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Why govt should stop chest-thumping on Myanmar operation

Cross-border ops are best kept out of the public domain

Business Standard Editorial Comment  |  New Delhi 

The Indian special forces' swift reaction in Myanmar against militants following the death of 18 armymen in Manipur on June 4 is a salutary example of the efficiency of India's military and diplomatic machinery when it comes to dealing with insurgents operating across our borders. Though the operation is being described as one of "hot pursuit", coming as it does five days after the ambush of the Dogra Regiment personnel, it would probably be more accurate to call it a well-planned "cold pursuit". It was designed to inflict maximum damage on the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), an extremist splinter of a group that signed an accord with the Union government in the 1980s, and the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), a Manipuri terrorist outfit whose cadres operate under the NSCN-K protection in its Myanmar bases. The operation certainly sent a potent message to such groups about the retaliatory capacity of the Indian security forces and the diplomatic power of India in the region. The cross-border operation was, according to a military spokesman, the result of "credible intelligence" that these groupings were planning more strikes within India. As a model of neighbourly collaboration, then, Wednesday's operation is unexceptionable.

If it falls short of enabling greater cooperation in the region for similar operations, it is mainly on account of the government's triumphalist publicity. Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore's tweet using the hashtag #56inRocks, a reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's alleged chest size, reflected a gauche immaturity unbecoming of a Union minister. As a former military man, Mr Rathore's personal pride in the success of this operation can be understood. But his official capacity as a representative of the government called for dignified restraint - and, more importantly, a sense of responsibility. Following up the tweet with intemperate language about sending a message to all countries, including Pakistan, and groups harbouring terror intent is unlikely to encourage Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal or even Myanmar to readily extend assistance in the future.

As a former colonel, Mr Rathore should have known that Wednesday's operation is hardly a novel development. The Indian army and special forces have operated across borders to target militants several times before - including in Myanmar and even across the Line of Control in Pakistan, though the response has rarely been as swift. Those operations, too, have involved intricate negotiations with neighbouring governments. Such operations are, however, rarely acknowledged in the public domain and for good reason. Few countries would care to openly admit that they have permitted security forces of another country to operate on their territory even if it involves a collaborative exercise (even Pakistan retains this public posture despite the regular incursions by its long-standing ally, the United States). Successful, constructive cooperation for operations of this nature, therefore, demand delicate backroom diplomacy of the kind India has demonstrated in the past. Such discretion is vital because militants of various hues from the northeast tend to be part of closely collaborative networks across South and parts of Southeast Asia. Going forward, India, therefore, will need all the cooperation it can get and that is best obtained by low-key tact rather than shrill triumphalism.

First Published: Thu, June 11 2015. 13:00 IST