Border of Contention


Following the meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde had with representatives of all political parties in Manipur on 4 December over the happenings along the Indo-Myanmarese border, a high-level team comprising officials of the home ministry, the Survey of India and the state government visited border villages in south-east Manipur on 7 December.

As of now, the ongoing work on border fencing along the 35-km Manipur- Myanmar border remains suspended. The team recommended that the border agreement be reviewed and, if need be, taken up with the Myanmar government at the diplomatic level. Meanwhile, Myanmar has claimed that since the land on which the Integrated Check Post in the border town of Moreh (Manipur) is being constructed falls under its jurisdiction, the work should stop forthwith. India is said to have invited the Myanmar several times to discuss border issues but there has been no response.

The latter has also not positively responded for joint efforts in tackling mutual insurgency problems. Because of this, major bilateral development projects under India’s Look East Policy have not been progressing as envisaged. Though there has been no major violence, tensions along the Indo-Myanmarese border have been shimmering, particularly in Manipur’s Chandel district. In July-August this year, Haolenphai villagers saw Myanmar security personnel patrolling the area and they even entered the village to construct barracks. Moreover, the 10-km fencing, work on which started this year, was found to be entrenched within Indian territory and if work continues it would also cover parts of the village.

In October, after government officials visited Mangkang (Haolenphai village) and Thangbung Minou, political party representatives submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister. It said that since Manipur had been incorporated into the Indian Union in October 1949, the Centre was responsible for protecting international borders. The memorandum pointed out that under the boundary delimitation agreed upon (April  1975) there were to be 99 posts along the Indo-Myanmares border in the Manipur sector. Today, several such pillars were missing while similar ones with dual numbers had been fixed on both sides, it said. There were two different lines and scales; the topo-sheet Map of 1973 and topo-sheet Map of 1976 in the record of the Surveyor General of India.

Pillar Nos 64 to 68 and 75 to 80 are in a disputed area. About a dozen more were found to be contentious. Pillar Nos 76 and 78 in Moreh had disappeared and replaced by new ones with the Nos 23 and 21 and their shape and size did not tally with the originals. Also, two border pillars with the same number, 87, were found in Yangoupokpi village on the Indian side and another similar pillar located at Oukrung village on the Myanmar side. Similarly, pillar Nos 87, 88  and 89 were found on both Indian and Myanmar soil. It is alleged that many pillars were uprooted from the original sites and erected deep inside Indian territory.

Territory and related matters in Manipur comprise an emotive subject. The 1826 Yandaboo Treaty and the 1834 agreement on Kabaw valley have always remained contentious issues. Reference to the loss of large chunks of territory and Kabaw valley to Myanmar, or ethnic communities divided across the border, were frequently made by Manipuris in their socio- political discourses.

According to the bilateral agreement signed in Rangoon between India and Burma in March 1967, demarcation of the international boundary line demarcation was to be based on the traditional boundary line. Manipur political parties alleged that at the time of the delimitation in April 1975 no responsible officers from the Indian side were present.

After more than 40 years, the 35-km stretch of common border in the Manipur sector is yet to be demarcated on the ground. And after more than 50 years of Independence, India is yet to ascertain and draw its International boundary lines in the North-eastern sector.

India’s relations with its eastern neighbours have always been viewed through the North-east prism. Though this appears to be positive, it is but a mere strategic buffer zone. In actual diplomatic terms, the relationship is between New Delhi and Naypidaw or New Delhi and Beijing, while this periphery region remains vulnerable, underdeveloped and never a subject of discussion in diplomatic circles.

While Delhi is preoccupied with Islamabad, Dhaka and Colombo, its eastern neighbours have never actually figured in its consciousness. The potential of Myanmar (case of insurgency) cannot be overlooked, nor the Chinese aggression; the case of Arunachal Pradesh is an example. The romancing of “friendly neighbours” or “historical and cultural ties” can no longer be considered the basis of diplomatic relations and this should be a wake-up call for Delhi.

The Statesman North East Page 
December 16, 2013

No comments: