these insurgent leaders with Beijing preferring to look the other way.
Nevertheless, he said, even if it was a covert and tacit support, it had been only making India’s counter-insurgency offensive backed by the Tatmadaw, the armed forces of Myanmar, that more difficult.