Between February 17, 2019, and March 2, 2019, the Myanmar Army conducted Operation Sunrise, a series of "coordinated operations", against Arakan Army (AA) insurgents in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. According to reports, Indian military sources, indicated that, during the operation, at least 12 AA rebel positions were destroyed by the Myanmar Army. India shared intelligence with the Myanmar Army. At least one soldier of the Myanmar Army was critically injured in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast during the operation.
The operation was launched to avert a possible threat to the much delayed but strategic INR 29.04 billion Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project. A framework agreement and protocol about the project, envisaged to provide an alternative outlet to India’s landlocked Northeast India, was signed in April 2008. The project, earlier set to be completed by 2013, missed several deadlines and is now expected to be completed only by 2020.
The transit route will link Zorinpui in Mizoram’s Lawngtlai District and Howrah (on India’s eastern coast) in West Bengal via Myanmar’s Kaletwa, Paletwa (Inland Water Transport terminal) and Sittwe (sea port). The transit route will have a 129 kilometer long highway between Zorinpui and Paletwa, a 158 kilometer long waterway on the Kaladan River between Paletwa to Sittwe, and a sea route between Sittwe and Howrah. Deputy Commissioner, Lawngtlai, N. Sakhai disclosed, in December 2018, "About 75 per cent of the project has been completed so far. The highway will be completed next year and the deadline will be finalised very soon."
Meanwhile, as part of the operation, apart from the Lawngtlai District of Mizoram, security was also beefed up along the Indo-Myanmar borders in Nagaland and Manipur to ensure that the insurgents are not able to cross over to the Indian side.
Significantly, over the past two years AA has become substantially active in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and has carried out a series of attacks targeting Myanmar’s Security Forces. AA leadership in social media posts have described the separatist insurrection launched by them as the “2020 Arakan Dream”. Explaining the “2020 Arakan Dream”, AA Chief Tun Myat Naing stated, in January 2019,
…By 2020 our group will be 10 years old, and by that time the political beliefs of the United League of Arakan will have been widely disseminated among the Arakanese people. We have made a clarion call to Arakanese people from all walks of life and all places to rebuild our country with unity and to shoulder tfhe responsibility for the collapsing Arakanese society...
Major Thet Oo Maung, a military representative in the Rakhine State Parliament, on February 20,2019 had disclosed, "They plan to stage a coup in Paletwa, Kyauktaw and Mrauk-U by 2020 as part of their mission called the 2020 Arakan Dream".
Operation Sunrise was preceded in 2017 by another instance of coordination between the armed forces of both the countries in dealing with Arakan Army. An unnamed senior Indian Army officer observed, “The Myanmar rebels [Arakan Army] have been creating more problems on their side than ours. At their (Myanmar’s) request, we had killed five of their rebels and captured 8-10 on our side in 2017…”.
Referring to the military quid-pro-quo behind the recent actions in Myanmar, an unnamed Indian official noted,
A deal was cut out that after the action adjoining Mizoram, the Myanmar Army will hit the insurgent camps of other groups that have been targeting India. This resulted in totally wiping out of Taga, the HQ [Headquarter] of NSCN-K [Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang]. Based on specific inputs provided by us the Myanmar Army hit these camps and is now occupying them.
It is pertinent to recall here that in February 2019, the Myanmar Army took action against the Aung Yung-led faction of NSCN-K and other Indian Insurgent Groups. The military action had targeted the United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland-Saoraigwra (NDFB-S) and Kamtapur Liberation Organistaion (KLO), apart from NSCN-K. The Myanmar Army has carried out such operations earlier as well.
The Districts along the Indo-Myanmar border have become the last remaining theatre of insurgency in the once-restive northeast region of India. Similarly, regions in Myanmar bordering India are witnessing a surge in insurgent activities.
Sustained coordination and collective action in the security sphere between India and Myanmar could unlock the true development potential of the landlocked frontiers of both countries, helping bridge the huge ethnic diversity and address the violent insurgencies that have raged in these regions. Further, effective implementation of the 32 kilometer (16 kilometers on each side) Free Movement Regime (FMR) in the bordering areas will also go a long way to curb the insurgencies here.