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Saturday, June 22, 2024

China’s Strategic Maneuvers in Manipur: Fomenting Trouble through Myanmar-Based Terror Groups*

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Manipur, a state in the northeastern region of India, has long been a flashpoint of ethnic strife and insurgent activities. Recently, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has unveiled a deeper, more insidious layer to the turmoil: China’s alleged role in fomenting trouble in Manipur using Myanmar-based and local terror groups. This strategic interference aims to destabilize India’s development plans in Manipur and other northeastern states, potentially jeopardizing regional stability and economic growth.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has made a significant breakthrough in its mission to thwart transnational conspiracies aimed at destabilizing the northeastern state of Manipur. On Thursday, the agency apprehended Thongminthang Haokip, also known as Thangboi Haokip or Roger, a key accused in a case relating to a nefarious plot orchestrated by insurgents and terrorist groups.

The case, which was registered suo moto by the NIA on July 19 last year, sheds light on a complex web of collaboration between Kuki and Zomi insurgents, supported by terrorist organizations based in northeastern states and neighboring Myanmar. The primary objective of this conspiracy was to exploit ethnic unrest in the region and wage war against the government of India through violent attacks.

According to the NIA, Thongminthang Haokip was deeply entrenched in this conspiracy, actively participating in attacks on security forces and instigating violence to exacerbate the volatile situation in Manipur. His ties with the insurgent group Kuki National Front (KNF)-B of Myanmar facilitated the procurement of arms, ammunition, and explosives, which were intended for use in the ongoing crisis in Manipur.

China’s interest in India’s northeastern states is driven by several strategic imperatives. Firstly, the region’s proximity to the Chinese border makes it a significant area of influence in the broader contest for regional dominance. Secondly, the northeastern states, including Manipur, are crucial to India’s Act East Policy, which aims to enhance connectivity and economic integration with Southeast Asia. By destabilizing this region, China can impede India’s strategic and economic ambitions.

Furthermore, the northeastern states hold substantial natural resources, including oil, gas, and minerals, which are vital for both countries’ economic interests. Disrupting India’s control over these resources can provide China with a tactical advantage in the regional resource competition.

China’s alleged strategy involves leveraging insurgent groups based in Myanmar and within Manipur itself. These groups, including the Kuki National Front (KNF), PLA Manipur, UKLF, and other proscribed entities, have long-standing grievances and secessionist aspirations. By providing support to these groups, China can exploit existing ethnic and political tensions to create instability.

Myanmar’s porous borders and historical ties with northeastern insurgent groups make it a fertile ground for China’s strategic operations. Several insurgent groups, such as the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), have been reported to maintain connections with Chinese intelligence. These groups, in turn, have links with northeastern Indian insurgents, facilitating the flow of arms, training, and logistical support.

Recent intelligence reports indicate that Chinese operatives have been meeting with leaders of these groups to coordinate efforts aimed at disrupting peace in Manipur. The supply of sophisticated weaponry and explosives from Myanmar-based insurgents to their counterparts in Manipur has significantly escalated the violence and chaos in the region.

Thongminthang Haokip’s recent arrest by the NIA underscores the critical role groups like KNF play in the broader conspiracy. Haokip’s admission of participating in armed attacks and his connections with Myanmar-based insurgents highlight the transnational nature of the threat.

China’s strategy is not limited to fomenting violence. There are concerted efforts to sabotage economic projects aimed at transforming Manipur and the northeastern region. The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project are pivotal initiatives under India’s Act East Policy. By destabilizing Manipur, China aims to disrupt these projects, which are designed to enhance trade connectivity between India and Southeast Asia.

The construction of critical infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and communication networks, has been targeted by insurgent groups. These attacks create a climate of insecurity, deterring investment and slowing down developmental activities. China’s hand in these disruptions is part of a broader strategy to keep India off-balance and impede its economic progress.

Ethnic tensions in Manipur provide a fertile ground for insurgent activities. The Meitei, Kuki, and Naga communities, among others, have historical grievances and demands for greater autonomy. China exploits these divisions by providing support to specific groups, thereby deepening the fault lines.

Radicalization of youth in these communities is another dimension of China’s strategy. By supplying arms and ideological support, China ensures a steady stream of recruits for insurgent activities. This not only sustains the insurgency but also creates a persistent security threat for India.

China’s actions in Myanmar and Manipur have significant diplomatic repercussions. India’s diplomatic relations with Myanmar are crucial for regional stability. However, China’s deep economic and political ties with Myanmar complicate the situation. Beijing’s influence over Naypyidaw allows it to leverage Myanmar’s territory and insurgent groups against India.

Furthermore, the international community’s focus on China’s actions in the South China Sea and its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) often overshadows its activities in South Asia. This makes it challenging for India to garner global support against China’s covert operations in its northeastern states.

India’s response to these challenges involves a multi-pronged approach. Strengthening border security and intelligence networks is paramount. The NIA’s efforts to track and apprehend key insurgent leaders, as seen in the arrest of Thongminthang Haokip, are crucial steps in dismantling the insurgent infrastructure.

Diplomatically, India is engaging with Myanmar to enhance bilateral security cooperation. Joint military operations and intelligence sharing are essential to counter the insurgent threat. Additionally, India is investing in community development and economic projects in Manipur to address the root causes of insurgency.

Efforts to integrate Manipur into the broader economic framework of the Act East Policy are ongoing. By accelerating infrastructure projects and promoting economic opportunities, India aims to reduce the appeal of insurgent groups and foster a climate of stability.

In conclusion, China’s role in fomenting trouble in Manipur through Myanmar-based and local insurgent groups represents a significant challenge to India’s security and development objectives. This strategy of destabilization aims to disrupt India’s Act East Policy and maintain regional instability.

India’s countermeasures, including enhanced security, diplomatic engagement, and economic development, are crucial in addressing this multifaceted threat. As the geopolitical landscape evolves, vigilance and strategic foresight will be essential for India to safeguard its northeastern states and advance its regional ambitions.

The ongoing struggle in Manipur is a testament to the broader geopolitical contest between India and China. The outcome of this contest will shape the future of the region and determine the trajectory of development and stability in the northeastern states

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